“Chennai floods”, is a phrase that sends shivers down my spine. In December 2015, Chennai saw unprecedented rains and consequent floods bringing daily life to a standstill. Being caught in the center of it, I personally experienced and learnt a few things.
Our first month in Chennai, after relocating from Gurgaon, began with a big welcome from the rain gods. My son (3.5 years at that time) could not go to school due to the incessant pouring and we were not able to settle as fast as we would have liked. While the rains started in November and there were many warnings issued, staying in our comfortable penthouse in the southern part of Chennai, we were unperturbed. The rain did inconvenience us a little; like we couldn’t step out for a drive, go to the mall, see the latest movies, build sand castles at the beach; but other than that life was normal. My son could not go to school for the most part of November due to rain holidays (a term I never heard before). We innovated and created new games every day at home to pass time.
December hit with early warnings on a major depression developing over the bay expected to cause heavy rainfall for several days. My husband had to travel out of the city on work. On 1st December, it was raining non-stop all day. There were reports of waterlogging from the city and the airport was severely affected, so much so that flights into Chennai-like my husband’s were cancelled. The next day was worse when the fallout of the rain was more visible.
Power supply was interrupted, grocery supplies were short, roads were filled with water, and transportation into and out of Chennai was badly hit. We braved the day but the evening was harder with a restless toddler and nothing much to do. We have close family nearby and my uncle-aunty suggested we shift to their house rather than spend the night alone in the dark. The joke doing the round was that we were having a candlelight dinner after long. The prolonged power outage meant there was no internet and soon our mobile phones were also dead. We were truly cut off from the world. I for one did not even have a fixed telephone line at home since we were used to mobile phones and everyone had one. I missed my husband terribly but there was no way to reach him or for him to reach me. The lifeline of technology being snapped was a difficult reality to face. Today, we rely on technology for almost everything. We are hooked on to some kind of device for large parts of our day. Suddenly, it seemed like a science-fiction movie where the world had entered a dark age.
It was then, in the midst of adversity, I learnt some valuable lessons. The spirit of the city, which otherwise may not be seen, surfaces at times of distress. I saw first-hand people going out of their way to help others. Shops opened for a few hours to let people restock their supplies. Many waited patiently for their turn in long queues. A calamity like this is a great leveller. It made me realize that nature treats everyone equally and does not distinguish between rich and poor or old and young. My husband’s grandmother rightly pointed out such experiences are humbling. We attach so much of importance to material possessions but none of it is worth risking your life for. People lost a variety of things to the floods but all were happy that they lived another day to re-build it. With no technology distractions, we spent time talking and getting to know people and created links that will endure. Sometimes to connect, you do need to disconnect. My aunt and uncle waded through knee-deep water to check on us regularly and ensure we were safe in a new city. I count myself lucky to have had them around to look out and care for us. On our worst days, family always comes through and is probably the most important safety net in our lives. Nurturing these relationships and counting these blessings are the greatest service we do ourselves. Faced with a natural calamity for the first time, I realized that such incidents, indeed bring out the best in people.
The rains passed. Normalcy returned. A year or later, the floods themselves are a fading memory but I gained from them- an unforgettable lesson in humanity.