Surviving the floods……..and a new perspective on life.
I go back to the morning of December 1 of 2015. This morning was surely like nothing I have seen in my life so far. My roommate and I, who have the reputation of shrugging off most incidents which might cause lesser people to panic, woke up to sudden pangs of fear and uncertainty all of a sudden.
The sight we saw from our balcony was this. Water, nearly six feet of it all over the road. Good, solid cars submerged under the water which was moving with some force. People’s books, utensils, pieces of furniture, clothing and a whole lot more being washed away steadily. Goes without saying that we were stranded, with just some bread and pieces of cake left over from the previous night for food. We met some of our neighbours for the first time since we moved into our new rented space in Ashok Nagar. None of them know how to react. By now the depth of the situation had dawned on us. These were no passing rains. It had been raining without respite and there was absolutely no chance that the water levels would recede through the day. We heard news from one of the neighbours that the bridge which connects Ekkatuthangal to Ashok Nagar was completely inundated. Getting out of home was rather impossible. But could the water levels really rise even further and possibly sweep our belongings away?
We knew by now, that we had to spend the night in darkness. Our neighbours, seeing our jaded and clueless faces were kind enough to offer us some water and some extra food that they had, with us. We had lost all connectivity with the people outside our flat, . In the midst of this, a four year-old boy was excited, and rather fascinated by the sight of cars being submerged and boats coming in to rescue people, remaining totally oblivious to the gravity of the situation. Oh, how nice it would feel to be child-like in such a situation, I thought.
Candle-light dinner became a necessity. It so turned out that with Internet connectivity, our phones and every digital mode of communication going for a toss, my roommate and I actually had a real conversation for the first time since moving in. I started thinking at the back of my mind, “So this is how simple and real lives must have been before technology started controlling people’s lives.”
A lot of truths were shared, inner feelings revealed and I turned out to have a far greater appreciation for my roomie, neighbours and humanity in general.
This dark situation repeated itself the next day, but somehow we were much calmer in the midst of chaos. Another day in the house was a given. A few more conversations with our neighbours, one of whom was brave enough to wade through the water and walk to Vadapalani to get some basic essentials, like biscuits to eat. Best we could do was hope and pray that it wouldn’t rain again. We got to know that everybody living in the ground floor had to forcibly evacuate. There were even some reports being thrown around of crocodiles having escaped the bank, and emerging in the flood water. People were dying, hutments were being destroyed and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
On day three, it stopped raining and we finally had a glimmer of hope, waiting till the evening to eventually venture out onto the road. Water levels were down to knee-level by now and it was time to rescue a few friends and go to a place with electricity and water, for starters. Wading through the flood water took on a different meaning altogether, and was fraught with risk. This was a day when nobody bothered about how they looked, what they wore or even what they would eat for dinner. Getting to a safer place was the key.
By Friday, a lot of calm was restored in many middle-class residential areas. Well-meaning relatives let us stay over till parity was restored at home. While my phone conked out, panic levels of family and friends grew manifold. There was constant advice from many quarters that I should take my bag and baggage and go to safer, drier shores. I didn’t relent. This was not the time to be selfish and put myself before thousands of others who lost their homes and kith and kin, by going back to my parents’ house.
I thought that this was actually the best time to stay back and try to help those affected much worse than us, in any small way possible. Thanks to my aunt who was arranging food packets to be distributed to the worst affected areas through her NGO, I spent one day packing food packets into cartons and helping them to be transported. No big deal compared to the others who came forward with massive relief efforts, but it gave me a small tinge of satisfaction, along with a clear message that running away wasn’t an option this time.
More than anything else, those five days made me, and many others like me look beyond the usual dogmas of religion, caste, creed, colour, social status and other such things that tend to divide us in more normal times. A united front put forth by the people of Chennai to get this city back on track was there for all to see. The genuine happiness that many of those unknown faces got out of lending their hand to those who needed them was moving and very reassuring.
If I had to rewind to five years ago, a calamity of these proportions might have made me try to escape, to be reeling in guilt later. This time around, I felt like I belonged in this city too and had to do something, anything to help. It is safe to say, in hindsight, that the floods of 2015 actually made a better man out of me and made this cynic a lot more humane.