8th October 2005 8:27am
An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 strikes near the city of Muzaffarabad in Pakistan administered Kashmir. International donors estimate the death toll at about 100,000, with an additional 138,000 seriously injured, and 3.5 million displaced.
Abdullah and his younger brother Farooq walked to their school clutching their bags early in the morning as they did every week day. Abdullah was the oldest of 4 siblings and the pride of his father. He loved learning at school and his favorite subject was English. Every year he would get a special prize from his teacher for getting outstanding marks in this subject. He could fluently read the English newspaper to his father who couldn’t understand a word his son was saying but would listen with great pride. His father had only studied till grade 5 and Abdullah was very grateful for the opportunity that he was getting.
His mother used to call him Shahzada (prince) and would sit with him and his younger brother while they ate their breakfast. His sister had not yet started school and the youngest brother was just a baby. Their father worked as a guard in one of the nearby offices and made enough for the family to get by. Abdullah’s schooling was being paid by a government scholarship and they were hoping the other children would follow suit.
The two boys joined their class fellows in the morning assembly. They said their prayers to start the day and some important announcements were made. Then they were escorted to their respective classes by their teachers.
They were halfway through their first class that the ground began to shake. Abdullah was jolted out of his seat and on the floor. The blackboard fell down and the children started screaming. Along with the screaming and the crying was a strange humming sound. The sound of the earth cracking open. A few minutes passed like an eternity. The ground shook as if a giant hand had got it in its grasp and would not let go. The whole building of the school collapsed.
The screaming and crying stopped and was replaced by an eerie silence more terrifying than even the humming. The silence of death.
Abdullah had crawled under the teacher’s desk and when the walls collapsed around him something fell on his leg trapping him there. It was actually a blessing since if he had moved from there he would surely have been killed. There were no survivors from his class. He drifted into unconsciousness.
When he awoke he was in pitch darkness and he could hear the muffled sounds of people calling out. He tried to answer but his throat was so dry he could hardly utter a sound. Hours passed. He could not feel his leg anymore. He started dreaming. His mother was calling him “Shahzada, Shahzada wake up”.
He woke up with a start. Someone was pulling him out. They put him on a stretcher and carried him to a army helicopter. A man was asking him his name and his address. He couldn’t answer. He didn’t have the strength.
This time when he gained consciousness he was in a hospital. His leg was bandaged at least what had been left of it. Looking around he didn’t see anyone he knew but could tell that he was one of the lucky ones.
“What had become of Farooq and his family?” was the only thought in his mind. The doctors and nurses were rushing around trying to attend to everyone. He caught the attention of a nurse who passed his bed.
“Please can you tell me where I am and where my family is?” he pleaded.
“Son, you are in the army hospital and you are one of the lucky survivors. Whole villages have been wiped out. Somebody will come to you and have you registered with your name and address.”
The woman in the bed next to him clutched the nurse. “Please help me, where are my children, why have they brought me here?” she cried.
The nurse just shook her head and rushed off.
Abdullah had survived the earthquake but now he faced a bigger calamity. He had lost his leg and lost his family. Had they also been plucked from the ruins and transferred to a hospital or did they still lie there lost forever. Was he really a lucky survivor or was he actually the unlucky one?