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.
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.