The Ground Beneath Our Feet
Project info

"In spite of all evidence that life is discontinuous, a valley of rifts, and that random chance plays a great part in our fates, we go on believing in the continuity of things, in causation and meaning. But we live on a broken mirror, and fresh cracks appear in its surface every day. ”
—Salman Rushdie

Earth calling humanity. Paging, paging, paging. Are you in distress? So am I. These are the throes of birth, of unrest, of volatility. I am echoing what is happening to your populace. I am a sign of your times, of the anger that burns within you, of your molten core of rebellion. Your rock breaks along a fault line, releasing energy that makes the ground shake. How are you different from me, my children? How are your struggles, your exhilaration, your ground-shaking and ground-breaking superlatives any better than the sleeping murmurs of my surface?

The earthquake in Nepal has brought plenty to the surface, from the usual ghoulish media coverage, to the usual selfish reactions that range from not sensational or tragic enough to not timely and breaking-news worthy enough. Breaking news from a region torn by earthquakes, how ironic. This not to discount the actual surge of humanness experienced by Nepal—from the compassion of doctors acting as clowns, to the tenderness of relief workers in makeshift hospitals, to the kindness of the neighbour who hunts for a bottle of water to quench your thirst.

Which is the real Nepal? The one torn apart by monarchy and democracy (or the lack of it) alike? Or the one rent asunder by the earth doing what it usually does, destroying, building, creating. What is the real Nepal like? Tears and screams and silent anger frothing from the rubble? Or football stadiums converted into communal sleeping grounds, the alcohol and cigarettes passed around at a funeral? Is it the long wailing walk that a man must make to his recently dead mother's home, as custom dictates, or is it him sitting around a fire, drinking with friends and family, as also dictated by custom?

Yes, loss is important, yes, it is important to see how a fellow human being is suffering, but not so that his suffering can be turned into a freakshow, but so that compassion awakens within ourselves, like the serene face of Buddha lying across the broken remainders of a home.

The Nepal that I have experienced through these photos is a Nepal picking itself up, holding all the hands that it can hold, taking along everyone that it can take along. It is facing many different realities, and they range from aid being centred only in the capital and its surrounding areas, leaving people in places like remote Mustang to deal with the land by their own selves, to the numerous bottles of alcohol being downed by its citizens, who suddenly, have nothing to do with their time. Everything has come to a standstill. There is only so much you can mourn, there is only so long you can let shock keep you inside its shell. What happens when these people wake up, truly wake up from Mother Earth's dream? What have the protectors and guardians of society given them while they were still looking for their bearings, adjusting to a new landscape? where have the protectors gone? Demolished like the many stone lions and dragons and gods and goddesses in one fell swoop?

About 15km away from Kathmandu is the Shivapuri National Park. Journeying there makes you forget that you've come from the site of a huge natural disaster. And then on the outskirts of the park, you see the little shop serving chowmein, beer and tea, and it has been broken apart too. But the family continues doling out whatever they can. Children run around, in the sheer exuberance that only children can have, too young for the concerns that plague the adult world, and not yet jaded enough to miss the strange sense of adventure the calamity has brought them. A little further in, you can see young saplings and grandfather trees alike toppled over. But there is a serenity in the forest. The destruction does not look so ugly. What about the homes of the birds and the animals? Who cares, you'd say, 7000 humans dead and you're off hugging trees! Life moves on in the forest, and the people of Nepal, so attached to their land, to their fields, to the woodlands that become their backyard, are inspired by the same cyclical spirit of nature.

In an orphanage filled with cherubic faces, while you see moments of such abject calm that 6 year olds seem like 60 year olds, you also see sudden laughter, twinkling smiles and glowing fondness for the aid workers who are engaging in all sorts of theatrics to keep them entertained.

Where is this Nepal in the media? Where is the showcase of the desire to live? Why have we, as disseminators of information, abandoned all hope in favour of tragedy?

Nepal has suffered over a 100 earthquakes since the big one that day. The people live in perennial fear of the roof falling on their heads, and the ground undulates in waves in their dreams, but these are not the concerns that filter through the cacophony.

What does Nepal need right now? More images and reports of death and suffering? More statistics, more funds being poured in by each nation competing to be the highest bidder? Or perhaps, it is time to let this savagery end. It is time to give them the dignity they deserve. They have lost it all, but they have us. We are not deities who can fix their lives miraculously, but we can give them a hug. We can lend a hand when they build their homes, when we build our homes. We can listen to them sing and weep and laugh, we can cook and feed and be fed. We can show the world the true nature of their various realities and struggles and how they come to terms with them.

Just like the earth shapes continents with its tremors, just like it has shaped us into existence, Nepal is being shaped into what it can become. And whether we choose to see the awe-inspiring potential that the Nepali people are harnessing, like the peaks of the Himalayan range arching towards the light, shaped by hundreds and thousands of such quakes, or whether we choose to render it invisible by the narrowness of our hearts and minds—the choice is ours.

Theirs was made for them by the earth.

—Written by Ambarin Afsar, with inputs from Nirvair Singh