A cyclone formation and water logging of some areas are common during Chennai monsoons. This year, however, we had torrential rains that took many lives, ruined houses and made the lives of innumerable people miserable all over Tamil Nadu. Compared to these victims, I had a smooth ride. This post summarizes my experience and learning.
A year back, we rented a ground floor flat because our house on the first floor was being reconstructed. My mom was always against living in the ground floor, but we didn’t have any choice. Since the first rain, we were having a hard time. At first, things were beautiful. Soon, it turned dangerous. Continuous waterlogging, mild electric shocks, frequent power cuts and damage of electric appliances became constant since the end of October. Yes, we were having trouble for more than a month and the ‘national’ media chose to focus on us only recently.
Note to self: Listen to mom. No more ground floor. Ensure electric wiring is proper and safe.
From mid-November, my mom had been bugging us to clear everything on the floor and place all the things on higher surfaces, just to be safe. This way if water enters the house, things won’t get damaged. Dad and I were opposed to the idea of keeping the wooden furniture on top of slabs because it would be tiring to do so and wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing. While we were optimistic that water will not enter our house, my mom would not have it any other way. So, we halfheartedly toiled away from evening till midnight during a power cut with the help of torchlight, just so that she would stop nagging us. On the first of December, water started seeping into our house from beneath the mosaic tiles.
Moral: Prevention is better than cure.
I had ordered a dining table set for Rs.35000 during Diwali sale. A big amount for me at the moment, but we won’t have money to spare when our new house is built and the EMIs begin. This lovely piece of furniture was supposed to be delivered today, but it got delivered a week early. Talk about bad timing! We had just finished assembling it after hours of toil and hadn’t even used it once when we saw the water seepage. I hurriedly wrapped up the legs of the table with plastic covers and dad kept the wooden chairs on top of our bed. Since we had already secured most of the stuff two weeks ago, we quickly safeguarded the remaining things, hoped everything will be safe, picked up essentials and started to my aunt’s house.
Note to self: Don’t buy non-essential things with a credit card. Don’t stock up on unwanted stuff. Dispose of all unused, non-essential goods whenever possible.
We couldn’t get an auto. Luckily we got a cab, but the price was too much. It usually costs Rs.100 to go from my locality to my aunt’s, but we were charged Rs.500 for it. Every inch of the route we took was covered with water. Some places were ankle deep, some were knee deep. The rain was so heavy that the wiper was not effective. We couldn’t even see anything from inside the cab properly. It was all a blur. We accidentally went right of a divider and almost hit a policeman who was regulating the traffic. With the help of many such selfless policemen and volunteers, we reached my aunt’s place safely.
Moral: We blame the police for being corrupt, but when in need, they helped the common man even though they struggle in the process. Maybe we shouldn’t generalize and joke about them anymore.
On the way, we saw that both ends of the street were flooded, but there was not a drop of water on the road in front of my aunt’s apartment. The reason for this is that the roads which were laid out in recent years are on a higher level than the houses which were built years back. Like many older houses in the rainy season, there was water logging inside my aunt’s apartment. Since we were going to the second floor, we had no worries. There was a power cut as expected during heavy rains. We anticipated a shortage of water if the power doesn’t resume and filled up a few buckets of water, just in case. We kept hearing that power will be restored soon, but that wasn’t the case. On the second day, we had a bit of water scarcity. With 6 adults at home, the water we stored wasn’t enough. We queued up in a line and filled three buckets of the water remaining in the tank.
Moral: Expect the unexpected and be prepared.
All around us, there was a scarcity of water, milk, biscuits, bread, bun, plain cakes, candles, kerosene, vegetables, etc. ATMs didn’t work. Newspapers sold out like hot cakes. Landline phones were down. No current meant no charge in cellphones, tabs and laptops, no TV, no radio (because most of use radio on our cellphones) and no refrigeration. My grandfather’s non-smartphone saved us for a while in contacting people. After some time, there was no signal and even that ancient phone was rendered useless. Without a connection to the outer world and their usual entertainment to occupy them, the people in the apartment who don’t even know the names of their neighbours, actually talked to each other. Due to lack of electric lights, we went early to bed and rose early each morning to cook our meals when there is natural light. In the next apartment, people had a community kitchen of sorts. All that camaraderie and simple living felt great. It was as if we were in a village. If I wasn’t worried about the flood and the water scarcity, I’m sure I would have enjoyed such a disconnected world without electricity. I discovered that an Amish lifestyle would suit me.
Moral: We often don’t realize the importance of things, until we don’t have them anymore. There are some things money can’t buy and they are more valuable than money.
Note to self: Have liquid cash at all times. Keep the power banks charged. Stock up on essential medicines. Go on a vacation to a peaceful location once a while.
On Wednesday afternoon, the help arrived and gave us an update of our area, the latest news and gossips. The story that caught my attention was how she had gone to a place which was supposed to be in very bad shape. Since it’s nearby, she wanted to observe if the rumours were true. Unfortunately, she got stuck, had to be rescued by a boat and was warned not to come near that locality. I’d heard of boats being used on the roads of Chennai for rescue purpose two weeks back, but hearing it from someone I know in a location close by was scary.
Moral: Curiosity kills the cat. Don’t go venturing out for gossip in a crisis, as it might cost you. If you’re not helping, you’ll only be in the way.
On Thursday, it was “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” There was hip level water logged inside the apartment. We had no drop of drinking water that we were used to. Seriously, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. We had to boil and drink the tap water that we wisely conserved on Tuesday. We collected and safeguarded three types of water. The cleanest type we could get our hands on was for drinking. The water obtained from the tank was for brushing the teeth, washing the vessels and other essential stuff. We had to use the water that was logged in our apartment for pouring down the drain of the restroom. Thankfully, that water was clean enough. Things like bathing, washing the clothes and cleaning the floors with water were non-essential to survive and had to be put off till power resumes.
Note to self: Don’t waste water, even when there is no scarcity.
On Friday, the water in the apartment receded completely. A school in the same street called GRT Mahalakshmi Matriculation School allowed anyone to go in and fetch water from their taps. So far, we didn’t need to get water from them, but after three days we badly needed it. A commendable thing about this school is that they were providing food on Tuesday and Wednesday. They provided water for anyone in need. The school’s restrooms were also open to the public. I am immensely proud that I did my LKG (kindergarten) in this humane school. As for drinking water, we finally managed to get a mineral water can. Though it was charged for Rs.70 as opposed to the regular cost of Rs.30, this was one precious thing money was able to buy.
Moral: Water is more valuable than gold.
Even though we got water from the school, we couldn’t afford to spend it on anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. We also had to start collecting rainwater. I was embarrassed and felt bad for not being able to bathe, but since I started fetching rainwater from the terrace and balcony, I got drenched and consoled myself that this was sort of like bathing. On Saturday, during one such trip to the terrace, I tripped and sprained my foot. My immediate thought was, “Thank goodness, at least I didn’t spill any water.” I was very happy that I fell down on the way to fetch the pail and not while carrying it.
Note to self: Install a hand pump in the new house to help during power cuts and motor failures.
Five minutes later, the power resumed. I was annoyed because had the power resumed earlier, I would not have gone to the terrace to collect rainwater and would not have sprained my foot. Anyway, I was so glad that we were finally able to charge our phones, scout the terrace in the hope of picking a signal and communicate with our near and dear. We couldn’t reach many people whose phones were still dead, but we could inform the worried ones abroad and in different cities that we are safe. Landline phones were back up. Facebook and WhatsApp helped in knowing that our friends and relatives are safe.
Moral: While many elders complain that youngsters have become too much dependent on technology and the internet, they help a lot during a crisis. A lot of crowdsourced rescue missions were carried out to help the flood victims.
Hearing that the route to my home is safe to travel, we went to inspect our house. Luckily, there was only ankle deep water inside the house. There was some stench and a lot of frogs, but nothing got damaged except my bookshelf. I was so glad that my books were safe. The electronic items were not checked, but we didn’t dare switch anything on. That’s something to check later when things are better. With more rains predicted and yet another cyclone, it’s best to stay at aunt’s place for now. Now that I’m back to civilization, I’ve caught up on the news. While I was grumpy for four days, I’m feeling extremely lucky now.
Moral: When you are down, think of the people who have it worse than you, consider yourself lucky and pick yourself back up.
I was supposed to attend the Grace Hopper’s Celebration in Bangalore on 3rd and 4th December. I was quite upset when my flight got cancelled and was stuck in Chennai. Being a Committee Member, I would have gotten a trophy and certificate. Not to mention that I bought a new trolley bag, a formal top and an expensive heavy moisturizer. Now, I could use the trolley bag for my next trip and the top for office wear, but heavy moisturizers are of no use to me in Chennai because of the humidity. Though I was upset on Wednesday, I am glad today that I stayed here. Had I gone to Bangalore, I would have worried myself sick thinking about my family. My parents and close relatives would also have been worried about me.
Moral: Sometimes, things that appear to be bad luck are blessings in disguise.
This Karthigai month (Tamil month from mid-November to mid-December) has brought a lot of darkness in the form of rain. Many volunteers have been the deepam (lamp) and helped the victims. Chennai is still in crisis. Hoping that things will clear up soon and the month of Margazhi (mid-Dec to mid-Jan) will be as cheerful as a colourful kolam.