All around me are the remnants of shattered & sunken buildings, & the smell, was I in hell, there was even smoke. With a jolt I awoke from my reverie, & remembered why I was there. This was a serious earthquake in Gujarat, North West India, in February 2000. I had been working in the teaming city of Mumbai ( Bombay) , & among my friends were a group of missionaries drawn to help with this catastrophe, whom I joined.
The impending dread didn’t stop my enjoyment of the long train ride north. Rail being my favourite form of travel, & worldwide I have loved its communal nature. I would choose a train above all else.We click clacked along the highly populated coastal plains, over bridges across countless marshes where fishing was paramount, & then into the solid heartland of rural India where the seemingly ceaseless toil & relative poverty of the farmers made me feel , lucky, & selfish.
The last 100 km. was covered at almost walking pace due to the earthquake and condition of the lines. We arrived in the town of Gandidam to an unbelievable sight. All the buildings were damaged, but half were either levelled, or had sunk several floors below ground . This happens I’m told, when a certain type of substrata such as gravel, liquefies, & I believe Christchurch has this phenomenon
Almost in a daze, our group walked up the main street shocked at what we were seeing. But it was soon to work. Our first job was to build a temporary village, out of poles, which were really just branches, large rolls of scrim, & rope.This was essentially just to give shade, & shelter from wind. I was proud of my rural, “number eight wire” background. It was built next to the rail line, as the centre of operations was “ The Mercy Train”.This is ten carriages set up as a hospital, which is used all over India in emergences such as this, sporting a surgery, doctors, nurses & the works, manned all by volunteers. At night we would move through the carriages (wards,) & while witnessing terrible carnage, play instruments, & sing to them. The gratitude on the faces of these broken people was a big reward to us.
We slept & ate in a big tent in the grounds of a large fertilizer works, but showered etc. inside the buildings. This was very scary, with cracks everywhere, doors totally stuck, & the ongoing grumbling tremors from the bowels of the earth which persisted for the duration of our stay.
Forever beautiful to us, was the spirit of the surviving people, as before we departed for Mumbai, we made time to move amongst them. Forgetting their pain, beaming faces showed such appreciation to us. Our group, coming from all corners of the globe made it all the more special to them. As the train jerked, & stealthily glided forward, looking out the window at the totally flat slabs of concrete, once the walls of the station , our hearts went out to the brave people we were leaving behind who had briefly brushed against our lives
I am lucky enough to have spent almost a year in India and it does touch it’s visitors, with invisible fingers., this experience being the most touching and poignant of my many memories in that extraordinary country.
I am editing this in January 2013 and, whilst I didn’t expect it to happen in my lifetime, in fact we have had the same thing happen here in our lovely christchurch.