FIRST PERSON: Nobody in Nepal said 'Go home, Indian media'

During the past eight days I spent covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal, there was one scene which never left my mind. 

On April 25 noon, my wife and I were standing in our building’s park, sheepishly smiling at each other, as neighbours rushed downstairs. 

There were those who kept looking at us from their balconies, hardly amused. After ten minutes of internet browsing, and by making a few calls, the earthquake was over for us. 

Survivors stand atop the debris of their houses in Sankhu, Kathmandu

Survivors stand atop the debris of their houses in Sankhu, Kathmandu

At the same time in Nepal and adjoining areas, as we now know, more than 7,000 lives had already been snuffed out. Men, women and children, across the plains, across the hills, were maimed, left homeless in a matter of minutes. For them, this was only the beginning. 

I did what it took to reach Kathmandu at the earliest and hopped on to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) first helicopter sortie into the Nepalese hinterland to assess the damage, with senior officials on-board. 

As colleagues landed and we covered ground, directions were clear. Head out and bring stories that no one else has. Thus I accessed Gorkha, in that the epicentre Barpak, town of Lukla and Chaurikharkha and trudged besides countless, nameless settlements which the earthquake had consigned to history. 

As the aircraft revs up for a take-off from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport to take me back home to India, I take with me memories of meeting the kindest, purest and humblest people I have come across. 

The scale of devastation that these villages have faced often made me wonder if they will ever be rebuilt. 

The IAF, Indian Army and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were players in the background helping Nepal and its people stand on their feet. The story was the people, their plight, their circumstances, their requirements, and not how many Indian teams had reached and what they accomplished. 

Medical clowns perform in front of children in Kathmandu

Medical clowns perform in front of children in Kathmandu

Everywhere we went and worked, we were greeted with open arms and smiles. Contrary to the rants of many who only require a keypad and 140 characters to run down intense efforts, the affected people did not forget to tell us how grateful they were that we came to hear them when their own news organisations could not. 

Our visits to places were followed by authorities coming there with help. This, for me, remains the biggest satisfaction. 

Then there was the charge that it was us, the journalistic fraternity, which was being promoted by the government of India. Unfortunately for the proponents of this theory, facts tell a different tale. 

The IAF’s six helicopters and at least two more from Indian Army’s Aviation Corps combined made India’s presence highly visible. Are journalists from India to be blamed if they seek access to places where there are no roads through these choppers and, with all due respect, their Nepalese counterparts are nowhere around in doing so?

In subsequent days, I saw many Nepalese news crew on board IAF helicopters. So, who was promoting whom? 

However, I must tell you that not all in Nepal were pleased with us. A clampdown was announced. Suddenly the Indian press corps was persona non grata. The Indian and the Nepali officials went into a huddle to break the deadlock, which they did subsequently. 

To conclude, the state of Nepal must brace up and address the palpable discontent among its citizens. It is hardly hidden how the airport at Kathmandu is overflowing with relief while just nothing of it is reaching those who need it. 

I saw people forced to live in their fields and greenhouses even in the upper reaches of the Himalayas. 

The Nepalese army, police and civil society have risen to the occasion in a commendable manner. However, the hollowness of the administration and lack of direction at the apex level has been exposed. 

The phase of rescuing people is largely over. The more difficult task of providing relief and rehabilitation has just begun. 

Nepal has months, if not years, ahead where this tragedy will loom large and occupy the attention of its government - and rightfully so. 

The writer works as a special correspondent for Headlines Today and was in Nepal from April 26 to May 3.