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Shaken by quake, Patna starts feeling at home in Gandhi Maidan

Residents of Patna camp in Gandhi Maidan after Saturday's earth earthquake.

earthquake Patna residents camp in Gandhi Maidan after earthquake. (Source: Express photo)

It is past 12.30 on Monday night. A certain nervousness envelops Patna’s Gandhi Maidan as people spot an illuminated object flying approach. Cameras are whipped out. “This is probably going to be the new rumour about the earthquake on Whatsapp,” murmurs Abhishek Kumar, a law student, eyeing the object.

As it turned out, it was not a bird, not a plane, but a lantern sent out from one of the many weddings that were taking place in the city that night. The twin spectacles of the weddings and families camping out in the city’s parks helped put into perspective the unease with which Patna has lived the three nights since the Nepal earthquake.

“I also looked, even though I knew it was an impossibility,” said Gaurav Sundaram sheepishly. Sundaram, a postgraduate from Patna’s National Institute of Technology who was on a recce mission to the Maidan before bringing his family, was talking about the Saturday-night-rumours spread through online forums that the Moon had overturned after the earthquake. A case has been registered at the city’s Secretariat police station against former MLA Dayanand Rai for spreading rumours about another earthquake through WhatsApp. Rai, who represented Narpatganj of Araria district, was at Delhi’s Bihar Bhavan when he allegedly sent out forwards about another quake. To add to all this, the houses of three former ministers were burgled in the posh locality of Kautilya Nagar on Sunday night.

“I wish our people would listen to themselves more than they listen to others,” said Kumar. On Monday, the number of people at Gandhi Maidan had come down considerably compared to the past two days. “I am the only one here tonight; last night, there must have been around 20 of us here,” said Arvind Yadav, who has an ice cream cart. He made an extra Rs. 800 on Sunday night selling ice cream to those camping at the Maidan. Sales were lean on Monday: there were only about 30 cars at the ground.

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The state government has ordered that the parks of the city – even those that charge an entrance fee – remain open to public through the night. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited some of them on Saturday as well as Sunday night. Ramashish Rajak, a paramedic with the 108 Ambulance posted at the Maidan said that he had provided medical assistance to about 12 individuals over the past two nights. “People were anxious, tired. Most were cases of high blood pressure,” he said. For some, the experience was something else altogether: “There was a football match involving a hundred people that went on all of last night,” said Suraj Singh, Kumar’s friend.

“I think people have stopped turning up here because of the absence of facilities. They could have at least provided drinking water,” said Subodh Kumar, a college student. When it rained briefly on Sunday night, the people at the Maidan had to take refuge under a cloth canopy that had been erected for a meeting of the Teli community. “One of the reasons my mother is reluctant to come tonight is because she fears there could be a hailstorm. That would be funny, getting injured in that trying to escape an earthquake,” said Sundaram.

At the sprawling Eco Park, located near the CM’s office and various VIP residences, there were more people on Monday night. People slept on mats provided by the administration; anxious-looking men circled the perimeter of their sleeping families. Around 1.30 in the night, maybe after losing the battle to mosquitos, a number of people began to pack up and leave.

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A group of about 10 boys walked in, after catering at a wedding. For a while, they sat around drinking the lemon tea being sold by a boy and watching four men playing cards. Then, the leader of the group stood up and declared, “Khel kabbadi!” Shirts were stripped away, shoes came to demarcate the playing field as the boys began. Soon, a policeman came waving his lathi, ending the game. As they wore their shoes in silence, one of the boys said to no one in particular, “So you’re not afraid to go home to the earthquake now? There’s supposed to be one at two in the night, I heard.” “What earthquake?” replied another.

First published on: 28-04-2015 at 05:48:50 pm
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