[Column] The magnitude of our experiences

Now she’s working on her thesis, Padmini Manivannan is experiencing the impact of an life-threatening event from her childhood.

(Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

It was a nice sunny Friday morning, around 8:45. I was sitting on the sofa, my attention on the TV watching Duck Tales or TaleSpin, I can’t seem to remember now. It was a holiday because it was India’s Republic Day. My dad was in the kitchen to my right, cooking us some breakfast. My mom was in the bedroom, tidying up the place. The kitchen door was a metal grill door and would squeak every time it moved.  My brother, who was a three year old at that time, loved to climb up the door and swing back and forth. The squeaky noises were all the amusement he needed.

But today he was sitting right next to me, watching Cartoon Network, when all of a sudden the kitchen door started to swing back and forth all by itself. Six year old me didn’t think much about it; maybe I thought it was the wind. Maybe I thought nothing of it. My dad assumed it was my brother causing the noises again and with his back facing us, he told him to stop.

My mother was still in the bedroom, cleaning stuff up and removing the mosquito net off our bed. She suspected there was a mouse inside our cupboard because it started to shake all of a sudden. It felt like minutes while my brother and I were still on the sofa in the living room watching television but it was probably seconds before my parents realised that it wasn’t my brother or the wind behind the swinging kitchen door or a mouse inside the bedroom cupboard. My father suddenly rushed to grab my little brother, told me to turn off the TV power and run downstairs. My mother ran up to us and opened the main door to our house and we hurried out of our apartment on the first floor.

My mom and dad took turns sleeping at night 

I hadn’t heard the word ‘earthquake’ before. I know now what it did to people. The next couple of weeks we were on alert, all our important documents and money lay on a desk next to the TV in case there was an aftershock and we had to rush out again. The house owners who lived on the ground floor were out of town and had given their house keys to us. I guess the world was a more trusting place back in 2001. With their permission, we slept in their house in the living room. In case something happened, it would be easier to get out of the house that way. My mom and dad took turns sleeping at night, to watch over us because we were just kids.

The events were the aftermath of the 2001 Bhuj earthquake in India and are seared in my memory. At that point, I didn’t realise the kind of impact this would have on me. It started off as an innocent curiosity to know more. And I guess I’m still on that path. Right now I am working on my thesis which focuses on disaster mitigation by providing post-disaster hazard maps. It is meant to pinpoint the areas which have suffered the most damage using radar (Sentinel 1) data. I feel like I am realising the joys of studying and researching something that I find myself completely invested in.

The more I look outward for inspiration, the more I realise that my thoughts focus inwards, into myself. I write in hopes that these snippets of my thoughts count as part of our shared experiences. I found inspiration in bleak memories from a long time ago. And when there is a need for it, I hope you find the strength to do the same.

Padmini Manivannan is a Master’s student studying Signals and Systems at TU Delft and hails from Chennai, India. She loves doodling in her free time.

Padmini Manivannan / Columnist

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