After walking many paths, through the debris and rubble, seeing bodies being pulled out even after thirty-five days of the earthquake, watching people returning to their houses, the greetings of tears. They had fled to someplace else looking for safety, wanting not to see the flattened houses, beneath which lay someone, dead, flattened by the same roof that was to be there to protect. To protect from the sun and rain. Who thought it will be the earth?
She suddenly felt tired, fatigued. She needed to eat. She spotted a food shelter, numerous men and women were camping in groups, organising food for the ones left to be living. Few tents were working as kitchen, chopping, cleaning cooking in huge vessels, food for everyone. Good Karma, she thought, in that heat and dust and air filled with the smell of burning, many things burning. Good of these people to travel all the way, they need not have, they could have written a cheque.
She reached near one of those tents. There was a make shift bamboo log, working like a gate. There were some women standing there, all clad in black, the colour of the locals. She heard someone yell at them to wait a while.
She ducked the barricading log and stepped inside tentatively. There were rows and rows of people sitting down and eating, what looked like a pretty elaborate meal for that time. They looked like visitors to the place, people from the cities, may be looking for their families, may be government officials, corporate officials taking stock of the damage, volunteering, people like her. Someone showed her a place, she sat down, took off her shoes. She was wearing her regular clothes for field work that involved walking under the sun, shoes, backpack, bottle of water, packet of biscuit, a bandana to keep the head cool, keep the hair covered, so that she won’t have to wash it so often, where is the water to wash your hair?
Someone placed a leaf plate in front of her. A kindly lady approached with a bucket containing may be rice, as that usually comes first, followed by daal poured on top. She stopped in front of her, took out a ladle full of white rice, paused mid-air when she noticed her bandana, no jewellery, no spot of colour on the forehead, looked into her eyes and said, “sister, would you chant the gayatri mantra?”
She looked back at her. She wanted to get up and leave. It’s not that she did not know the gayatri mantra, it’s being asked to chant it at a place which was supposedly there, to help people through their grief and trauma. Not to cause more grief, not to discriminate, and to choose which grieving person is entitled food, entitled to recover and live, and which ones could die, or be humiliated, humiliated in the act of compassion. The arrogance of giving, she thought.
She wanted to leave, but she was hungry, the woman had left after dropping some rice on her plate from a height. There was no touch, so she had not committed any sin after all. Tears were welling up in her eyes. It had been a long day of tearful moments and they needed to roll down.