Weathering a Storm

I am trying to summarize the course of events as they unfolded in my hometown during the last four days. Chennai is perhaps one of the first cities experiencing a serious repercussion of Global Warming. But I am hoping Chennaites derive a lot of positives out of this ordeal and the world media starts to read between the lines.

I am jittery as I write this. My hometown Chennai is in the news for all the bad reasons. For those of you who are living under a rock, this is one of Indian metropolitan cities. Wikipedia might be able to give more stats about the population and other stats.

I am not an analyst. So I am not here to begin a rant saying it required 200 deaths and one international airport being shut down to bring this news into the boundaries of national media coverage. Their coverage actually did not matter, because BBC had already given the picture of damage to the world by then and people within Chennai would barely notice (not that they would have cared about it in any case)! It is also to be noted that Chennai was not the only city battered by the storm. Places like Pondicherry, Cuddalore were even more hard hit.

I am not statistician either. So I am not here to awe you with facts like in one single day Chennai received nearly half the record rainfall for any single year in its recorded history. Or that the day’s rainfall in the state exceeded UK’s annual rainfall (and UK is a pretty wet country). Maybe I cannot even fathom what is meant when people say this was the heaviest rain in this metropolis in over 125 years!

Initially there was the usual “just-another-November-rain” attitude. People took it as a routine. Kids began building paper boats. Folks were enjoying the break of weather.

When people woke up to December, the damage was half done. Little did they realize that the hammering had not yet begun! Familiar streets now had undergone a Venetian transformation (not in the good sense)! People had to tread on familiar footpaths with caution, not sure if a drain hole had blown its cover or if a snake had relocated to the nearby bush.

Then it was panic. The bridges and canals that were usually dry and flow with muck were, over one single night brimming with water. This was unseen.

Then it became all quiet! Media stopped functioning in the city. “The Hindu” – a national newspaper stopped getting published in Chennai for the first time in more than 100 years!

The 2nd and 3rd of December was disquieting for all of us who were trying to desperately get in touch with those on Ground zero. Phone lines were either jammed or were cut. There had been a few deaths reported owing to electrocution and as a precaution power was cut off across the capital of Tamil Nadu and most other towns which had been ravaged by the rain.

Thanks to the low battery life in most modern phones, people soon lost touch. I wonder even a good battery would have helped the cause. Most mobile networks were jammed. With water everywhere, transportation had come to a standstill. Food and drinking water were now in short supply. People took to boiling the rain water to quench their thirst. That is till the rain lasted!

Inevitably, finger pointing has begun. Some media blamed poor planning, people feel it was uncontrolled real estate to blame. Whatever be the reasons the sufferers were the common people. Those who decided that the banks of Adyar river were a safe haven and those who had a bungalow in Nanganallur were treated with equal disdain by mother nature.

Though infrastructure collapsed, surely the strong willed people of Chennai had not. It was then that whoever could login to social media began putting images and videos that the word would spread quickly. Helping hands and rescue teams were gearing up in the blink of an eye. Navy and Army were pulled in (rightfully so) as well.

Doctors voluntarily stepped into unsanitary conditions to provide medicines and vaccines to the sick and infirm; a blanket in their bedroom turned a riverbed of dirty water became the labor ward for a few unfortunate ones. Government sectors like electricity board, sewage clearance, MTC bus service, trains and especially cops/ traffic cops who are usually in limelight for irking people and drawing public ire became darlings and untold heroes.

Reel heroes used their SUVs and connections for rescuing and bringing to attention those in need of a rescue. Public malls and posh cinema halls opened their doors to anyone in need. Temples, churches and mosques offered shelter to anyone without a roof – no questions asked! General public opened their door open to total strangers. I cannot imagine the risks some people took, to reach from one end of the city to another, just to provide updates about ground reality to the outside world.

If the rain has exposed the real city limits of Chennai, then it has exposed the true colors of its people as well. I am sure all these public servants and celebrities had faced similar plight in their household, yet chose to serve on the day of their calling.

I don’t think the carnage has ended yet. There is more cyclonic depressions predicted owing to the unusually hotter weather conditions prevailing in the Bay of Bengal. Probably the environmentalists will be able to explain things better. I am hoping the government has learned a lesson or two from this ordeal and is better prepared in future.

I am sure it is going to be turbulent few months to live and work in places where potential of infections spreading is high. The usual one hour commute to work is set to get more tiresome. Cleaning the storm waters from the veranda is going to become yet another routine to adding a simple Rangoli at our doorsteps. It is, after all, Margazhi  (a month of festivity celebrating Carnatic music) – Chennai will spring sing its way back to life.

To anyone who knows Chennai – it is a city that does not know to slowdown. Around a decade ago a Tsunami already tried and failed at that! Chennai 2 : 0 Nature

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Author: Rajesh Narayanan

A small speck of dust in the ever expanding ether

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