Drowned but not out

There is very little to add to what is not already in public space and private thoughts. Your experience is our experience. Your sorrows and nightmares are ours too. Indeed, the havoc has touched and tormented every heart and home.

Not just our streets and houses but the media – print, TV and social – was awash with stories, mostly real but sometimes over the top too. Yet, no visuals or words can truly capture the magnitude of the tragedy or the minutes spent in desperate isolation and despair. But, as material wealth diminished and dissolved in the unrelenting deluge, the richness of human spirit was in overflow.
Ideally, the source of such succour should have been the government, the Constitutional custodians of our welfare. That was not to be, not in time at least. For the ruling class, sycophancy mattered more than the sufferings of people. The bureaucracy is rule-bound and conscience-bound to automatically kick in with prescribed action once a crisis hits the circuit breaker. However in a criminal negligence of duty it sought to wait for the whim and word of the political bosses.

Many lives and livelihoods could have been saved or salvaged on those fatal days of Dec 1, 2 & 3 had not the ones elected to serve us directed their servility elsewhere. No, no, they were not washed away by the floods but were very much on the scene; only just busy with their credit & carry schemes. And a correction. There is ‘spirit’ but of the TASMAC type. Booze flood now threatens to snatch even the paltry ‘relief’ meant for the affected many of whom are also addicted!

Water may seem like the visible villain but to its defence it offered adequate forewarnings and also had very few options. Rains lashed for over a month but gave gaps good enough for preventive, precautionary and protective efforts. After the five-hour skyfall on Nov 23 evening, there was a one-week respite accompanied by constant warnings of the storm in store. Rainwater for its part was blocked and choked despite the city having enough waterways, canals and natural subterranean channels.

In short, the lakes that dot the west and the sea to the east are well linked theoretically. But decades of tinkering with topography, thanks to bad urban planning, abject civic indiscipline and political patronage had divorced the two. The reverse tsunami was nature’s response to Chennai’s standing invitation to disaster. Sadly, it is very late to alter the landscape. But never too late to learn lessons and mitigate any further decay.

But just as we see destruction and betrayal on one side, on the obverse what is more apparent is hope. Hope is embedded in the hard travails that hundreds of volunteers, NGOs, activists and ordinary people went through to do their bit to help others, sometimes even to their own discomfort or detriment. Hope was infused by the travels of thousands of military personnel who undertook to arrive in a city they know nothing about and help rescue and rehabilitate people whose language they don’t understand. Hope is exemplified by the spontaneous flow of aid from other States, particularly those bent on arresting the flow of river waters.

Hope is imbibed in the fact that neighbours who were sworn foes hitherto are sharing food from the same community kitchen and even the same plate. Hope is flush in the tireless efforts of the youngsters, who we, as a society, had dismissed as being self-centred consumerists, doing the hard yards and leading the relief efforts putting to use their technical knowhow and the remarkable reach and relevance of social media. There is hope everywhere and for everyone.

Indeed, hope is the strongest and surest rope by which we as a city should pull overselves up from this physical and mental abyss. So we take it, in the words of poet Bharathi, Indru puthithai pirandhom.

Let’s arise and start anew.

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Jawahar T R