The Notre Dame Fire

by Michael Joachim Ganpat

Nothing lasts forever. On April 15, 2019, a little before 7 o'clock in the evening, a fire broke out in the rafters of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

It was 11pm here in India and I was going to bed after a long day at school. But when the news broke, I just couldn't sleep.

Notre-Dame has been the heartbeat of Paris since centuries. The Cathedral was built in the 12th century. Its walls and interior vaulted ceiling are of stone; its roof and spire are of wood, sheathed in lead to exclude water.

The massive blaze devastated large parts of the 850 year old cathedral. The blaze did not cause much harm to any individual, but the cathedral’s iconic spire fell during the hours it took to douse the fire.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in an address to the nation, promised Parisians that they will "rebuild this cathedral together”. He then launched a fundraising campaign which brought in pledges of over €1 billion as of 22nd April 2019.

Within hours of the spire coming down, two of France's wealthiest families, led by François-Henri Pinault and Bernard Arnault, had pledged no less than €300 million in funding for the restoration effort.

It would be incorrect to suggest that it is wrong to give money tp restore Notre Dame. After all it is a symbol of European history and it's better that the money be used to restore it, rather than sit in a bank account.

But the magnitude of people’s response tells us something about the society we live in. If two men in a world of more than 7 billion people can provide €300 million within six hours to restore Notre Dame and if over €1 billion funds could be raised within 7 days of the fire, then there is enough money in the world to feed every mouth, shelter every family and educate every child. The failure to do the same is a matter of will, and a matter of system.

The failure to do so comes from our failure to recognise the mundane emergencies that claim lives all around us every single day. Works of art and architectural history and beauty rely on the ingenuity of people, and it is people who must be protected above everything else.

Brick and stained-glass might burn, but they do not bleed, they do not starve, and they do not suffer. Humans suffer. Everywhere in the world, from Paris to Patna, people are suffering. But their suffering is every day.

It does not light up a front page, and it does not inspire immediate donations from the rich section of the world.

Michael is an extrovert, an optimist and a dreamer. He's interested in politics, philosophy, psychology and poetry. Currently, he's studying at St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Calcutta.

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