The Rediff Special/ Ramesh Menon
Ahmedabad's children are desperately calling Childline -- a phone help facility established just a few days ago -- to discuss their unaddressed fears. Here is the most common one: Will the earthquake come again? Will we all die like they did in villages in Kutch?
The children are not the only ones. Many adults, in fact, as many as the children, call in daily asking numerous questions about the earthquake and how to overcome their fears.
A 10-year-old girl called asking if her school would open and she could get back to studying and going to school or whether the fear of another earthquake would keep her school closed for months.
Chaya Joshi sits outside the multi-storeyed building that houses Childline's office in the Paldi area of Ahmedabad, where many buildings have now been reduced to mounds of rubble. Her office is out in the open since steel girders are being put to support the building, which has developed cracks. Her office has developed deep cracks, so have the pillars in the parking lot.
Childline's makeshift office has visitors admiring Joshi's tenacity at keep it going. In the meanwhile, she waits for the phone to ring in the parking lot where it is located. She rushes to attend each call for it may be a child needing help.
The children who call mainly want some emotional support, some reassurance.
Numerous boys have called, pleading with Joshi or her colleagues at the phone to just talk to them. They are ready to hear anything. They just want to hear a strong and reassuring voice at the other end of the line.
Some children call, saying they want to hear a story. Or a song. Says Joshi: "Many of them are just trying to run away from the trauma of the earthquake. Everyone is talking about it and the children just want to be in a world where they don't need to be afraid. I have done all kinds of things on the phone in the last one week. I have sung songs, I have made up stories, I have even reeled off jokes." Anything to fulfill the demands of frightened children. She realises this is their way of coping.
Some children who call in try to laugh and make light of the situation. Joshi listens and hears the hidden trauma in their voices. Others are direct; they talk of the continuing fear, the continuing tremors. Sometimes, it gets too much, even for Joshi.
She admits that, even as she talks about being brave and of a safe, secure future, she herself is terrified. Her home, too, has developed deep cracks. On Saturday morning, when she was having a bath, there was a minor quake. It shook her.
But, when at Childline, she knows her stress cannot be passed on to the caller.
Many children call in to ask her why earthquakes happen. Patiently, time and again, Joshi explains how minor tremors help disseminate the excess energy accumulated deep within the earth. And why it is a good sign. Energy released in this way means that will be no major quake. And, consequently, no damage.
Then, there are calls from people asking if they could adopt children who have been orphaned.
Childline is now trying to get these details. But the Ahmedabad Study Action Group, which runs Childline, is treading carefully. Often, when there is a massive tragedy, it is natural for people react emotionally. "But adoptions are a serious business. What needs to be seen is whether these callers are actually serious and whether they will be able to sustain their concern after a few months, when today's emotionally-charged atmosphere becomes normal again," says an ASAG official.
Gujarat will have to decide the fate of around 8,000 children who have been orphaned by the quake. It will take time, since the state government has still to identify the children.
M H Jowher, an Internet solutions provider and management consultant, and his wife and business partner, Zakia, decided three days after the quake that they would adopt a Hindu orphan and bring him up as a Hindu. "It will give us another child," says Jowher. "And our son, Arastu, will learn the importance of communal amity."
In a communally-charged city, such stories reinforce one's faith in humankind.
Design: Lynette Menezes
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