Heroic Conflicts in Chennai Floods

Fear and Pride.

How often do these two words go together? Like two best friends? I haven’t seen many such pairs. When fear enters a mind, it drives everything out. And when pride makes it in, it usurps everything inside. A fearing mind is never proud and a proud mind is never fearsome.

But during the last one week, I saw both the emotions acting like twins; they were together, residing in me, in full vigour, one never without the other.

I am currently in Chennai. And my city is battling her worst flood in 100 years. The rains, which are rare and fleeting guests to this land, came early last week, and stayed. And unleashed their fury, almost with a venomous vengeance. The houses and roads were inundated; transportation and food supplies crippled; electricity and water were hard to come by. People screamed for help, some ran for shelter, scampered bare essentials and fled for dear life. There were some who simply let their helpless eyes get cowed under the invalidating wrath of nature, waiting to be rescued by some miraculous twist of fate. I know many died without a scream; the water had strangled their voices. What this city witnessed is something my feeble vocabulary cannot express in just words. Perhaps, these pictures would come to my aid.

My family, friends and well-wishers have been calling me everyday from locations outside Chennai, inquiring about my safety. In the last seven days, I received over 50 calls and a barrage of messages on Whatsapp and my Facebook Page. My family insisted that I move out of the city and join them while the trains and roads were still functional. My workplace was very supportive, asking me to place my safety as the first priority. I understood their anxiety and concern; I treasured it.

But I stayed put. And I am going to do so. I would be lying if I would say I didn’t consider leaving. In fact, I even checked the schedule for Chennai – Bangalore Shatabdi Express. It was running and seats were available. But I could not bring myself to click on the ‘book’ button.

Was I not afraid? Didn’t the torrential rains that had literally held the entire city hostage, punishing its residents by swallowing half of the city in its thirst, instill a spine-chilling fear in my innards? You bet, it did. I was afraid. Very, very so. I was fortunate to find the area surrounding my residence relatively damage-free and the walk to my workplace, accessible, However, every morning, I would open my eyes and the first thing I would do would be to inch closer to the window, pull the curtains with trepidation and peep outside; hoping to find no fresh downpour. The whole day, I would keep peeping out with a disturbing anxiety; whether I was working in office or scanning updates on internet or coordinating assistance of any kind or queuing up at the billing counter in supermarket or talking to my dear ones, I would furtively send a glance every now and then to gauge the mood of the skies. And when I would finally hit the bed after many moments of paralysing fear, I would steal a last glance at the supine night, off my window sill and close my eyes, praying to the sky: please calm down. I was scared to my deepest pits.

But I stayed up. Because this city is as much my home as is my birthplace. And my conscience did not allow me to abandon her when she was choking in pain and grasping for support from her children whom she had nurtured with sunshine and warmth for years. And if I had any fears that I was alone in this sudden realization of unexpected kinship that overpowered my rationale, they quickly dissipated into the most luminous seven days. Her children rose from her womb, like a ferocious but benevolent army, wading through the ruthless waters with a manic discipline. And a desire to not just survive but also support.

When the social media went abuzz with the resolve of her children (#ChennaiRains ), the rains lost some of its bite. When her children set aside their own losses to reinstate others’ lives (#ChennaiRainsHelp ), the rains shed some of its weapons. When her children merged day and night into a perennial image of undiminished assistance (#ChennaiMicro ), the intimidating clout of the rains melted. And when her children, although exhausted and battered, continued to walk hand-in-hand without prejudice of any kind whatsoever, on the fuel of solidarity and compassion, the rains bowed its head eventually, retreating into its shell.

What I witnessed pumped immense pride into me, so much so that my eyes were frequently wet and my heart, numb. Those vignettes of audacity, spirit and unity rendered not one, but many sparkling silver lines even to a calamity of this magnitude. If they say a picture speaks a thousand words, these ones sing.

When a little boy placed an animal’s life above him,

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when a traffic policeman didn’t budge from his guiding post,

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when the Muslim community offered prayers on road after giving up their mosques for sheltering flood victims,

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when restaurants (and competitors) joined hands and pushed aside profits to cook in open kitchens,

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when a milk-delivery lady waded knee-deep water to deliver milk packets at the appointed time (6am in morning)

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when common citizens, friends and strangers, without any orders and compulsion, came together to distribute food and other essentials,

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my heart wept in silent pride.

In my own, little way, I, too, extended help and those moments of contentment far outweighed riches in vaults.

Chennai is still recovering from the devastation and I know it is a long way to normalcy. But I take heart in the fact that her children are together; that they would, once again, build her, tending to her bruises gently and making her stronger each day. And even if it takes months, I promise you, my dear, I will stand by you. You have enriched my life and made me a better person. And above all, stood testimonial to the fact that hope can stand adjacent to terror, just as pride stood by the side of fear.

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