Grief, Pride & Hope In My Submerged City

Its been eerily silent this past week. I normally revel in the quiet of my neighbourhood, but this is the silence of devastation. Of a city knocked to its knees. 

I miss the sounds I whined about. Of engines backfiring in the distance. Of the howling of strays or the keening of koels that shake me from my sleep at dawn. Heck, I even miss the carol singers from the hostel behind our apartment who should have been hard at their practice by now and had us climbing up our walls in frustration. 

Photo courtesy R Senthil Kumar (PTI12_1_2015_000357B) via The Indian Express
Photo courtesy R Senthil Kumar (PTI12_1_2015_000357B) via The Indian Express

The deluge was unprecedented. The effects of an extreme El Niño they say, exacerbated by encroachments into water bodies and a dysfunctional drainage system leading to the breaching of a century long record with a vengeance (1218.6mm of rain last month as against a normal of 407.4mm, and an additional 374mm on Dec 1 alone!). Further compounded by the letting out of water from dangerously full reservoirs into rivers already in spate.

The destruction that followed was brutal: Over 300 lives lost and close to two million rendered homeless. With buses, trains and flights cancelled and our brand new airport (inexplicably built over the flood basin of the Adyar river!) closed, Chennai was effectively marooned.

I can’t help feeling a certain amount of guilt over the fact that we survived this disaster unscathed, situated as we are in one of the few pockets of the city that lies on higher ground and at a safe enough distance from any of our water sources. We experienced no water logging, no outages of power, no drop in connectivity! 

Many friends didn’t fare as well. One couple had to be evacuated by the army from their inundated building. Another, out to drop her daughter in school in her track pants, didn’t have time to return to even pick up more clothes or valuables. A third, whose mother was stranded alone in the worst hit part of town and who couldn’t get through to any of the official rescue numbers, set out with a lifeguard on a daring six hour boat rescue mission in the dark, while his pregnant wife tried hard to keep her panic in check until their return.

None of that compares to the fate of the millions who have lost everything in this disaster. The horrifying visuals underscore the callousness of corrupt officials, unscrupulous land developers, even irresponsible hospitals, paid for with devastating loss to life and industry. The coast guard and our armed forces came to our rescue as they always do. Our neighbours in Bangalore and Hyderabad offered unflinching support even as the rest of the country and our national media ignored us for the most part.

But it is the way the city has rallied around the victims that has been the most inspiring. Social media was effectively mobilised by volunteers across the three cities, including a couple of Tamil film stars, to co ordinate and channelise aid to the worst affected. The generous opening of doors and hearts to anyone in need was overwhelming to witness. Proof once again that humanity left to its own devices will do the right thing whether in Mumbai, or New York or Paris or Chennai. Tomorrow we might fall prey to rhetoric again and resort to our intolerant ways. But for this moment, religion, caste and creed has been set aside in shared grief and solidarity. And that, to me, holds out hope in this hopeless world.

The worst of the deluge is over…..I think. I hope!

It is threateningly dark as I write. Foreshadowing the enormity of the challenges of rehabilitation and resettlement ahead. As also keeping epidemics at bay. But the people of Chennai will overcome this together. Of that I have no doubt.

PS: The official death toll has risen to 450. Actuals could be several hundred more.

The Chief Minister’s Public Relief Fund
ChennaiRains.Org – A crowd sourced list of available shelter

Relevant Twitter HashTags: #ChennaiRainsHelp #ChennaiMicro #ChennaiFloods

If Chennai Had Wings, She Would Be An Eagle!

Posted by

Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

157 thoughts on “Grief, Pride & Hope In My Submerged City

  1. Oh Madhu! I am thinking of you and sending my support from far away. I am so glad to hear you are ok but can’t imagine how devastating the floods have been on your community. Your post was powerful. Please keep us informed of what we can do to help.

  2. It’s really sad what’s happening to Chennai. The people came together and this what will make the city rise. The corrupt officials, through their ways and apathy, is a big shame. Hope the people who lost belongings and family will find strength.

  3. I’m so very sorry for the devastation, and the loss of livelihood and homes, and of course lives. And every time there is a tragedy, every time, I am moved to tears by the basic goodness of people. It’s there in every one of us. I do wish it didn’t take tragedy to bring it out in such an obvious way, but I never doubt that it’s there. I’m glad you’re safe Madhu. I’m glad to hear the people of Chennai are strong. I hope the city gets the help it needs.

  4. On a very much smaller scale the wind and rain is playing havoc with lives in the north west of the UK, Madhu, but it must be shocking to have this on your doorstep and to know how lucky you have been. Those poor souls! I can only applaud what you say about human nature. We have to believe in the good in us. Sending hugs!

    1. Have been reading about the UK floods Jo. Having witnessed the devastation first hand gives me a better understanding of their pain. Thoughts and prayers with all affected. Hugs right back 🙂

    1. The thought is all that counts Meenakshi. Hugs 🙂

      Glad you all are at least attempting to do something about the poisonous air you breathe! Hope it works.

  5. It’s tragic how El Nino has caused floods in my home country while thousands of miles away, here in my current adopted country of south africa it has caused the worst drought in 30 yrs.
    Praying that things get better in Chennai and hats off to the people. Have been reading about so many messages on facebook regarding rescue and help by the common people. When nothing else remains, humanity prevails.

    1. What can I say, the weather seems to be taking its cue from the crazy inhabitants of this planet! Thank you for your prayers. The stories of ‘everyday heroes’ have been pouring in. That’ the one good take away from this tragedy.

    2. Hi Namz; many credible authorities have enough proof to conclude that, like Madhu implies, it’s not just El Nino but a sign of how our climate is breaking down under the weight of an inappropriately organized industrial world. Whether we can adapt quickly enough to these increasing sever and ever more frequent disasters will determine if, as you imply, humanity can prevail.

  6. Happy to hear that you;re ok but it’s sad to hear about many, many lives are affected by the floods. I hear from the news that the waters are receding but the worst part is cleaning and rehabilitating the city. I’m hoping no outbreak of diseases. Take care, be safe.

    1. The weather has improved remarkably, thank heavens! Tackling the ‘worst part’ is going to be a hard task. Thank you very much for your concern Kat.

  7. I have to ignorantly say that I had no idea you’d been deluged this badly. Of course, I see snippets of the news from around the world and knew there’d been heavy rain and some flooding, but your news seems to have coincided with some shootings and bombings, and as we (unfortunately) know here in the US, some parts of the world and certain kinds of tragedies get differing amounts of attention in our daily news. Thanks for not only informing me more fully but letting your blogging friends know that you are OK! I love your positive, hopeful perspective on events.

    1. Thank you Lex. I don’t blame you. And I don’t think that kind of media behaviour is exclusive to the US. I just hope we can channel our new found cohesiveness to usher in lasting political change. Not holding my breath though.

    1. Thank you dear Upasna. It felt strange to have no inundation in our area while the rest of the city, including the poshest parts, was engulfed by flood waters. That’s because the flooding wasn’t caused by rain, but the opening of sluice gates.

Let me know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.