Monday, May 4, 2015

When the Big One struck Nepal


Saturday, 25 April 2015, I was at the office, alone on the first floor. I was engrossed in my work when I felt a little lightheaded. I looked up and felt the floor tremble, growing in intensity along with a rattling noise accompanied by a deep roar. The house started to buckle and I was hypnotized by the sight of the computer screen on my desk rock back and forth and inch towards the edge of the table.  I grabbed my phone to call my wife but there was no signal. I looked out and saw people out on the empty lot in front of the office, yelling, asking me to get out.
I was gesturing to them to say that I was all right when I saw the brick wall behind them fall away. I was terrified, but the people who were in actual danger of being crushed by the collapsing wall, were totally unaware. The rumbling must have been so loud that they didn’t hear the wall crash. The trees and building were swaying and I stood, trying hard to keep my balance. When the shaking stopped, I shut off the electricity and walked down, got on my bicycle and rushed back home to see if my family was all right.

“It takes a while to come back from seeing so much death and destruction…”

Sikkim’s KARMA PALJOR, a senior correspondent at CNN-IBN, is part of an 18-strong team of his news channel covering the tragedy in Nepal. In an interview conducted over email, he speaks to NOW! about what reporting about Nepal’s Big One has been like, what challenges they overcame to tell the story and what the toll has been. Excerpts:

NOW: From what we have seen on TV thus far, CNN-IBN appears to be the news channel to have deployed the largest contingent to cover the earthquake and has also devoted the most airtime to continuing reportage from the ground. What is the scale of your news channels engagement in covering this story? And what convinced it to do so?
KARMA PALJOR: It was a human disaster of epic proportions. The numbers of the dead and missing are still coming in and we had to deploy the best and the closest available resources to cover this event. Our team from Patna entered Nepal two hours after the quake hit. It was also a coincidence that the entire team was travelling to Purnia for a different story. We always deploy to the fullest whenever there is a natural disaster, we did so in Uttrakhand, Kashmir and even in Orissa. We believe we have a team capable and good at covering such stories and have always proudly lead from the front. For Nepal we had a team of over 18 people covering the Earthquake- the highest deployment in and around Katmandu.

Up… up… and away!

Arjun proves why paragliding makes so much sense


Not many get to glide like an eagle and fewer still get to glide for a living. Paragliding offers one such opportunity for those looking to tread the untrodden path, have fun and earn! Jumping off a cliff or a hill with your life depending on just a chute is not meant for everyone, which is why paragliding falls under the field of adventure sports. It is an up and coming field in the country and Sikkim wants a piece of it as well.

Lesson Learnt?

Disaster drills have to be more about response than just evacuation

Just when it was appearing that Sikkim had forgotten the fright of the 18 September 2011 temblor, Nepal was hammered by a 7.8 strong earthquake on 25 April 2015, the ripples of which coursed through Sikkim as well, scary more in their duration than intensity. Lessons on Himalayan plate tectonics and the earthquakes they can trigger came rushing back, and the State, its people and its authorities were reminded that they live in a seismically active zone. Disaster preparedness is not an extravagant indulgence for the government and people here, but a dire necessity. It is thus bewildering that disaster management here is just a fund-driven, Delhi-dictated token undertaking when it should have been an instinctive and informed choice of the people supported by the government. Funds for disaster management became abundant after the Tsunami of 2004, unfortunately, this has not translated into improvements in preparedness. Disaster Management is part of a full-fledged government department now, but for it to be of any consequence in a region as natural disaster-prone as Sikkim, it has to become part of the psyche of the people here, aimed to ensure that panic, which can be the most debilitating emotion in the wake of a catastrophe, does not take over the streets.

Firing up the Chili factor

Sikkim now has its very own version of the world famous Tabasco sauce - Peero. Known for its hot and spicy taste, Tabasco sauce is made from tabasco pepper while the Sikkimese sauce is made from dalley or cherry pepper. Packaged in a bottle similar to the Tabasco brand, Peero is produced by Gangtok-based company Sikkim Green Grocers. Dalley Fire, Dalley Paste and Bamboo Dalley are some of the other products they have.
'Peero' Dalley Sauce is priced at Rs. 110 for a 60 ml bottle and is available in Gangtok, Rangpo, Jorethang, Mangan and Namchi. Managing Director, Sikkim Green Grocers, Mahesh Dawari informs that they plan to export the product to markets outside the state like Bhutan and China. The company has also been receiving technical support from Central Food Technological Research Institute, Government of India.

Schools, still not properly toilet-trained

Sikkim is one of the most hygienic states in India. A claim attested by the fact that it is the first state of to achieve Nirmal Rajya status by securing total sanitation. And yet, out of the total of 774 Government schools all over Sikkim, 773 schools still require proper toilets for girl students. The official data on “status of improvement/ reconstruction” states that 773 schools are in need of this upgrade. The lone school that did not require toilets for girls is Tashi Namgyal Senior Secondary School in Gangtok, a boys only school! 190 of the 774 schools require toilets for boys. This data has been extracted from the Human Resource Development Department’s official website which presents statistics as of September 2014.

To get through, right counsel needs the right approach

Sitting in on an adolescent health sensitization session


The room buzzes with the chatter of young girls as they trickle in which is followed by the screeching of chairs as they are pulled and pushed. Psychologist Sangela Dorjee waits on the steps leading to the small stage for the girls to settle down. The counselling session under the state-sponsored school health programme for Class XI students at Paljor Namgyal Girls Secondary School is about to begin.
The Psychologist begins by explaining what ‘adolescence’ means; most of the girls in the room are aged between 17 to 19. From physical changes to changes in the functioning of the brain, everything is explained. Having laid the foundation for the session, Ms Dorjee then goes on to link adolescent behavior with all these changes.

Treats at MVD


Restaurants and eateries around town are frequented by many but the humble canteen or cafeteria in the various government departments offer many delectable dishes and not many might be aware of them. While restaurants are not just about the food but also about the ambience, decor, music for some and booze for many out there, departmental canteens are all about the food! Starting this week, we begin a series on departmental canteens and their signature dishes.
WHERE: Motor Vehicles Division of Transport Department
SPECIALTY: Phulauro with Alu Dum
PRICE: Rs 20 per plate

Learning Chess from the Masters at Govt schools

After private schools, now government schools have also stepped up efforts to promote the game of Chess among students

Nimtar Junior High School in East Sikkim is the first government school to start Chess classes for its students. Classes began in the first week of this month and are being held after school on Saturdays. Chess instructors have been hired to coach the kids, for which the Headmaster, teachers and other staff have pooled in money.

Choked and chilled!

Unseasonal Weather is being unreasonable for farming in Sikkim


The weather has remained unseasonably wet and cold this year. The comforting warmth of Spring has given Sikkim the skip thus far, and while the ferocious daily downpours, the hailstorms and the persistent chill might be inconveniencing the urban dwellers, the loss is much more significant and material for rural Sikkim where agriculture has taken a severe hit. Farmers have already lost the winter crop to hail and the chances of recovering the season have been sabotaged by the continuing rains and cold which have waterlogged the fields and chilled the earth. The approaching paddy season, if projections of the Met Office are to be believed, also appears uncertain since the monsoon has been predicted to be below average this year.