The Indian Express meets Russian tourists, working Indians and locals stranded outdoors in Kathmandu
‘Blessed to be on a pavement’
The 25-member extended family of Jagat Narayan Sthapit, 70, has been camping on the pavement outside a supermarket with six other groups from his locality, where most of the houses have developed cracks.
The Sthapit family lived in a nine-storey building. When the earthquake struck on Saturday, all of them chose to stay indoors for fear that the elderly members would hurt themselves if they took the stairs. Now that they are out, they are in no hurry to go back.
“It was about living together and dying together,” says Prakash Sthapit, who runs a store. “We are not going back home for at least two more nights. There have been over a dozen aftershocks.” His three-year-old son, Pranjit, starts playing with his dog, Boris.
Thermos flasks, biscuits and blankets were all they carried from home to the pavement, where a number of families have now settled. “The earthquake has brought everyone to the pavement,” says Neeta, another member of the Sthapit family.
“Everyone is thinking only about survival,” Neeta Sthapit adds. “We as a family have stuck together with one another and our pets. When thousands have been left homeless and have no place to stay, I feel blessed that we are on the pavement, the verandah of a marketplace.”
Just 200 metres from where the Sthapit family’s home is, there is now only debris at Hanuman Dokha Durbar Square, a world heritage site with temples and courtyards from the days of the ancient Malla kings. “This was the main tourist attraction in Kathmandu,” says Kumod Rai, who hails from Motihari in Bihar but has lived here for six years.
Visitors have still been coming to offer prayers and light diyas. Pigeons are still getting feed from travellers, with grain packets available on sale. What has changed, though, is the neat carvings on wooden pillars. These are part of garbage now. On one such pillar, a tea seller has put up a temporary stall so that she can get brisker sales.
Goldsmiths homesick for bengal
Marium, 27, hit her head against a wall during Saturday’s earthquake. She has taken shelter in Tudikhel park with hundreds of others. Hers is one of over 200 families of goldsmiths from West Bengal living in tents on the open ground. She has kept her bags packed, and wants to go back to Bengal as soon as she can find transport.
An estimated 20,000 goldsmiths from Bengal, mostly from Midnapore like Marium, work in Kathmandu. Most have been here for years, travelling to India once or twice a year. “When we go home this time, we would like to return only after normalcy returns,” Marium says, sitting amidst her bags along with relatives outside a tent.
Bhatu Bora of Howrah says New Road and Vishal Bazar, Kathmandu’s hub of jewellery shops, have been long attracted youths from Bengal, who have learnt the art from their forefathers. “A rookie goldsmith can start at Rs 10,000 and go on to earn Rs 40,000 once he becomes a veteran.”
Radhanath Samanta and Sanjay Baguli from Midnapore say their first priority is to recover psychologically. Baguli says, “I am thinking of an alternative profession. The quake has shaken me and I want to work somewhere closer home.”
Ruby from Howrah says yoga guru Ramdev’s camp, which was going on when the quake struck, has been providing survivors with food.
Hemant Rana, a first-generation goldsmith, also from Midnapore, says though he is attached to Kathmandu, and grateful for the livelihood it has brought him, he wants to go back home. “I just want the comfort of family and friends,” says Rana.
‘Oh, for a blanket’
A blanket is all they ask for. They say they were not scared by the two aftershocks that came on Sunday night as they were under the open sky, away from the multi-storey buildings. But they have shivered for two nights outdoors.
In the day, Dixie Dmitri, a composer from Russia, sits in an open field and munches corn, the only food item on sale. He is trying to get a visa to India. He was in his hotel room when the earthquake came and has not gone back since. “A blanket is all is need,” he says.
Natalia and Tania, also from Russia, don’t want to return home yet but have no idea where they go next. “I would like to leave Nepal. As long as there is no arrangement made, we will stay on the open ground,” says Natalia, also eating corn.