3 Dec. At first, let me confess: I have not seen much of floods though there have been quite a few bad ones during my life-time. In various parts of the country. But our country is so diverse and so vast, the term ‘country’ could overshadow a continent. More important is the question of the modes, speeds and efficacy of communication infrastructure that makes all the difference in this ignorance of mine – like most of my fellow-country-wo/men
Chennai, in the South (-eastern coast) of Indian sub-continent, is known for its scarcity of water, besides its high to very high temperatures. To have some good showers is an event to be celebrated! This time, however, rain gods smiled on Chennai; not just smiled, mocked! (By the way, Chennai or the erstwhile Madras, is the capital city of Tamil Nadu, one of India’s 30 states).
I had to visit Chennai for some personal work. Once (traveling by night on 23 November and reaching Chennai) on 24/11 and second time (traveling by night train on 30 Nov., and reaching Chennai) on 1/12. This happened to be amidst the lashing rains. The first time, I feared rains and entered the city with much hesitation. But apart from some rain water on roads and lanes, there wasn’t much to witness (though damage and people unsettled was a painful sight) the massive floods.
When I crossed the flyover, connecting Chennai Central (railway station) and Chennai Park (local train station), all of us had to untie our shoes, fold trousers up and then cross that approximately 50-meter long lane where petty vendors sell their goods. Vendors had disappeared. So much was the water.
But no rains in Chennai on 24/11. When I walked along Chennai roads, there was enough water to look on dry and dirty ground clear of the dirt and stench. Displaced poor people were still taking shelter in schools and churches. Schools and colleges -which were closed following heavy rains and floods- had not yet re-opened. That was on 23rd November. I reached Bangalore that night.
A second visit to Chennai on 1st December: This time I had hoped for drier roads and clearer skies. But the day I left Bangalore, I checked on my mobile – heavy rains were forecast for Chennai for the next “few” days! I was worried.
Reached Chennai at 4.45am on the first day of December to torrential rains. That little gully, petty-vendors’ lane, was not inundated anyway! Reason enough to be happy. But by the time I reached Loyola College (approx. seven km away), I was as wet as water! After that there was no looking back for rain – rain and more rain. Call it cats and dogs or camels and elephants – it was only rain.
It was an unavoidable adventure that I went out towards Anna Salai (road) in the late morning. I was wet (once again) even in an auto-rickshaw. When I returned to Loyola at lunch time, one of my friends called me to warn that 25,000 cusecs of water was released from a nearby dam, and police had asked people to vacate their houses and the areas. So, I was asked me to “leave Chennai” as soon as possible. This was besides the unrelenting rains.
I had a return ticket for Bangalore at 3.30pm train. I left anyway. There was not much of a difference between roads and adjoining areas – Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink/ water water everywhere, all the boats did sink!
When I reached that famous gully/ lane between Park railway station and Chennai Central, it was as if a million horse-power pump was running riot in that lane! From where – I don’t know. The water was over knee level! NO vendors in sight. Only hundreds of umbrellas moving from one end of the lane to the other!
I moved on. My train arrived half an hour late, and we left Chennai. It’s only upon reaching my Bangalore home that mid-night (a good three hours delay), did I realise, all traffic including long-distance trains were cancelled! Chennai had come to a grinding halt. Oh my God! I missed being caught in Chennai railway station for 2-3 days or traveling in the CITY in a boat. By a whisker.
I also learned of the damage this once-in-a-century rains caused to Chennai and nearby areas. Schools closed for almost three weeks. people vacated from their homes and finding shelter in schools, churches, malls, and others’ home (with multi-stories). Dark nights. Powerless days. No food. No potable water. No phone signals. No city traffic.
It’s a painful saga. It’s pain crying out for you and me. No one to blame (at least at this moment). Except the supernatural powers. Except to storm heavens. And believe in mercy and compassion and good will.
This is not the Chennai I have known since 1988. This is not the rain I (hailing from Mangalore which is an aquarium to torrential rains during the rainy season – on an average 360 cm/year) have witnessed since my childhood. This is not the memory I would love to cherish. This is not the fate anybody would wish anyone else in the world.
Remembering those affected by this calamity. Praying for brighter days and starry nights. Praying for kind hearts. Wishing for beautiful minds. Hoping for committed relief workers and leaders. A time to forget differences, but not humanity.