Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

The `God factor'

This week panic gripped Kolkatans who were scared out of their homes and offices, especially the high rises, by the tremors that hit the subcontinent and beyond. In matter of minutes, a large number of panic-stricken people across the city were out on the streets as cracks appeared on buildings and mobile lines got jammed by anxious calls to dear ones. The Kolkata tremors awakened in me memories of the fateful day of 9/11 when I was in New York in a hotel near ground zero from where I witnessed the towers come down and then I had to rush down to the streets from my hotel room with others, quite like the way Kolkatans did recently.
The visuals of buildings developing cracks in the local television channels further compounded people's fears who began to speculate on the possibility of a tsunami striking the coasts as many countries issued warnings and advisories on a national scale. Once again it was a pointer to the fact that despite mankind's technological advancement, we are still defenceless before nature or natural calamities.
I too got many calls and SMSes from friends and well-wishers across India who inquired about our well being. I found the people in general were hardly relieved even after news of the warnings were called off or downgraded. It is a fact that people by nature trust bad things more than good things.
On another catastrophic occasion when cyclone Aila ravaged large tracts in and around Bengal in 2009, people in the countryside were skeptical when told that the cyclone was finally weakening. I can relate to two things that have become the part of the collective consciousness of people in this part of India. First the proliferation of the television channels that bring to us the scary images of sufferings and destruction that these calamities leave it its wake. Second, the lack of disaster preparedness on the part of the government.
Another thing that I noticed was the “God factor”. Most of the people who called me up or sent me texts did mention directly or indirectly about God. In times of need and despair we all remember God. So many times we call out to Lord Rama, Jesus or Allah.
Interestingly some of mankind's eternal question – Does God exist! formed the theme of a book reading session at the Starmark in South City Mall recently. The event took place a few days prior to the earthquake.
The book, Rendezvous With God, authored by Abhilasha Agarwal. I, along with Roopa Ganguly, Sanatan Dinda, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and others, have contributed by sharing our personal experiences of moments when we felt the presence of God in our life. I shared my experience of 9/11 in New York on the day the towers came crashing down and I escaped by a narrow margin. That was when I not only thanked God from my heart I actually felt that I lived to tell the tale due to divine intervention. I was actually supposed to visit one of the buildings on that fateful day but a sudden change of plans changed my life and my view towards life forever.
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