Much has been written about the devastating earthquake of 24th April 2015, but the consequences are beyond anyone’s comprehension and little has been written about the common man’s plight. To me it was slow in coming as I was focused on the misery of others rather than on what it had done to me. Hours later when I heard about the devastation of the historic Dharahara and the Khastamandap, I rushed out on my e-bike to see for myself. It was heartbreaking to see these monuments lying in ruins but to my horror I discovered that many had lost their lives under the crumbling structures. The tragedy was brought home when three days later I learned that two of my own relatives had unfortunately been at the tower when the earth shook and it came crashing down. It was only through their cell-phone pictures that their parents came to know where they had gone to meet their untimely death. These young boys had been setting up a new restaurant in Maharajgunj. There were many such stories of fate dealing a cruel blow to young people starting out on their own.
The Friday night of 23rd April was the same as all Friday nights for me, as I was playing music at the Fusion Bar in Dwarika’s Hotel as usual. Little did I know that it would be the last Friday night gig for God knows how long! I had been entertaining people from all over the world there every Friday for more than six years and it had become an integral part of my life. Music has moved me since I was a little kid and when on my Dad’s request a mechanic built a guitar from plywood for me I would spend half the day playing it. What playing music can do to you is something only a musician can understand. And when at the end of the evening people take the trouble to come up to you to say, “Thank you for the music!” it means the world. And when someone says, “You made my day!” you are in seventh heaven. That’s what I lost. The pleasure of playing music with my band and the appreciation that comes with it.
People lost their homes, their loved ones, their livelihoods, their security and direction as well. Everybody was heading somewhere with their lives; everybody had a plan, but after 24th April things changed dramatically. People who had come to the Capital to earn a living had to suddenly rush home to be with their loved ones in the villages. Many are yet to return even six months after the quake. In districts like Sindupalchok which bore the brunt of the destruction, entire villages had been destroyed. A large number of people had to be relocated while the rest sought shelter under tarpaulin tents and other forms of temporary shelters. Concerned citizens, mostly youth from Kathmandu rushed to the disaster zones to bring relief. Volunteers and aid workers from around the world started flying in soon after news of the quake reached them. There was a desperate need for rescue teams but the remoteness of the villages and the mountainous terrain made the job a daunting task. Add to that the incompetence of government officials to co-ordinate aid flowing in. There was not only delay in help reaching the needy but some never saw any aid arriving in their villages.
People not only lost loved ones and their houses, landslides that followed the quake washed away their farms and livestock leaving them with nothing to eat. In Kathmandu, the daily wage earners were the hardest hit and the first to disappear from the city were the porters. The labor force involved in construction work was suddenly jobless and so were countless others whose employers had shut their businesses.Many people reached their offices only to be told there would be no work for several months which meant salaries would not be paid until after the recovery. Directly or indirectly almost everyone has been affected financially and emotionally. For some the quake was a life changing moment as one acquaintance of mine remarked, “I had just quit my job and gone home to Sindupalchok to start a new life when the quake hit us. We were able to rush out but the house was totally destroyed,” he says. However, instead of despairing he was so relieved to be alive, that life took on a new meaning.
“Nepali people are resilient” is what everyone says and it is true. But to leave people to their resources because they are resilient is not right. You cannot live on resilience unless you have something to sustain your family. The survivors facing the biggest challenges are those who have been displaced and are living hundreds of miles away from their villages. Then there are those who live in such remote areas that nobody has reached them. I visited two families living in tents near the Hanumante River just outside Bhaktapur. All the other tents were occupied by displaced residents of Bhaktapur but these two families had been evacuated from Kavre. “Until last month the Indian and Chinese aid workers had been feeding us, but they’ve left and there’s no one to help us. The others get aid from their own people in Bhaktapur but we are left out and have to fend for ourselves,” There are many families living off the remittances sent by relatives but there are others still struggling to survive.