ONE THING ABOUT SCENES OF TRAGEDY AND DESTRUCTION: you begin to see in them irony here, paradox and conundrum there. It happened to me in New Orleans after Katrina, in Orissa after the 1999 cyclone, in Tamil Nadu after the tsunami, in Kutch after the quake. And it happens in Ladakh in mid-August, two weeks after the cloudburst and flash floods on the night of 5 August.
Some five kilometres east of Leh, on the Manali highway, is the town of Choglamsar. The flood tore this place apart in a way that is hard to look at, harder to comprehend. What power unleashed turned a crowded neighbourhood into this ghost town that resembles 1980s Beirut, or 1940s Dresden, and did it in 15 minutes? This is just what I have in my head as I roam through deserted Choglamsar, conscious that it can only be a rhetorical question.
Then, on a small pile of rubble, I come across a child’s school handbook, pages flapping in the breeze. The water ripped off the cover, so I don’t know whose it was. The first page has “Write and Learn, Pet Show on Friday” in the kid’s pencil scrawl. At the bottom is printed this message: “The good man does not escape all troubles, he has them too. But the Lord helps him in each and every one.”