The Chennai rains, the worst in a hundred years, have been going on for well over a fortnight, crippling this great southern capital. Hundreds are dead; the water has come up to the first floor in some areas and many people have been marooned at home for days without electricity and with no hope of the power coming back soon.
The beautiful East Coast Road (ECR) from Chennai to Puducheri (Pondicherry) — a scenic stretch that I associate with many pleasant experiences of long drives, excellent lunch halts at interesting places, nice spas for Southeast-Asian massage, ocean views and golden beaches — is totally flooded and hospitals along the ECR are waiting for the Navy’s boats to come and take away their patients.
The Armed Forces have been simply splendid — and you can be sure that Chennaivasis know how to say ‘thank you’ nicely to the jawans who risk their lives to save them. The Chennai Police have held fast, even filling potholes on the road. The second-top cop in Chennai did not just stand around giving orders; he got into the floodwaters himself to help. Another great tweet doing the rounds shows a large policeman knee-deep in flood water, calmly directing traffic as though it were a normal day.
Although the plight of this old patnam has not exactly captured the attention of our ‘national’ media, social media offers abundant proof of how very caring, sensible and citizenly the Madrasis have been through this unrelenting crisis. They have pitched in wholeheartedly as individuals, helping their over-worked police manage traffic, unsnarl jams and plank-over sudden craters on roads. Many people have posted offers of food and shelter, offers to charge mobile phones, offers of transport. They have improvised rafts and waded into high waters to save strangers, save pets and strays and organise relief all over the city.
From what I’ve seen posted, the condition of the roads is extremely dangerous. Yet there’s a video of a number of men risking their lives rushing to save a man on a bike from drowning. Other terrifying videos reveal the scale and force of the calamity. The way the Madrasis have flung themselves into rescue and relief work with no fuss or drama or agenda — it’s got class. Nobody in this sturdy, peaceful, hardworking, solidly-contributing Indian region is posing, whining, blame-gaming, showing off or playing cheap politics. Instead they seem collectively subsumed in the spirit of seva.
The mosques of Madras have been thrown open to all and various churches, temples and the Chennai gurdwara are organising food packets in the thousands, while colleges and malls, movie halls, hotels and local bakery chains are unconditionally offering free space and food. People are constantly posting about how many they can accommodate at home; they are actually sharing their homes with perfect strangers.
These boring, dark Madrasis of Madras who don’t eat and speak so funny and were the first to compensate their Sikhs for losses caused in ’84 have shown utter and absolute grace under pressure.
Such people seem worth knowing.