Postcard from a city hobbling back to life

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.


15 thoughts on “Postcard from a city hobbling back to life

  1. Gosh! It was so terrible. I was reading and looking at the pictures and feeling so scared. Nature’s fury as they say. It rained in Bangalore for 3 weeks and that made life so dull and things horrible. The extent to what happened in chennai and nearby places is unimaginable.


  2. You are experiencing the survivor’s guilt. I used to experience it too…but when I was left out cold, and not even those who I had helped once, came to my tend to my wounds, the trend began to wear-off. It’s important to realize that if you weren’t impacted in a big way, it was just fate. Quite like you don’t feel guilty when a neighbor gets a heart-attack. Help but without guilt, because you don’t deserve it. The fact that you feel it (trust me, most people don’t) makes you a nicer person, but it also leaves you more vulnerable. I do feel bad about what happened in Chennai, it’s a city I love. If anyone should feel guilty, it’s the government that must spend some of its time thinking and planning.


  3. Hugs Anu. Big Hugs. I cannot even imagine how it must have been to go through it all although I have plenty of family there, so I know what they are experiencing. As for the guilt, as Anand says above, it’s probably survivor’s guilt. Don’t let it weigh you down. You have no way of knowing what happens and why it does. All we can do is reflect on our fortune, good or otherwise, as you have done.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pretty much everything u said. The lack of electricity, having rasam rice with fried sausages and hoping it will all soon stop.Pretty comfortable I’d say.

    I used the ipad’s ibook app during the night to read “The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe” to my daughter. I used the night mode as it is supposed to conserve charge. Durind the day, we read Amar Chitra Katha and sang Nursery Rythms from her old books. We had a nice time. She likes Narnia.

    I feel a quite an extent of survivors guilt too when meeting the ATM watchman, and office washroom lady etc.
    I donated a few sarees. That is all I could do. They were old sarees. They were unused for months. I did not help with food packets, or clean water or any of that stuff. In short, Nothing from my side.

    However, I pull myself together saying that there is no deadline for all this. I can play Santa Claus all of next year, doing my bit.

    The most annoying bit of forward I got was about a guy who as he as he was disconnected from Wifi had the time to spend with wife and children and it was almost a vacation for them. It ends with his wife remarking “Wish did not get electricity back”. Such romantising this awful mess is silly. But yes, so many showed their generous side. And that does bring back hope.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m now thinking of people going to villages for an “idyllic getaway” and then feeling disappointed because…villages aren’t the same anymore, everyone’s talking on cellphones. (And why shouldn’t they!?!?)
      Anyway, the other thing I realised is that – as my brother and I grew older, we began entertaining ourselves with things that require electricity. We now watch sitcoms together and play word games against each other on the iPad. These past few days, we tried searching for our badminton racquets (could only find one) and our Monopoly board (did it disappear when we shifted?!). We found my old Walkman and the cassette collection I used to be so proud of, but we didn’t have batteries at home (and couldn’t go out to get any). Finally we unearthed the playing cards – great sense of achievement haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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