Last week, I decided I wouldn’t write about the Chennai floods. I thought I’d had enough. Turns out I needed to get it out, because I haven’t really been able to think of anything else. However, I can’t explain why you should read this post instead of all the other opinions, analysis, and complaints that are available. Or the very poignant things that some others managed to write. Truth be told, for about a couple of days, my biggest problem was the rapidly dwindling charge on the inverter in my house. And then followed three days (and three nights) of darkness. We couldn’t step out; knee-deep murky (and smelly) brown water had taken residence in our street. And we were going just a little mad from being cooped in all day, day after day, in almost complete isolation. The landline wouldn’t work, the cellphones didn’t pick up any reception, we couldn’t watch TV, and there was no one to deliver the newspapers. The overhead tank was nearly empty and we were taking baths in half a bucket of cold water (a full bucket was quite heavy) that we had to bring up from the sump. On the fourth day, the water receded a bit, and my brother and I went to our uncle’s house (looking at different faces did wonders to our mood, yes). And the power came back that night (though not yet at my place). If I could hug a tubelight, you would have seen me doing so with genuine feeling.
Now that our pity party came to an end, my cousin and I decided to go around a bit the next day. We had watched the news by then, and the extent of damage left us feeling horrified. We went to where boats were being deployed by the NDRF to rescue people from the flooded lanes of Kotturpuram. We went to a school where the displaced were temporarily living. They told us they needed drinking water, so we gave them a few hundred bottles. We went to a centre where we heard food provisions were being packed, and we helped out. But to be honest, I was feeling disillusioned at this point. Who was I helping, the nameless faceless hundreds? Did I truly care? What was I doing? Was I getting involved because it seemed to be the right thing to do? Was I trying to assuage the guilt I may harbour for not being affected in any real way? Maybe I was only trying to make myself feel better. (Also, why was I overthinking?)
On my mind now are the names and faces I do know. The taxi driver whose car went for a swim. The lady at the corner of the street who irons our clothes – her house was flooded twice and subsequently washed away too. The night watchman who couldn’t go home and check on his wife. The old lady who sells flowers outside the temple my mother goes to, with no place to live in and no means of livelihood in these rains. The maid who has about twenty people living in her house, because miraculously, her house is the only one that water did not enter. I see these people everyday, but their lives have changed in many unpleasant ways. I wish I could buy them a car or rebuild their house. Instead I give them money, food, clothes. And go about my day as I used to.
Maybe what I’ve learnt is that everything is a matter of perspective. I need to remind myself of this next time I start complaining about slow WiFi.
Here’s to bright and sunny days, the kind of day we know to handle. And not hearing the sound of angry rain drops battering us.