As the tsunami of nine years ago, wrecked havoc in many parts of the world, it brings a smile and pleasant memories to my mind. I know, that’s a not-so-nice thing to say, and my mother would disapprove of it, but what to do, the impact on our part of the world was little, while the confusion aplenty. The tsunami hit our part of Visakhapatnam on December 31, 2004. That was the time me, my one month old daughter Akshaya, my brother, sister in law, their daughter Aaru, my sister, brother in law and children, Sonal and Mini were all parking at my parent’s penthouse near the Vizag beach. The first tremors were felt in the wee morning hours, and that was the time when Akshaya and I were blissfully asleep.
As I experienced the first of the periodic tremors, I decided that it must be one of the kids up to some mischief. ‘Aaru, don’t wake up the baby…’, I shouted and before I could complete the sentence, my mother, a little wide eyed and alarmed was in the room. ‘It’s an earthquake I think’, she said and we quickly got into the drawing room where an excited family awaited us.
My brother in law reported that he had first seen the television shake. Then he next saw the ceiling fan swing. He had just decided that it was last night’s food working on his head, when Sonal chipped in with the same experience.
The children were jumping up and down. ‘It`s an earthquake! It’s an earthquake!’ They laughed and sang. My mother tried to calm down the excited children, lest the neighbors think that we weren’t well mannered. ‘Don’t shout, what will people think?’ She asked us.
It was quickly decided that we must leave the building at once. My mother picked out the best blanket for the baby, and added that if we must evacuate, we must do so in style. We started to leave.
My sister had been thinking all along, and she had the most important question, ‘What if the building collapses? We should keep some money with us’. But my car-loving father countered: ‘We have the car keys. That’s enough. We can go somewhere, and stay in the car.’
‘A picnic, a picnic. Let’s buy some chips’, shouted the children.
My mother suggested that we pack in a few biscuits, milk and some clothes for the baby. She also suggested that we change our clothes to something more presentable. We declined. After all it was an earthquake, not a fashion parade.
She however changed into a cotton Gadwal sari. ‘You know, it’s just right’ she said justifying her choice, even though none of us had asked for it. ‘This sari is not too flashy, but is stylish.’
With our bags and priorities set, we quickly stepped out. My mother stopped to ring the neighbor’s doorbell. ‘It’s an early hour. Poor fellows, they may sleep through the earthquake’, she said lest they miss the movie. After a few failed attempts we realized that the door was locked.
‘See these Kumars, they did not tell us. They left without informing us.’ The warm concern for the neighbours was fast replaced with furious irritation. ‘These people were not even bothered of what would become of us. Talk about neighbourly love.’
My mother next announced that it was best to avoid lifts during an earthquake, as power-cuts could jam elevators. She had read somewhere that stairs were safest. After huge Oh nos! and murmurs of disapproval, we decided that there was no other option, but to take her advice.
My mother led the convoy. She walked quickly with the baby in arms, not having much faith in me. ‘You can drop the baby’, she said. Sonal, who walked a step behind my mother added, ‘If you walk so fast, you’ll drop the baby, quake or no quake’.
‘No, Sonal. I must go quickly. If the earthquake comes again, what will Jaya’s mother in law say’, she added as if the quake was all her mistake.
The entire building was gathered at the basement. My mother quickly approached the Kumars. ‘We knocked your door, but you had left without informing us’, she added with a smirk.
‘No, no’, said Mrs Kumar, ‘actually what happened na, Mrs. Rao had come to our place to ask us. You see my brother in law had come, and we were waiting for his wife, she was in the loo…’
The confusion was amusing. People stood by the building talking to each other of their quake experiences. One had been in the bathroom, another in the shower, while someone thought that they had seen a ghost. Only when neighbors had spoken to each other, had they confirmed that it was an earthquake. We took out our car, and my brother suggested a drive around town.
‘These foolish people’, he added. ‘They have come out of their homes for safety, and are standing under the building. If the earthquake worsens, the building will fall on them’. We laughed at this intelligent remark and basked in our smartness of staying in the car.
We could see people in different states of being. After all they had just woken up and were in their nightdress best. A man wore his big paunch on tight shorts. A stylish aunt could be seen in a faded nightie. And my mother remarked, ‘See the Mishras children, they are so neatly dressed. Such good night suits. We must also wear good clothes to bed, or see this is what happens’.
After a little discussion and no further tremors, my father decided that the quake was not going to come. ‘No Mani’, he replied to my mother’s protests. ‘I know all about earthquakes. They don’t come so sporadically, he announced with the surety of the geological department. I have to get ready and go to the bank’.
My brother and sister in law decided to make a picnic of the occasion ‘Let’s go to the beach’, said my brother. That’s a low lying area with no buildings, and the safest place to be in during an earthquake, he added. ‘Chalo!’, he said and priding his intellect; he, his wife, my sister, her husband, me and all the children packed ourselves into the car.
My mother declined the invitation and decided to join my father back in the building. ‘If something happens, we will go together’, she added, just like a heroine from the 80s films.
As we drove on, we realized that ours was the only building that had experienced a minor quake. Everyone else was having a relaxed Sunday, easing out of their homes and taking their morning walk as if nothing had happened. We slowly approached the beach and someone in the car suggested chai. As we were not well dressed like the Mishra’s children we decided to return home instead. My cellphone buzzed just when the car took a U turn. It was my mother. ‘Don’t go to the beach’ she said. ‘Come home, the earthquake has occurred in the sea. It’s called Tsunami.’