She’s got the moves

Fayes T Kantawala mistook the recent earthquake for a viral infection

Since the season changed, I’ve been treating everyone I meet as Patient Death Zero, a potential carrier of the viral plague of Fall Flu. In a mad-dash effort at self-preservation I am refusing to shake hands, give hugs or share mugs and instead spend my time disinfecting every surface with anti-bacterial wipes for fear of contracting a head cold. It’s the manifestation of a paranoia that some evil portentous disaster might (dengue!) prevent me from leaving as planned in anything but the pinkest of health.

So when this Monday I began to feel the room swaying around me, my first thought was ‘Oh God, I’ve caught the plague.’ The familiar sensations of disorientation and vertigo swept down on me and the floor began to undulate in the manner of action-flick special effects. Surely it’s odd, I thought to myself, to go straight from Zero to Acid Trip in under six seconds, even for a head cold. Then the sofas began moving, and the pictures on the walls went askew. That’s when I realised it was an earthquake and not a bacterial infection that confronted me at this moment.
I can't imagine anything more ignoble than having your house crushed by six chicken nuggets and an effeminate clown

This iz it, said the cynical Russian voice in my head. Prepare to zie. This is what that nagging feeling in my chest has been trying to tell me, that I’m going to be one of those anonymous thousands who die in an earthquake.

Soon I realized that it was still going after thirty seconds, and that’s when things got truly terrifying. I mean the soiling-yourself-and-crouching-in-the-corner-and-screaming-Lord-take-me-now-but-also-please-don’t kind of terrifying. I am forever perplexed about what to do during an earthquake, or for that matter any natural disaster. Most of my knowledge is gleaned from throwaway comments in sitcoms and/or epic disaster movies like Armageddon or The Day After Tomorrow. Are you meant to run for higher ground if the ground itself is getting higher? Do you stay inside? Are you meant to stand under a doorway or a pillar or move somewhere in the middle, holding a book above your head? Do you go outside and risk falling into a pit of despair like a nameless extra?

It’s always strange to notice how your mind works when faced with this sort of unknown, spontaneous event; strange to see what it thinks to prioritize as a key to survival. Seconds later I found myself outside clutching at my passport, a bread stick and my beloved copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, but with no shoes, which actually says a lot more about me than I care to read into. I’m still semi-proud of my crisis list (Pak Edition), and believe with confidence that were the poo to hit the fan, I could always steal some shoes from outside a mosque as I made my way to the airport with a visa, a snack and some light reading.


In the open air the tremors kept going, on and on and on. Just when you thought it was safe, there was another sickening wave in the very ground itself, reminding you that you are a tiny ant on a giant tectonic plate that could open up and swallow you like a fat kid with no conscience. The buildings all around were moving and I marveled that they hadn’t already collapsed onto a pile of bricks (glory be to the architects). The trees were swaying back and forth and I saw the giant billboards perched precariously close to my house (up yours, Cannt board, I’m going to sue) sway from side to side as my mind’s eye pictured terrible scenes of cascading Happy Meal ads crushing my house to a shambles. I can’t imagine anything more ignoble than having your house crushed by six chicken nuggets and an effeminate clown.

On the road my neighbors and I stood rooted to our spots, staring at each other but making no expression, each ready to react to whatever might fall. People began edging away from the electricity poles and wires, moving away from under trees and from boundary walls that moved in a manner that made you think you were looking at them through a shard of rippling glass.

Eventually, finally, thankfully the rocking stopped. I went back inside and other than a few things displaced here and there, was grateful that nothing had been damaged and no one hurt. This is sadly not the case closer to the epicenter in Afghanistan and KPK. According to our government the quake was a gargantuan 8.1 on the Richter Scale, though international estimates mark it closer to 7.5 (either case would be cause enough in a disaster movie to evacuate New York) and occurred because of a clash between the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, reminding us all that that this land of ours is volatile in many, many ways. This is the same plate that forms the mountain ranges we are so proud of and it is there that the most devastation occurred, despite the fact that the quake itself was actually 150 km below the surface. My own majordomo, a man ominously named Zia-u-Haq, has already left for his home in Chitral, where his house was completely destroyed save for one room that now has all his surviving possessions. He is lucky that he didn’t lose any of his family. I hope I can say the same for everyone reading this because when the ground itself moves, we’re all quite literally in for it.

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