Nepal earthquake shakes faith of some, turns others into believers overnight

KATHMANDU: Nishchal Guruwacharya, 25, does not believe in god anymore. The 25-year-old from Chamati area of Naya Bazar in Kathmandu lost more than half of his extended family of 52 in a building collapse on Saturday. That day, his family had organized a “saptahik pooja” in the house with almost all relatives in attendance.

“An entire generation is gone. My grandfather, my mother, all her sisters, my brother, everyone is gone. There were 40 people in the house then, only nine have survived. We were conducting the pooja to make the gods happy, they instead gave us their wrath,” says Guruwacharya.

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A few kilometres away, recuperating from bruises and a head injury at a camp in Durbar area, Maheshwar Raj Khwanju, 48, is thanking the gods. His family of five fell five floors after his building in Bhotaiti collapsed, killing everyone except his wife and children.

His daughter Asmita, 10, fainted out of shock as she felt the first tremors, but has not sustained even a scratch on her body. Even his dog Tommy escaped with just a limping leg. “This is god’s grace, the power of Pashupatinath,” says Khwanju.

The only thing common between the two stories is the lament for an “absent” government and gratitude for the rescue and relief provided by India.

Between the almighty’s wrath and an overwhelmed Nepal government, India as the first mover seems to have made a place in the hearts of the Nepalese. This, despite the fact that there is no country worth any international standing that has not sent its teams to Nepal.

“Men from NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) have been working here non-stop, without a wink of sleep, for the past three days. I know none of my family members will come out alive. But at least they have ensured they will get a respectable funeral,” says Guruwacharya.

Though Khwanju was rescued by local youth, relief material and medical help brought in by Indian armed forces has kept him going in the camp.
Srikrishna Kharel, 30, a cloth merchant from Hanuman Dhoka area which has seen massive damage to Nepal’s architectural heritage, is doing his bit by helping people in a camp set up in the area. Like most caught in a tragedy, he is angry with his government.

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“These people will do nothing for us. The first day there was no water, no food, no medicines. We have been surviving by helping each other. Indians were the first to come. Even before China. We haven’t seen anyone from the US,” he says.

Though the Nepal government is doing its best, having put almost 90% of its army in rescue operations, it is certainly not enough given the scale of the tragedy. India on Tuesday sent three more NDRF teams with the number of teams engaged in rescue work now going up to 16.

Tonnes of food, water, blankets and tents were unloaded from Indian aircraft at Tribhuvan International Airport even as aid poured in from across the world.

What has marked India apart from all other international teams is articulated by a survivor of a six-storey building near Shobha Bhagwati bridge trapping over 50 who are all feared dead, “Teams from China and Poland had come. But they stay here for a few hours looking to rescue the living and leave when they are convinced all are dead. Only Indian forces are pulling out the dead,” says Amir Sakya.

Beyond their personal losses, the Nepalese are most saddened by the massive destruction to their cultural heritage. “Who will come to Nepal now,” is the common refrain in a country heavily dependent on tourism.

“Do you know each and every brick of the temples in Hanuman Dhoka area that is now rubble had the names of the kings who contributed to their construction inscribed on them. Do you think when all this is rebuilt, its originality can be restored. No way. Guthibhairav temple was our Taj Mahal. It’s gone. We have lost everything we had to show the world,” says taxi driver Bose Kesi.

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