What it’s like to be an Indian in today’s times.
Living in Assam, a northeastern state of India, I’ve grown used to earthquakes.
The geographic location of Assam, according to plate tectonics, perched precariously on the easternmost projection of the Indian Plate, leaves the state prone to earthquakes of moderate to very high intensity.
Whenever there was an earthquake back in college, my classmates from other parts of the world used to wake up drenched in sweat, heart palpitating to the rhythm of the shaking world. But I used to laugh it off, knowing it’s almost a monthly occurrence, not even bothered to leave my bed and run out of the room.
I was used to earthquakes. I knew the shaking wouldn’t last forever.
But the morning of April 28, 2021, was different.
I was woken rudely from my sleep at about 8 AM. The whole room was quaking violently. My bottle rolled off the bedside table and clattered to the floor, spilling water on the floor.
“It’s just an earthquake,” I told myself, willing my thumping heart to calm down. “It will be over soon.”
I started counting in my head — a trick my father had taught me as a child, so I won’t be afraid of earthquakes.
“Count to ten,” he’d told me, “and before you reach seven, it will be gone.”
One… two… three.
Did the shaking get worse? Should I get out of bed?
Five... six… seven.
Why is it not stopping, God, what is wrong?
Ten… eleven… twelve.
I jumped out of bed, grabbed my phone, and dashed out of the house. On the stairs, I saw my neighbors rushing to get out of the building.
Seeing such a ruckus terrified me further. The Covid19 cases have been spiking like crazy in India, with the country recording 400,000+ cases each day.
I stopped, breathing hard.
I wondered if I should step back inside the house and look for a mask.
The shaking was getting worse. There was no way I could waste precious seconds looking for a mask now. The window panes were clattering wildly. The floor shook, threatening to make me lose balance and fall.
And then it was over.
I was still at my doorstep, dressed in my flimsy nightdress, torn between exposing myself to so many people and terrified of running inside a shaking house to get my mask.
My neighbors out on the stairs had expressions of mingled terror, confusion, and relief on their faces. Combined with the fact that most of them were still in their sleeping clothes, it made for an almost comical sight.
But this was an earthquake that defied my father’s rule and lasted until the count of nineteen, driving everyone in my building out in the open, battling between the possibility of infection and the surety of death if they stayed indoors any longer. This was no laughing matter.
As the dust settled and people started getting back inside their homes, I closed the door and climbed back into bed. My heart was beating hard. My breath was coming in ragged gasps. It was like having a panic attack, but much worse. This could surely lead to a tragedy of a grander scale.
Later, when I checked the news, I found that this earthquake had a magnitude of 6.4, with its epicenter located about 80 km to the northeast of my hometown, Guwahati. According to the National Centre for Seismology, my state's last time had seen an earthquake of such high magnitude (exceeding 6.0 on the Richter scale), it was more than 60 years ago.
No wonder it blatantly flouted my father’s rule of counting to ten.
No wonder it terrified me enough to want to rush out of my house, risking infection amid a deadly global pandemic.
No wonder it led to as many as 21 after-shocks within the next 24 hours— mini earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 2.3 to 4.6. The one with the 4.6 magnitude was the worst — hitting at about mid-day, scaring me enough once again to make my life flash in front of my eyes.
I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not.
It’s been a nightmare of a week, and I’m not okay.
The Indian government is treating the pandemic as if it doesn’t exist. If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and remember how the Ministry of Magic first reacted to the return of Voldemort — that’s exactly how the Indian ministers are treating Covid19: manipulating data to make the situation sound less severe and spending resources to censor social media posts that mention the pandemic.
The official data says about 400,000 people are getting infected each day. Who knows what the real number is. Every time I step out of the house to buy essentials, I fear I might be risking my life.
And on top of that, there are the earthquakes, with experts fearing bigger and worse earthquakes might hit my home state soon.
No, I’m not okay, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I’m writing this today not to discourage anyone or to show my country in a bad light. It’s a situation I’ve never faced before, and I want to document every part of it — even the bad days.
Hopefully, there’ll come a day soon when I can look back on this phase and let out a sigh of relief that I don't have to live in constant fear anymore.
Until then, all we can do is hope.