I was highly disturbed when I saw images of the disaster brought about by the earthquake which affected Turkiye and Syria. Those who know me, kept telling me that there was no need to look at the destruction of these two countries. I kept looking at the images and feeling sad about their loss.
I am a survivor of the Bhuj earthquake which happened in 2001. I lost my wife, Prarthana, on that day, 22 years ago. My daughter and I were sleeping in the bedroom, while Prarthana, who was an early riser, was doing pooja (prayer ritual). At least, I think she was doing pooja because when her body was found, there was an intact pooja thali (plate) next to it. That morning, my daughter and I were woken up by the sound of the bed moving from one end of the room to the other. The bed was very heavy and when it crashed against the walls, cracks appeared. Such was the force of the earthquake.
I looked out of the window and saw the old British tower in front of my house swaying like a tree in the wind. Our house came down as well and was completely destroyed. My daughter and I ran out on to the balcony and jumped down: the balcony, which had once been been at a height of 30 feet was now about three feet tall.
My father, brother and Prarthana were buried under the debris of our house that we had shared so much happiness in. A column had fallen on my father and his legs were crushed under it. My brother’s legs, too, were crushed. They were rescued but my wife continued to be buried somewhere underneath it all. I kept sitting close the debris of our house, crying and hoping for any indication that my wife was alive. I was asked to leave the place by the rescue team.
There were bodies of women lined up on the street which had once been a good road. Hungry dogs were eating the bodies. I lifted the cloth covering the bodies to check if any of them was my wife. On the ninth day, rescuers found her dead body. We cremated her. I started cremating the bodies that were piling up on the streets. The families of the dead had left the bodies behind as they were too scared to come back for the aftershocks of the earthquake continued.
When the earthquake struck, Prarthana and I had been married for 11 years and had a daughter. She was a very spiritual person. Life without her was unthinkable but it had to go on. I remarried in 2004 and have another daughter. My daughter with Prarthana is now married and has children. My second daughter wants to be an economist like my father who is a retired professor of Economics.
We have not gone back to our destroyed house, as it is a place of bad memories. From a nine-room, three storied bungalow, we started living in a house made of tin sheets. We had lost everything in the earthquake and lived in the tin house for two years. Today, we are financially sound and own a company that makes construction bricks from fly ash. I have dismantled the tin house and reconstructed it in a corner in the factory. This is to remind me and my family of how life can crumble in a minute.
Today, Kutch, which was once a place with electricity and water problems is one of the most flourishing places in Gujarat. Major industries have come to Kutch, and its rehabilitation is a focussed effort by the Gujarat government. Though, it is a new life for us now, that earthquake is difficult to forget. That destruction taught us that we can never take life for granted.
I do not know if I believe in God anymore because everything was taken away from us after the earthquake. But I have great respect for nature and understand that it only takes a moment to destroy everything. Though I am focussed on the present, it is impossible to forget about the past and Prarthana. I keep telling myself that life would have been a lot different had the earthquake not struck that day. But then, if that was my destiny, it was meant to happen.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Earthquake Diary")
Rajesh Bhatt, President, The Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kutch