The Earthquake

February 4, 2001

I first saw the news of the earthquake on the BBC tickertape rolling at the bottom of my PC. Somehow the headlines: 'India's worst earthquake disaster in more than 20 years' didn't shake me. I had missed the real essence of the news and just dismissed the story to be one of more of the fighting between arch enemies India and Pakistan. I had grown accustomed to hearing about disasters and fighting in the sub continent.

Instead, that weekend my mind was focused more on another form of human disaster, but this one of man's own making, the Jewish Holocaust. I watched on TV the various Holocaust Memorial documentaries that brought home the disturbing pictures of Hitler's 'Final Solution' and also other more recent events of ethnic cleansing from Albania to Rwanda. The pictures made me feel sick and ashamed to be a part of the human race, where men can inflict such atrocities on their fellow men.

It was only a couple of days later, when I met with a girlfriend who started sharing her distress and concern that I started to focus on the present day's events. She told me Bhuj was the place in Gujarat she came from, and her parents were currently on holiday there. Even while she spoke the words "Our whole community has been wiped out", I didn't really acknowledge what she was could I?

India for me is a distant memory. I wasn't born in Gujarat and had spent only the first four years of my childhood growing up in Porbander. I have just a few recollections of my own and those that my parents have shared with me over time. I have never been back to India since leaving in 1972 and know of no close family still living there.

My guilt at not having acknowledged the enormity of the event however only dawned on me Monday morning when I received an email on the subject, from a non-Indian friend I hadn't seen or spoken to for 8 months who wrote:

'Sej I just wanted to say how sorry I was to hear the terrible news from Gujarat. I hope all your family are safe and well, but even so, I can only imagine how distressing this must be for you. For what it's worth, my condolences and all my best to you and your family'.

Reading his message was when the truth of the matter hit home. I was reminded of who I was and where I came from. The words "Gujarat" and "family" just starred me in the face. That's when I came to realise that even though this disaster had happened half way round the world, it had devastated the place I once knew as home and where my family's history and roots lie. It had destroyed, in essence, the lives of 'my' people.

My parents like so many other Indian parents have always raised us to respect the importance of family and being part of the wider community. Having lived virtually my whole life in England, this has not always been easy to appreciate as they conflict with the values of the West that centre on individuality, independence and survival of the fittest. However, seeing the efforts of so many people in this country rallying round trying to get aid over to India and raise as much funds as possible through donations, I am learning the importance of what my parents have taught us.

I will do my small part to help the victims of the disaster but I am only able to do that thanks to our parents who in their struggle to settle in the West have ensured that the Indian community spirit is still alive in 21st century Britain. For me personally the events of this last week will always remind me of the value of community.

For all of us NRIs, the events in the sub continent last Friday have had an impact in some shape or form. For many of us the scale of the tragedy and the recollection of exactly what we were doing when we heard the news will resonate in our memory like that of the death of Princess Diana or the assassination of JFK.

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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