I was feeding my nine-day-old daughter Tamanna while hubby was reading Dr Seuss to Anoushka, our four-year-old, when the building shook. In all of my 30 years I had never experienced what I did on that January morning when the rest of the country was celebrating its 51st Republic day. Yes, I am talking about the Gujarat earthquake that measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, causing massive destruction to both lives and material.
Unfortunately, we were in our flat, which was on the top-most (10th) floor in that building. The entire flat swung from left to right as if the ground below had got high after having too many tequila shots. Things started falling off the shelves, drawers slid open, the doors swung in and out in a mad frenzy. It was a scene straight out of a horror movie, only this was real life and happening to us. Khushru, my husband, placed the older child on the reading chair and made a dash at us. He was thrown to the ground towards his right as another violent movement struck. We could hear the screams of his mother and sister from the floor below asking us to run down. For a few moments Khushru and I just stared at each other in complete horror.
Anoushka’s piercing wail pulled us out of our numbed state, by which time his mother and sister had climbed up too and were now physically urging us to start on our way down. The building could have collapsed at the next tremor.
Having undergone a somewhat complicated C-section, I had been released from the hospital just the day before. The stitches were raw and painful. The doctor had forbidden me to even walk too much; climbing down ten floors was impossible.
I looked at my nine-day-old, my other girl, and then at my husband and said the only thing that came to my mind, “Khushru, take both the girls and run down with mummy and di. I will try and walk down as fast as I can.”
Despite the screams of the neighbours that reached our ears as we heard rushing footsteps and the eerie cries, there was a chilled silence in that room as my hubby looked helplessly at all of us in turn.
He asked his mother and sister to start moving down, picked up both girls in one arm each and told me, “Whatever happens, happens to all of us.” He moved behind me and said, “Climb down Pervin, I will be right behind you.”
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I began my descent. As we passed the ninth, eighth and then the seventh floor, I saw doors of the flats left open, I heard screams of ‘Bhoomi kamapyee gayo (the earth is shaking)’ coming from many floors below. I lost all courage and spirit by the time I reached the sixth floor. The pain in the stitches had become unbearable, my legs, unused to the physical activity, were shaking uncontrollably and exhausted at the strain of it I just wanted to let go and wait for it all to end. I told Khushru that it was impossible for me to climb down even one more stair and that he should carry on with our girls.
Without a word, Khushru guided me to my mother’s flat on the sixth floor (they too had not climbed down but were waiting for us). He then handed over our younger one to my mother and the older one to his sister and then with both his hands hugged me tight. We had heard somewhere that the strongest place in a flat is inside the main door and that is where we all went and stood silently waiting for the quake to end.
His mother and sister, and my parents with kids in their arms held each other’s hands near the door while I lay still, enveloped in Khushru’s tight embrace; terrified, worried to my bones, praying for it to end, sobbing; but my tears did not originate from unhappiness, they came from that feeling of extreme contentment when you realise that indeed there is someone who loves you more than he loves himself.
That was 15 years ago. We made it out of the worst quake to ever hit Gujarat, safe and sound.
In Khushru’s arms I requested God that if we were all to perish then I only wanted to be born again if I could be his wife all over again.