Flood crisis: If Chennai had wings, she would be an eagle

Today, I am proud to be a resident of Chennai, not a citizen of India. In case you haven’t heard, my city was affected recently by the heaviest rainfall recorded in over 100 years. Floods wreaked havoc on the lives of 2 million people. Over 325 are dead. Many birds and animals, especially strays, too. Tragically, a few other districts in the state have had it even worse.

Last week, we were either trapped indoors without electricity or supplies, stuck in traffic – with no safe route to take us home or stranded in deep waters – battling for our lives. We were helpless and frightened. Even now there is palpable tension in the air. Some are in grave danger. The rains haven’t yet bid adieu; we can still hear ambulances and helicopters. Added to that, a lot of misinformation has us in a state of paranoia. It has been an heartbreaking and nightmarish experience. Recovery is going to be a long, arduous and disease-ridden process.

Apparently, none of these qualified as being critical as far as the rest of India was concerned.

(credit: Press Trust of India /BBC)

The central government never swooped in to keep us calm or bear our burdens. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Chief Minister addressed us when we needed them to. Our state government, despite great efforts by the ground officials (police, electricity department, bus drivers, etc), let us down by playing the internal blame game.

The national media refused to pay attention because that’s how things have always been. The local news channels were too politicized to give us meaningful updates. Most of the time, we remained clueless regarding what we should to remain safe for as long as possible.

(credit: A birder friend in Velachery)

I am angry. I feel abandoned by the country and its henchmen, who call themselves as politicians, and snooty French poodles, who pretend to be its national watchdogs. We feel like India’s stepchildren locked away in the basement. The collective apathy towards the situation, when the storms battered and bruised us, was disturbing. We were not petulant brats seeking notoriety. We were citizens of India in danger. And we weren’t in the mood to do the lungi dance to capture the country’s gaze.

I know that my city’s authorities should be lambasted for its glaring infrastructural mess ups. Then again, so should every other city or town in India. That’s a greater problem which, I believe, can never be rectified given the nature of modernization, and the depth of human greed. As far as a national reaction to this situation of ours was concerned, there was none when it mattered.

The army has since arrived. Central government authorities are here. The lovely people outside my state have started to pitch in. While I am grateful for everyone’s support and love, I do not feel united. I feel like the person they sometimes refer to me as – a Madrassi.

All I know for sure is that I am incredibly proud to be a part of Chennai – formerly known as Madras.

I have had no faith in humanity for long. I have opined before that we, as a species, deserve to be extinct considering all the damage we cause. I like birds. I don’t like human beings very much.

I have had a slight change of mind though since last week. Chennai has given me hope that there can be goodness in humanity. The numerous ways in which the civilians came out to help each other was awe-inspiring. We opened our doors, hearts and minds to assist one another, no matter the species. Like how eagles soar above the clouds to avoid the rain, the people in Chennai rose above their fears, insecurities, egos and self-preservation instincts to take care of each other. Twitter and Facebook were no longer just social media platforms. They were symbols of hope and kindness. Most importantly, verifiable news sources that helped save lives, implement relief measures and connect people with their loved ones.

We assure you, unless Mother Nature has other plans, we – the people of Chennai – will make it through each other’s strength, courage and kindness.

I am proud to be from Chennai.

Crested Serpent Eagle

For those still here, a few pointers:

  • Firstly, in the words of Douglas Adams, “don’t panic”. Let’s be extra cautious but please don’t spread paranoia. Rogue crocodiles, monster snakes, tsunamis and major earthquakes still remain baseless rumours. There are those, in other cities and countries, with loved ones in Chennai who feel helpless too. Let’s not infect them with our fears and insecurities. Keep calm and be safe. Check out Tamilnadu Weatherman’s Facebook page for fairly reliable weather predictions. Go through the comments, they act as basic FAQs.
  • If you want to volunteer, provide area updates or ask for rescue operations, please use the correct hashtags on Twitter. Some may get lost in the clutter if you don’t use the right one. Also, http://chennairains.org/ is the best crowd-sourced list of people and places offering shelter. If you are commuting, please use this map to make sure you aren’t stuck in waterlogged areas.
  • If the rains continue to batter the city, please offer help to whoever you can. Pick up the stranded, open your gates, and unlock your WiFi passwords. Given how historically conservative our social interactions have been, people feel awkward about asking for assistance – even if it’s a life-and-death situation. Having said that, do exercise caution. There are nasty stories appearing about burglary and harassment.
  • Stop hindering rescue operations on the road (especially near bridges). This isn’t disaster pornography. Don’t travel and make the traffic worse until necessary. And don’t overstock on provisions, which are in short supply.
  • Don’t worry about the animals at Vandalur Zoo for now. I have spoken to a WWF official on this matter. They are safe. There were a few scares last week but the situation is under control.
  • Don’t handle snakes/reptiles/mammals without proper training, call 7845018969 /9176160685 / 9600119081/  9884461090 to protect yourself and these beautiful creatures. It’s our fault that they live in close quarters to us. Crisis or not, we don’t have the right to hurt them.
  • Please don’t chase away the birds who take shelter in your balconies and front porches. House Crows, Common Mynahs, Blue Rock Pigeons, Asian Koels or Black Kites. Just please don’t. They must be scared too. If you have any queries on how to take care of injured birds, write to me – christy.bharath@gmail.com.

For those outside Chennai / India, please don’t be angry on our behalf. Not yet. Don’t feel sorry for us either. The least you could do is know that we exist. Please read as much as you can about what’s happening in Chennai.

Of course, we definitely could use with a lot of help. Soon, I shall posting some verified links on this blog for you to contribute to relief measures so that the worst-hit, no matter the species, can make it through with access to basic amenities.

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60 comments

  1. thank you for this informative post and the awareness that comes along. I will take with me the solidarity that blossomed through this harsh time, as it is times like these (during whatever crisis) that people show their true self.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sure will, Linda! And yeah the jaya branding was ridiculous. As was Sun TV’s anti government propaganda, and the drunken buffoons who harassed volunteers and the demons who mugged relief contributors. It’s all ridiculous!

      Like

    1. Yeah Madhu, it’s distressing. But the public can’t be blamed though, i think. We, as a society, have become media-dependent. It’s peculiar though how people picked up on the Paris attacks within seconds whereas this took forever to gain traction on Twitter, even in “India trends”. The world certainly isn’t watching!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ayyo much obliged to hear that Anna. Very generous of you, miga nandri! These lovely readers have been involved in a little journey I ve been on and I wanted them to know this part of my life and my city.

      Thanks again J anna (Janna gun-ah man-er?)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Janna gun…”
        Well that kind of sums up what India means to the people of Kashmir, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha… and individuals such as Irom Sharmila, Dr Binayak Sen, Soni Sori and in Chennai, the entirely innocent A.G. Perarivalan, for whom and for whose mother, Arputham Ammal, let us spare a thought as “India” has condemned them to life-long misery. (There’s much to be said on this but this is a digression from your SUPERB writing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sending love and hope your way. It’s all I can do for the meantime. Your story is so very reminiscent of our own hurricane and tropical storm disasters, one of which is still fresh in memory. My heart goes out to you and your city. This is just awful. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We’ve been following all the news about Chennai and truly felt bad. Heart breaking pictures. I also looked out for sites to make some kind of donations if we can.

    But you’re right. It has happened in the past too, that whole lot of issues running parallel to, rather over-shadowing the immediate attention demanded by natural disasters. Last week it was international terrorism…Paris. Then the country’s PM perpetually touring and building international relations. But as per the news he did visit Chennai and has pledged $300 million in relief funds.

    Other than this, possibly in case natural calamities, as the region/s is cut off sometimes accessibility is also a problem. Only Indian army and local volunteers can do something, while others can give moral support or donate online. You’re probably right about the scant popularity of the issue. Here too it happens. The bush fires destroy the whole small towns but get a casual mention in the news. Some apathy and helplessness in face of natural disasters, maybe.

    As per the news, weather is going to improve in southern India. The airport and the train services may resume, facilitating ease in relief measures. So hope and pray for the best!.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It has been a tumultuous month Alka but I don’t think anything warranted such indifference towards internal suffering within. It’s like wanting to save the Amazon river instead of the polluted one near our homes.

      Please do read about PM s visit and the Photoshopped propaganda. It did us no good. Thankfully the army is doing a great job.

      We were helpless, Alka. The rest were apathetic. I think it’s going to be one of those “forgiven, but never forgotten” deals.

      Thanks for your prayers ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True. Nothing can justify their indifference if that was intentional which I suppose it wasn’t, for they are always like that. Your Amazon river analogy is appropriate. I saw PM’s photoshopped image. Funny. I also saw one video…of normal humans helping each other. In fact I wrote a poem on it but that was when the flood was at its worst.
        Hope Chennai people find strength to come out of it, and do hope the government now more than compensates for any laxity shown previously.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Christy for sharing your views on this. We’ve talked about the indifference of the national media and the central government towards Chennai, and most other places in South India barring the IT hubs perhaps. I did agree with you before and I agree even more so now. It’s a shame really. But what is heart-rending is to see how people in Chennai have helped each other and personally I am overwhelmed with the support people in Bangalore are providing. I volunteered for Chennai relief work from Bangalore and so many people have called since and dropped off a truck load of material at my place. I mean these are strangers we’re talking to, and coordinating with to help. I wish and I really hope that this does not go away. We don’t have to wait for a government to fail or for a calamity to happen to connect with our true selves which is really to love each other, and support and help. Thank you for inspiring us with your words. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah shru I have believed that we are stepchildren of the county way before the floods hit. Over 40 children were burned to death more than a decade ago due to improper kitchen facilities at the school, India is yet to pay proper respect to them. The response to the floods saddens us but it also empowers us. Arise, we shall.

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on A Tea Lover's Dream and commented:

    This post from a fellow blogger, also living in Chennai, paints a fair picture of what is happening here n the city. Personally, we are dry, safe, and have electricity. Baby is fine and wiggly.

    I did notice that the US’s NPR only picked up the story of the devastating flooding yesterday, 5 days after the whole thing started. Chennai is not Paris, but its people are no less valuable. The world should know what is happening.

    Like after any disaster, Chennai, and the surrounding areas, will not be same after this – nor should they be. I hope that positive change will happen. I choose to think on these things.

    For those interested in giving financially:
    https://www.worldvision.in/chennaifloods

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good to know you are safe. We at IIT are safe as well, and our wildlife, although a little inconvenienced, seem ok.
    I read a comment on chennairains dot com, where an army rescue worker commented that nowhere else in India, at times of crisis, does the number of volunteers match the number of victims as in Chennai.
    I am so proud to be a Madrasi too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to know you are safe and dry. Heard about a few stranded deer, and that they were rescued too.

      I read about that comment on Twitter, it certainly fills me with pride. Hope today’s showers didn’t affect the campus much, take care ❤

      Like

      1. No. We have an excellent drainage system in campus. Hope your area is ok today. There was a scare of another flood, hope that was only a scare.
        The animals are taken care well by the residents. I have been seeing many people provide food and shelter to them, during my walks.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Christy, you Madrasi, you have my salutes for saying it like it is, and for the wonder of your articulation, and being there, ears, and quill to ground, that motivated people as far away as me to somehow be part of some form of volunteering, even if it only was information.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am proud to be a Madaraasi too, Christybharath! Volunteers seem to be there everywhere, our own Madaraasis. Now army has stepped in and they are doing their best.

    We always survive even with the blockades of politicians and pro party media.

    Thanks for giving the facts so beautifully.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “We always survive” – certainly we do, Sandhya! Much to my surprise too, given how few dangers our city has been exposed to over the years. We showed that our spirit remains unshaken even if unstirred.

      Glad to know you are safe, comrade. Let’s keep rebuilding ❤

      Like

  9. Reblogged this on Wing's World and commented:

    Quick–where in the world is Chennai, and what environmental disaster is it struggling with? I must admit I couldn’t have answered this a few months ago. But thanks to the Wonderful Wide Web, I have a new friend I’ve never met: a gentle man (or so he seems, because, remember, we’ve never met) in India named Christy Barath. Christy is a poet and a birder, or a birder and a poet–not sure which to put first. His blog, Verseherder, is the ONLY blog I follow, read, and even look forward to, simply from having blindly bumped into it in cyberspace.
    Chennai (formerly Madras) is suffering from terrible floods. But that’s not why I invite you to read Christy’s words and see his images. I simply wish to introduce you to this vibrant, evocative, and completely un-American perspective on life, birds, and beauty.
    Read this only if you have a few quiet moments. It will urge you to create more in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Lieve Round The World and commented:

    Hi. I watched things unfold in Chennai during my last days in India and my heart bleeds for your country… I left India feeling sad because I struggle to say many positive things about my experience in the Indian school. I too was on the receiving end of the unrelenting blame game played by those in charge. No one takes responsibility; it is so much easier to blame subordinates, those who fear to speak up… And nothing ever changes until we recognise our own mistakes because only then can we start to make amends…

    Like

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