Below, Parmesh Bhatt, and, above, his office after the earthquake
When the earthquake struck, a cabinet in my office fell
down. I was holding onto my computer, which was also
falling down. In a way you get used to earthquakes, but
they are always scary. I was frightened. My son was on the
job and my wife is looking after her mother so they were
In such a situation, you always check if the communication is working right. I was at my computer so I thought
let me see if it is working. The walls were shaking for a full
three minutes; it was frightening. I typed out a message to
(brother filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt) Mahesh because I
know he responds very fast. I wrote soon after 2.46 pm:
‘Extremely huge earthquake in Tokyo right now. I am
safe.’ I knew he will pass it on to family. Everybody in my
family got back to me and I told them through e-mail or
cell phone that I was safe.
In surrounding buildings, everybody was coming out.
All of them were wearing fireproof jackets and helmets.
They are all used to earthquakes, so they keep the gear in
offices. Then we got news about Fukushima and the devastation over there. Initially, the news came that the
earthquake was less than 8.9 on the Richter scale. We
were convinced it was more.
Tokyo’s quake measured 6.8 on the Richter scale. In
Fukushima they got a tsunami warning, so everybody was
excited, and everybody was also scared. The first thing
everyone does is to reach out to family. Tragedy brings a
family closer. We check if everybody is okay. The next
thing the Japanese do is to show that they are not panicking. They go out and buy supplies like batteries, transistor
radios, instant food or water supplies. Gas, water and
electricity are lifelines in such times. Normally, everybody
cuts down consumption. Even though Tokyo’s earthquake
was 6.8, only six people died and 90-plus were injured.
This was because of strict standards of building design.
The only disturbing thing was that people were buying
groceries and other supplies in panic. So, finally, there was
a shortage of supplies. Everybody was rushing out to buy
and stockpile. I have never seen such scenes in the last 40
years where the store shelves were empty. That was a surprising moment for me. As it had happened in Russia
after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it happened here —
there was nothing available in the stores.
On television they were telling people, ‘Don’t stockpile.
Manufacturers have lots of stock and enough supplies.’
People shop because they think if trains and subways
stop and the transportation breaks down, then how will
supplies come? Also, people were afraid of the subways
shutting down if the energy supply went. Many people
PHOTOGRPHS COUR TES Y: PARMESH BHATT
started walking more than
before. There were traffic jams on the roads. There was a
kind of chaos, but people didn’t show panic on their faces.
I think they showed it in their attitude. They were just
buying everything they could. People started buying gasoline too. It was also out of stock.
In most cities sales of Geiger counters — that measures
radiation levels — and potassium iodide tablets — which
protects against radioactive iodine — increased. Some
people even left Tokyo to escape the aftershocks. They
didn’t want to suffer blackouts.
People would exchange details of the current reading of
radiation levels. We also got mails about the radiation levels regularly, which kept us well-informed. We exchanged
the broadcast measurement data and the effect of radiation published by the ministries of education, culture,
sports, science and technology in Japan. Now we don’t
have to depend upon true or false media releases.
After the calamities, the people are asking the right
questions. Since the people are suffering blackouts, they
are angry to see that vending machines are still not tuned
off by multinationals. Japan has more than 5.5 million
vending machines nationwide. In this automation heaven
called Japan, everything is sold through vending
machines — including toothpaste and toothbrushes.
I got a message on the evening of March 19 that said, ‘A
strong quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 jolted
Ibaraki prefecture and its vicinity in the Kanto region
(Tokyo was 4.0) and the southern part of the Tohoku
The quake at 6:56 pm registered upper 5 on the
Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in the northern part
of Ibaraki and lower 5 in the southern part of the prefec-
ture, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. A
change in the sea level may occur following the quake, but
no damage is expected, the agency said.
So how were we on March 20? I have an e-mail that
says, ‘At 08:45 am Sunday in Tokyo downtown radiation
reading is 0.18 microSv/h = normal background radia-
tion. This proves Tokyo is perfectly normal!’
Such e-mails help in understanding what is going on
At present we are exposed to less radiation than some-
Empty store shelves in Tokyo. For the first time in 40 years, people
started stockpiling after the disasters
one riding a three-wheeler in Mumbai, exposed to fumes,
is. We are reading all about what the government is doing
at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. We are being
informed. My friends, neighbors and I believe that
nobody expected that a tsunami would wipe out the barrier and hit the plant in this manner. It’s a natural calamity which hit the back-up power system. People who are
educated and reading exactly what happened are not
blaming each other. All the residents of Tokyo are working. It is business as usual. They have regular schedules
and they are attending to it, but I saw that Indians in
Japan, who are earning in Japan and sending money to
their families back home, have started rushing to the airport. They want to leave the country. I am surprised that
300 Indian information technology engineers were the
first to pack their bags and rush to the airport. They are
saying that their mothers want them back home. I presume they are educated enough, but wonder where their
In Japan, normally, people try to listen. They attempt to
understand things. I think the Japanese take time in
deciding but once they do, they do things fast. Kobé was
rebuilt in five years after a major earthquake in 1995.
Tokyo got normal in a week. We will rebuild Japan within five years. Right now, as I said before, people are watching what is happening at the power plant in Fukushima.
We are continuously monitoring the radiation levels, we
are comparing the radiation in normal times. We are
keeping cool. We are not panicking.
Mahtama Gandhi said, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.’ This thought, I
think, is what keeps me going in this situation. ;
Parmesh Bhatt, businessman, event manager and
brother of Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, is so proud
of his integration into his adopted country that he boasts he
can even teach the Japanese language to the Japanese. He
spoke on the phone with Sheela Bhatt