A Quake in Bangalore, Tremors in the Heart

A couple of days back in Bangalore, many of my friends and family would have felt the mild tremors that occurred due to earthquake of the coast of Aceh province of Indonesia. The tremors were quite mild with the earth actually shaking for mere seconds causing little or no damage altogether. In most of southern India, these tremors weren’t the kind that set the heart racing and or caused panic among the masses, though people near the coast were still worried about the possible tsunami. But if you were to take a glance at the pictures and videos of people in Indonesia, you would see that the memories of the last great quake 2004 are still raw.

In my mind earthquakes are associated with the one that hit Indonesia in 2004 causing the massive tsunami and the one that struck the region of Bhuj in Gujarat in 2001. The massive destruction caused in these regions due to the population density is something I can never forget. All praise to Allah SWT that I have never had to experience something like an earthquake or tsunami nor can I truly imagine the feelings of horror and dread that fill the individuals caught in such situations. I can still remember watching on the news, huge waves of water that crashed through the lower lying regions of Indonesia, stopping at nothing and reducing everything in its path to rubbish. I can recall the newscast after the tsunami where nearly every half hour the number of dead reported rose in hundreds and thousands until it was finally declared that nearly 200,000 people had lost their lives in the region.

Since then no earthquake has been so destructive yet it would be hardly respectful to consider any other event less tragic. It is definitely an underlying human characteristic that even after such momentous events, we are able to pick ourselves up and start rebuilding our lives. With the passage of time we are always able to replace destruction with order and sadness with numbness. The advent of modern technologies such as the early warning system may make the recovery process easier by preventing loss and allowing swifter responses post the disaster. But the very nature of these systems, for me, serves to remind us of our frailty.

 For as human beings we cannot stop a disaster from occurring nor do we design technologies to do so. We try at best to minimize the damage caused in any situation. Our science enables to explain events like why there was no tsunami this time or why there is night and day. But sometimes we need to go deeper than the surface and see things with perspective. Human beings have existed for a long time now and each and every one of them has experienced night and day, rain and shine, food and drink – all of these phenomena ever present without a need for explanation. For think about it – we do not control the sun or the moon yet we take it for granted that there will be a day for our work and a night time for our rest. In an earlier piece I mentioned how we do not get a lot of choice but events such as earthquakes serves to remind us that even the semblance of control we have may not really exist.

I might come across as a pessimist or a cynic given how I go on about a lack of choice or control and such matters, yet I feel optimistic about my state and I will let you know why in a moment. Before I do though, I would like to ask you what you think. How do you perceive such disasters? Does it make you ask deeper questions about yourselves or do you just choose to cover up such feelings? Reflection is a lost art in this modern world of distraction but do you not think you would like to take a few minutes and connect with yourself seeking answers to bigger questions or do you just take 42 as the ultimate answer?

As for my optimism, I’m reminded of the many instances in the Quran where our creator mentions

“And in the alternation of night and day, and the provision (rain) that Allah sends down from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the turning about of the winds (i.e. sometimes towards the east or north, and sometimes towards the south or west etc., sometimes bringing glad tidings of rain etc., and sometimes bringing the torment), are signs for a people who understand.” [The Crouching 45:5]

And in another place

And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and Allah has power over all things. Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who remember Allah (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire. [Family of Imran 4:189-191]

I leave you with a short recitation that should serve for us an early warning system for the ultimate end

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Have you ever scratched beneath the surface?

In life, there are times when we think about ourselves and our situation and exclaim – “Hey I never imagined I’d be in this situation or I never dreamed that I’ll be doing this with my life”. We look around us and think of our choices and say, “Wow I never thought that such and such would be important to me or that I have these qualities as a part of my character.”

This feeling might not overtake us very frequently. More often than not we just let our life rush by us, as we run the rat race or just spend time chilling as they say. We do what we do and just accept that life is a series of random events and we are where we are today as a matter of coincidence or the like. There are probably very few occasions in our life when we actually sit down, take time out and look back at our lives and reflect. We hardly ponder about the effects of those little matters which seemed random or pure strokes of luck (the good type or the bad type) at that time yet have caused you to be where you are right now.

“Pray why should we bother with the past,” you ask me, “It is this moment that is really important and we might as well just live in this moment.” Well, you are right there, this moment is important but a few years down the line this very moment could decide what you are doing then. What is random today is the reason you are where you are tomorrow. As you look back, life seems to be a script that you lived, as Shakespeare implied when he said life is a stage. But I’d like to ask a different question.

It is obvious every person considers his life to be important to himself if not to anybody else. Every individual holds himself in high regard feeling that he should have a good life. We spend our entire lives pursuing that good life. But why do we have this sense of entitlement? Why do we think that, we can’t believe we are here or can’t understand why we aren’t somewhere else? After all, we didn’t choose when we are going to be born; we don’t choose when we are going to die. We don’t have a choice in, whom we are born to nor can we question why India or Middle East or Africa or anywhere else for that matter. It just happened and we just accept. We can always say that I wish I was such and such or so and so but like you and I know that is just a wish. Escapism at best.

Among us there are those who will leave a legacy behind, but I wonder about the countless billions that came to this planet. Who were these people before us? Nameless and faceless they played their part in making the earth go round. Surely among them were good people, good fathers and good mothers, intelligent children, creative individuals, who lived out their time maybe in poverty or may be in wealth, maybe in health or maybe in sickness and when their time came left the planet for good. Like them we too came on this planet and we too shall leave when our time is up. We don’t remember them as we remember Gandhi or Newton. Every generation can hardly remember more than a generation or two or maybe three that preceded it.

Then in reality we need to question ourselves to whom does this life matter? Why should we be alive even and what is our purpose? For we can for ourselves make up a purpose – to be wealthy, to be recognized or just to be plain happy. But we know that there were many who never got there and died trying in the purpose. Each and every one of us knows about the lowest common denominator for all of humanity – death but when is each person’s appointed time, we humans don’t’ have a clue! Logically speaking this abrupt end to life should in fact make our life purposeless for why bother with something that is limited in and of itself. No human being can deny the reality of death but very few wonder what is to happen after.

Thus I invite you to take a few moments out of your day and contemplate your life (the past and the future) and ask yourselves to where you are really headed.

As for me, three lines from the noble Quran keep running through my head as I write this –

“By Time. Verily entire mankind is in loss. Except those who believe [in a meeting with their creator] and thus do righteous deeds, and enjoin the truth and enjoin patience” [Asr (103):1-3]