Children of the gods all dance
Some nights, he has a dream. More a nightmare than a dream. It tends to happen more often when the sky is black with rainclouds and the wind screeches through the windows. Those nights, when there is the dream, he is out of bed and halfway out the door before he realises he is not yet awake. This pounding of the heart, this shaking of the knees, this panic, all of it has become muscle memory. His body is attuned, through wave after wave of the ground rising up like a swell, and it acts without thought, without comprehension.
He remembers that time, a year ago, noon on a day towards the end of April. When the ground became sea and the firmament roiled like waves on an angry ocean. It was a minute, maybe less, but it felt longer than a lifetime. When he remembered how to walk again, he rushed outside and onto the streets, where the shell-shocked gaped like fish gasping for air.
That night, under a neighbour’s tarpaulin tent, while the neighbourhood men snored away their sleep, he couldn’t seem to remember if there had ever been a time when the earth stood still.
The next day, he went off to work, piloting his scooter in between debris and a mass of humanity with nowhere safe to go. He had only just stopped at Tundikhel to take a picture of the tents that had sprung up overnight when once again he found himself unable to keep his feet level. On the road outside the Old Buspark, where bikes speed past in the blink of an eye, a couple sitting, palms flush with the ground, had a microphone thrust in their faces. A brown lady, Indian, held the mic, firing rapidly in Hindi, staccato, “What is going on here? How are you feeling? What is happening? Are you scared?” A white lady held a camera to her shoulder, panning quickly for a shot of the jumble of telephone wires vibrating as if struck with a finger.
The newspaper office had moved and on the premises of the one-storey building that housed the Kantipur press, a war council was held. Like generals directing a battlefield, editors sent out reporters, all of whom brought back photos and stories of death and disaster. He himself received a space around a pool table, where a computer had been set up. He set himself to writing an editorial and then an article, for though there was still a ringing in his ears, he felt the need to commit his memory to paper. For, as recent events had impressed upon him, there is a hair-breadth between life and death and this distance can collapse at any moment, without warning, without omen, without thought.
That night, when he made his way home, the streets were filled with refugees, exiles from their own homes with nowhere to go. They huddled in the middle of roads, out on the pavements and in hurriedly put-together camps at any open space. The skies were dark and a hard rain fell throughout the night, as if to further beat an already oppressed people into the ground. Enough, enough, they said, but what capricious god would listen? It seemed as if the gods wished all their children to dance, first to a forced two-step, a zabardasti, and then to the rain, falling like bombs. Dance, dance, dance.
All these memories come unbidden the moment there is another tremble. The quake has carved its own Proustian memory in all who lived through it, he is no different. This trauma is collective and it is evident in the manner with which neighbourhoods flood with light and sound when there is even the slightest shake and neighbours huddle together, each asking the other urgently what magnitude, what epicentre. Breath now is always bated and like everyone else, he too waits, body always in a half-spring, air always caught half-way in the lungs.
For in a less than a minute, the world upends itself, foundations come crumbling down, lives end, and everything changes.
[Published on The Kathmandu Post, earthquake anniversary special, 24 April 2016. Title taken from Haruki Murakami’s original Japanese title for after the quake]