As I entered Kathmandu, I could see fallen walls all around. Bricks, which once formed somebody’s home were scattered everywhere. People moved around them. Life had moved on.
I reached Kathmandu nine days after the devastating earthquake. I had earlier planned to move around the city, and nearby villages in order to help in the rescue and rehabilitation processes, in whatever capacity I could. I was also working with friends from Nepal and India to document the devastation brought by the quake. But things did not go as I had planned. But I was still able to contribute in small ways. It was a learning process. This was the first time I had entered a disaster zone.
One day, along with two other friends, I walked to Nepal’s most sacred Pashupati Nath temple. As I reached the temple, it was the cremation area which first captured my attention. There were many dead bodies being cremated according to Hindu rituals. “There were at least 50 bodies being burnt when I came last time. It’s not much this time.” my friend said. He had reached Nepal two days after the earthquake. And had visited the temple when bodies were still being recovered from the debris left by the earthquake. “I cannot even explain how it was.” he added.
Even at the time I visited the cremation area, I could see dead bodies- being burnt to ashes, in the presence of friends and family. Most of the bodies were of the people who were injured during the earthquake and could not survive the injuries. The Bagmati River, upon which the Pashupati Nath temple is built absorbed them all.
I was there for a few minutes. Looking at the other faces, which appeared blank to me. I did not witness anybody crying there. They were standing by the pyre, silent- just like the atmosphere of the city.
After a few minutes I moved to the temple area. The evening Aarti (ceremonial prayer offered to the lord in form of song) was about to start. I had wanted to attend the Aarti process for a long time. I waited there. As the Aarti begun, I noticed many people joining in. After a while there were people dancing to the Aarti song. At the same place it all happened- people danced and human bodies were burnt. Celebration of life and death- together- at one place. It looked so ironical, yet so perfect. It had been less than two weeks since one of the deadliest earthquake hit the city. And yet it had bounced back to life.
People move on. Tragedies are part of life.
As I went inside the temple complex, I came across a madman. We were cautious enough to maintain a distance from him. He was full of energy. Moving all around the temple. At one time I noticed him talking to a dog and a cat. He played with them. The cat was motionless. “I think it is dead.” my friend observed. Just then it moved. “It must be ill.” he added. The madman started playing with the cat. He was talking to the cat- brought it near the dog. He played with the dog as well. “He may hurt the cat. Shall I take it?” my friend said, and without waiting for our answer reached for the cat. As soon as he was near the cat, the madman said, “What do you want?” “I think the cat is very ill. Give it to me I will take care of her.” my friend said politely. Like a really wise person, the madman gave the cat to him, and went in other direction. As soon as my friend held the cat, he felt a strong smell coming out of the cat’s body. He had to leave it. He came towards us.
“I think she is very ill. There is a strong smell. I can’t stand it.” my friend told me. Just then the madman returned. He saw the cat. Took it in his arms. Came towards us, and fiercely shouted at my friend. “You can’t take care of yourself. How will you take care of it. Go away! Just go away from here!” my friend was stunned. We made a move to avoid any further confrontation.
I could not understand it. It is difficult to comprehend the incident. There was something which cannot be explained.
It was a long day. Dead bodies being burnt; celebrations in the temple; a wise madman- it is something I can never forget. I saw life in a different light. After the tragic disaster, the city had moved on.
This article was first published in LokMarg on May 15, 2015