It would seem like any other day if it weren’t for all the flag decorations. The parade was to start at nine. Fifteen more minutes. I was in the wing of the auditorium stage, dressed head to toe in white, with the flag painted across my face. As an eight year old, all I wanted to do was to finish off with the Republic Day dance, and head home to the comfort of cartoon network. Children were swarming around me in last minute panic, some fixing their hair while others fixed their face. Bianca was the best, she stood next to me without moving a muscle. We both just wanted to get this over with. In this particular moment of frenzy, we did what was convenient, and sat wherever we found space enough for the two of us. I consequently phased out into the world inside my head. I did that way too often.
I was so caught up in my Lalaland that I didn’t realize when the frenzy became all the more frenzied. “Everyone clear out. NOW!” screamed Mr. Patel. I jostled to my senses just in time to see the usual shuffling mass of people, running to the exits as fast as they possibly could. I was as obedient as they came back then, so I ran! I ran as fast as I could, though the mass of people, down the staircase. It was then that it struck me like a bolt of lightning; Bianca! I had run so fast, I had completely forgotten about her! Midway down the stairs, I stopped and turned around, trying to spot her. In that moment, the full terror of what was happening finally hit me. I wasn’t moving, but the ground beneath me was shaking violently. A sea of students passed by me with the same face I probably had plastered on; the face of pure panic. Nowhere in this sea could I find Bianca’s face. I stood there, losing my balance every other second, till the biggest masses had passed by. The fear had made me phase out once again. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening. “Ashni, what are you doing? Move! We’ve got to evacuate the building!” Mr. Patel shouted as he dragged me by the arm towards the exit. I just followed on, waking up from my disoriented state of mind.
The next thing I remember is somehow reaching the football ground. The whole school, from Kindergarten to the 12th grade was out there with me. Some children were crying, others were screaming, and all I could do was try to comprehend what had just happened. As a girl named Ahaana ran by me screaming, I turned to Mr. Patel, “Sir, what’s going on? What just happened?” He looked at me with what I could only describe as melancholy. “It was an earthquake, dear child. It’s probably caused a lot of damage to the city. We’ll find out soon enough,” he said as he patted my back reassuringly. I looked past him to see Bianca cuddled up in the grass. Exhausted, I went and joined her. We ended up cuddling with each other till we were allowed back inside half an hour later.
The school was undamaged, there wasn’t a crack to be seen, but parents had started arriving to pick their children up and take them home. I was in my classroom with the news running in the background. News never interested me, but for the first time I couldn’t look away.
Mansi Towers Collapses: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
This particular headline hit close to home, because Mansi Towers was close to home. I had gone there last week to a friend’s house for a play date, and there it was, crumbling to dust on the screen. At eight, I hadn’t seen much loss. My childhood was a happy one, and I still had all my grandparents. Pain and suffering were alien emotions to me, I had my own little world without them, but now I could see it all in abundance. My first blow of reality wasn’t a grandparent passing away, it was a natural catastrophe that brought even my dream world to its knees. My home, Ahmedabad was synonymous with chaos for quite some time after, and decided to start paying more attention to the world on the outside.