Chennai rains, Deluge in Chennai, call it by any name, we in Chennai were victims of nature’s fury and man made folly, only difference was those living in some areas like Mylapore and Triplicane, famous for the Kapaleeswarar temple and Sri Parthasarathy temple were lucky to have been spared and they attribute it to the presiding deitiesthere. They are also of the strong opinion that besides the well planned infrastructure that existed, the absence of encroachments facilitated excess flow of water to drain out without causing ‘floods’ as experienced in most parts of the city during the unabating rainfall that lashed the city.
‘We residents of Alwarpet in south chennai went through a harrowing time during the floods with no milk supply, no newspaper, no television, no means of communication whatsoever with most landlines and mobiles not working, inverter batteries running dry and the stock of candles getting exhausted. ‘It was like getting ‘marooned’ in an urban land‘ remarked an elderly gentleman I met soon after the deluge we experienced. He is the secretary of his building association.’ I am sure you were not alone and floods acted as a leveler ‘ was all that I could say to him. ‘Added to all these problems there were the rumours floating around, ranging from crocodiles escaping from the farm and snakes entering houses! There was no way of checking these rumours or learning how long the rains would continue and ‘for the first time we realized the importance media played in our daily lives’, he said and I couldn’t agree with him more.
A cross section ,mostly senior and super senior citizens relate their experiences.
MangalaKandur,(past seventy) a sprightly and sociable lady and a wide reader lives alone in an apartment complex of 25 flats.
‘Once the rains started lashing and there was one foot water in our compound, our complex became empty as 20 families ran away’, she laughs.’ We were just five families who were determined to stick it out no matter how alarming the situation would get and began preparing for the worst. With no power to use the motor, we conserved whatever water was left in the tank for our daily needs and since I am not fussy about food, I could manage with my stock of noodles, bread and biscuits for almost eight days until power was restored. During the day, I would sit in the balcony and catch up with my reading and managed to finish all the books I picked up recently. Before evening dawned and the flat was plunged in darkness, I would finish preparing my dinner. Also my stock of scented candles gifted by my friends during my visit to the U.S. came in very handy until power was restored after 8 days. I would offer my prayers, and go to bed early not forgetting to keep my torch nearby.’’ Though we were five families left in the building, we felt like an extended family providing moral support to one another’ she said.
However another senior citizen(past eighty), Mr.Nathan living alone in a nearby apartment complex was not so self contained –‘ I live alone and depend on a caterer to supply my meals for the day because I don’t know how to cook and the delivery boy couldn’t make it as the roads were flooded. My son who is abroad advised me to shift to a hotel but my problem was reaching even the nearest hotel on TTK road wading through knee deep water as autos were not plying. But people in my apartment complex saw to it that I didn’t go hungry.’
An elderly lady, Champaji who is past 90 and her daughter living on a higher floor said they literally went through ‘house arrest.’ ‘The elevator was not functioning, stock in the fridge had become unusable and negotiating three flights of stairs with my age related problems and my daughter’s knee pain to step out for our daily needs was not possible or advisable. ‘Thanks to my daughter’s thoughtful friends who were seniors themselves for understanding oodour plight and readily came to our aid (without our asking them) by sending food and other requirements ‘ said she
The experience of an academician, Prof.Rao about the same age is something unique because he thought it safe to go without food for two days not wanting to take any risk for fear of consuming food prepared with contaminated wate. His fears proved right when others in the family fell promptly sick!
Loses his prized possession
B.Anand, a senior Photographer with News Today, the only evening newspaper is, resident of Thangavelunagar, very close to Adyar river and he appears to have bore the brunt of the havoc created by floods.’ My neighbor called me around 12 o clock midnight to say water had come up to our flat, and I acted immediately moving to the first floor of the apartment along with my sister grabbing important documents. Abot 3 a.m. we heard a loud thud and it was the sound of water entering our homes and the whole place was flooded. I had left the most possession of my life ‘my camera’ on the loft and my attempt to retrieve it failed as the water level rose very fast and the camera was submerged. It was at such a trying time my neighbours came to my rescue helping me with food and water. Not a single politician, policeman or official visited our area but the NGOs and other volunteers were of great help.’
Was it Apathy or deliberate inaction?
Strangely for no valid reason those of us living in the non commercial area of Eldams road, consisting of some independent houses and multi storeyed buildings got back power last, that is at the end of the sixth day, thanks to the initiative taken by a band of youngsters residing in the large high rise complex nearby. They approached people in the neighbourhood requesting them to participate in the dharna they decided to stage as the last resort for the concerned authorities to act. About 60 men and women, some senior and super senior, and also middle aged gathered in no time and stood for hours across the road in knee deep water braving the rain preventing traffic to proceed further. Word quickly reached the police and electricity department, where authorities ultimately had no option but to act immediately realizing the urgency of the situation. Until then whenever they were approached, they came out with lame excuses saying power was switched off for reasons of safety so that accidents don’t take place due to electrocution. Everyone knew all along this ‘information’ should be taken with a pinch of salt.
I noticed Kala and Kanta, both past 60, who work as domestic help in the neighbourhood, looking forlorn and helpless. They were proud of owning their modest one room ground floor flats built by the housing board. Did the floods affect your homes, I asked. ‘We have lost everything, our furniture, television and clothes, even the sari and blouse(which looked ill fitting on their thin frames) we are wearing is given by our amma we work for’ they said pointing to them. When I sympathized at their loss, they smiled saying, ‘please don’t feel bad, as long as we have strength we can earn and buy the things we lost. ‘I admired their display of self confidence in times of adversity.
A cart dweller
Lazarus, is a ‘cart dweller’ who earns his living transporting goods for people in the area. He parks his cart by the road side and is seen reading loudly from the Bible during mornings. How did he manage to protect himself during the deluge, I asked. ‘God is kind’, he says folding both his hands as a gesture of gratitude. ’This is where I stayed and he points at the building behind him. I notice the glow in his eyes when he pronounces the name of the owner albeit with some difficulty whom he thanks for allowing him to use his premises. ’People coming by vans, (not government people, he clarifies) from Andhra distributed milk, bread and biscuits. Other times I would buy food from a hotel nearby’
Trauma undergone with a bedridden mother
Totally different is the trauma gone through a family residing in Kodambakkam where an immobile elderly lady had to be shifted to the first floor when the ground floor of their house was flooded. Mr.Vasagan Arasu, a Tax Consultant and his family share it.
‘Our mother is confined to the bed, a hospital bed and moves around in a wheel chair with the help of a woman attendant. Fearing water entering our house, we five of us shifted her upstairs carrying her on a plastic chair and helplessly watched her getting anxious about water reaching her bed. Two days later water which was ankle deep rose to knee deep and our fears were at their worst when our neighbor said water in areas just a kilometer away has risen to 15 feet. But luckily only our furniture and show case were submerged as water remained at the level it earlier entered.
The next morning we went on a vigorous cleaning spree removing the layers of silt that mercilessly accompanied the water that entered and ruined our floor completely besides leaving it slippery till today’ said they taking turns to talk.
Nature indeed proved a leveler without discriminating between the rich and the poor, help came to victims of floods from unknown and unexpected sources which proved a solace to them. They could discriminate between those genuinely concerned about their welfare from others who cared more for publicity and photo opportunity. The, empathy and camaraderie generally displayed during the floods proved the spirit of chennaiites was no less when compared to the rest of India.