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Monday, October 24, 2005

The Quake

I write this from the comfort of my room. There is a window towards my left, through which I can see yellow-colored leaves falling off trees, indicating a fast approaching winter. But I am not worried because the student housing is centrally heated and I have plenty of clothes to keep myself warm when I go out. Yet, the mere thought of sleeping outside in the open, without any blanket, makes me shiver.

Right now, millions of people (and I repeat *millions*) would be sleeping in the open in NWFP and Kashmir. The weather in the affected region is not very different from Sweden. Many of the victims of the earthquake might not have eaten anything today. Some might have lost an arm or a leg or perhaps an eye. This Washington Post news story tells the urgency of the matter - a girl lost both her legs and her right arm, and perhaps she is not the only one who has suffered that much.

The official figures state more than 50,000 dead; approximately 60,000 injured and between 2.5 to 4 million homeless. This is actually equivalent to half the population of Sweden. Look at these hands or these eyes or this mass grave or the plight of this father or this mother being separated from her injured child because there is not enough space in the helicopter. What do you see? Tragedy? Compare this to your peaceful life.

Doctors and volunteers as well as Pakistan Army are working round the clock but as the UN officials say, "...scale of calamity beyond capacity of any country..."

There have been varying reactions to the situation at international level. The UN Emergency Relief Chief says, "We thought the tsunami was the worst we could get. This is worse." While we do expect and require more donations, at the same time we are thankful to individual volunteers. Some have come from as far away as Estonia to help. In fact, a girl born in Kashmir has been named Estonia in the honour of doctors from the Baltic state.

Pick a random person from the outside world. Most probably, he doesn't care; he just knows that it happened. Those who are helping in this calamity would actually run to any part of the world to help fellow human beings, be it any continent. These are the people because of which the world is still a place worth-living.

The reaction in Pakistan has been overwhelming. Hundreds of people have traveled more than 1000 miles to help their compatriots. The story won't end here but I expect the galvanism to slow down with the passage of time. It's a sad fact of life - we bury our parents and then come back home to have dinner. Some have satisfied their egos by donating whatever they immediately could but an even greater effort is required to settle down and rebuild everything. Some others are working on the longer term strategy. At the least, this earthquake has given an opportunity to all those who want to work for a better future to come in contact with each other.

Kashmir is used as a synonym for Paradise in our part of the world. It's a tragedy which is going to shape the future.