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Chennayil Oru KoduM(azh)ai Kaalam December 8, 2015

Posted by Ragesh G R in Uncategorized.

Dec 2014, my dad was about to retire and we needed to move out of Kalpakkam Township, our safe haven, and look for a good abode in Chennai near to my office. Search was frantic in all online portals. We needed a 3BHK with good amenities, near my office. Many ads we replied to, had either water shortage or stairs with no lift etc.

Coincidence 1: One day, after a gap of 2 years, my friend Srikanth DM’ed me on twitter and asked for my phone number for a casual catchup. During that talk I mentioned my rented house search. He introduced me to an upscale township called Bollineni Hillside, near my office. I saw the pics, the amenities, and the area; all looked good. I searched the portals for this township but could not find any appropriate houses for rent

Coincidence 2: My friend Rahul returned from Dubai after a long time and we went for a drive, and picked up Sundaresan on the way. Sundar happened to mention about magicbrix.com for home search. I searched for Bollineni Hillside in magicbrix and voila! I got what exactly what I wanted.

Coincidence 3: I called up the owner of the house and found him to be a very nice and friendly person. The actual owner was his son-in-law who in fact was working for the same company as me!

The house ticked all my boxes, and, for the price, it was great value for money too, and we moved in after a few weeks, in March 2015. This decision would prove vital, almost lifesaving, later in the year.

This year has been hectic, in a good way. Major milestones happened in a jiffy. Moved to a new rented house in the city in March 2015, got married!! In June 2015, got promoted on the very day of my wedding, bought a car in Sept 2015. Things were going great until November 2015

November 2015, the Chennai monsoon started. Well we all know what this means. A few decent rains for one month. Much needed respite from the heat and dryness. At the max a little water logging here and there, a few exams will get postponed, worst case, a holiday or two from work, and things will be back to normal.

And things seemed to be going the usual route in 2nd week of November. But then, heavy rains started. A bit of water logging, a bit more than expected, office was declared holiday. Office was functioning normal the next day. I thought I could go to office, but when I reached my township gates, there was water up to knee level and further down water was up to chest level and hence the township roads were cordoned off. I tried two other gates of the township, all got blocked by water after a few hundred yards. Hence I returned to the safe abode of my home.

But to our horror, we were faced with 2 problems. The pre-paid cooking gas had ran out of balance. Hence cooking was impossible. We tried to go to the facilities office to recharge the gas, but the office itself was in chest deep in water. My dad tried in vain to wade through it risking it and came back when water level started rising.

Main power was off and the whole township was running on Diesel Generator (DG). Power was there 24/7 which itself was a great blessing during this kind of situation, but the voltage was so low that only lights and fans would work. The best one could do with the induction cooker was to make a lukewarm tea or warm already cooked rice. Hotels nearby where either closed or not accessible. To our luck we found that one small hotel just outside the gate of the township, from which we buy the occasional breakfast, was open. Hence this hotel became the lifeline for us. Still life was ok for us, bar this minor inconvenience. There was still power and water 24/7. Then one morning the DG power also gave up. Runnig water was still available, and at 6 PM, the main power was back too. Roads were clear and all was back to normal. Hence normal life resumed to some extent. Was saddened to know that water breached as high as 2 feet inside the house of a colleague. Nearby low lying areas still had water logging to about 1-2 feet but roads where still commutable with 1 feet of water. I would drive slowly through the waters, looking back to see how much buffer the silencer had, above water. I prayed for the people who were in low lying areas, in ground floors and hoped that this was the last of the rain spells. Little did we know that this was just a prelude to the Goliath that what would follow suit.

Next weekend, the same thing happened, but this time, they advised us to limit to one fan and one light. DG power was there 24/7 and water was there 24.7, hence we didn’t even need to stock up on water (A costly mistake as we would find out later). Gas also was there, so cooking food also was no problem. We thought the fury of the North-east monsoon had subsided and we can return back to normal.

Come November 30. Rain warnings started again, and I left the office a bit early.

Then it started. It started raining heavily from late that night. We expected that the rain would subside by morning.

December 1, morning, I woke up to the sounds of the rain lashing, moderate at times and heavy at times. I could not believe that the rains which started late night was still going strong. Hence, I could not go to office, and took leave. Later I heard that the offices were closed at 3:00 PM instead of 6:00 PM. That was the first alarm bell. If the offices have to be closed 3 hours early, then something must be really off, I thought.

Then things slowly started taking a turn for the worse. The piped gas got water logged and cooking gas flow to all houses ceased. The main power was shut down and power was from DG. Which meant no hot water, and also, the induction cooktop could not be run on full power. All it could do is, make a lukewarm tea, or warm existing dishes from the fridge.

This is where Coincidence 4 came into play. It was my dad’s birthday on Dec 1 and my dad’s brother who is staying with us, knowing that it won’t be possible to cook a birthday banquet in the morning as it needs lot of time, had prepared the banquet (Kerala Sadhya) overnight. All this had been done before the gas went kaput. Also, he not only made around 7-8 dishes, he made them in large quantities as well. Hence, we had a great meal for lunch for dad’s birthday and then the gas went kaput.

Then we started the survival mode. We would warm only 2 of the dishes from the fridge. If we used dishes A and B for lunch, then we would use dishes C and D for the dinner, lest anyone gets stomach upset by eating too much dal for example. We also targeted the easily perishable dishes like sambhar and dal first. We saved the dishes with higher shelf life, such as curd based dishes, pickles, etc. for later days. Power (although DG) was still 24/7 and water was still 24/7.

Then things started to get really bad when at around 12:30 at night, we opened the restroom tap and there was no water. Not even a drop! Having used to running water 24/7 there was absolutely no backup water except the 20 liter can of drinking water. A chill ran down my spine. This was an apartment complex and there was no well or lake inside it. I remembered Vadivelu’s dialogue – “Kudikkaradukku kooda thanni illama irukkalam, aana idukku thanni illenna asingama poidume da” (Not having water to drink is one thing, but not having water for sanitary purposes is an embarrassing disaster). This was all the more relevant because we have our 84 year old grandfather with us who is semi paralyzed and bed ridden. I alerted my dad and uncle immediately. Samuel Tayor Coleridge’s lines came to my mind – “Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink”. Then it struck us. It is raining heavily. Why not harvest the rain?

Dad and uncle went down with buckets and collected rain water from the drain pipe of the terrace. It had been raining for around 18 hours. so any contamination on the terrace floor would have been cleaned off, we surmised, optimistically. Either ways we can at least use it inside the toilets. Next 1 hour from 1 AM to 2 AM was spent in rain water harvesting.

Then I started to get worried, “Today it is raining, hence we can harvest the rain, what about tomorrow, when rain stops? How will we manage?” My wife consoled me saying “Nothing will happen, think positive, everything will be alight by tomorrow, sleep now” With her calming words, we all went to sleep, hoping for the best.

Dec 2, morning. I woke up to find that running water was up again, albeit at low pressure. Having learnt the hard way, the first thing we did was to fill up and stock up on water in all the containers that we could find. Rain had also subsided so there was no possibility of rain water harvesting.

We were yet to make breakfast, so we resorted the friendly neighborhood restaurant which was fortunately open. We brought tea and breakfast from there. Lunch and dinner too, was bought from there. We made rice with whatever power that the induction cooktop now running on DG could provide.

Then I looked up on the internet, TV etc, it had been raining continuously from Dec 1 very early morning to Dec 2 8:30 AM. Chennai and some places in TN had been hit with the worst flood it had ever seen in the last 125 years. In about 32 hours, it rained incessantly, deluging the already waterlogged streets, overflowing the already filled up to brim water bodies, making them breach. Houses in low lying areas were under 6 feet water. Even aeroplanes got washed away a few meters in the 2 feet of water on runways. My heart sunk. My city had become a disaster-zone. It rained in 32 hours, what usually rains in UK for a year (and UK itself is a rain lashed place). No amount of preparedness or DRS could be ready for such a deluge. Chennayil oru Mazhail Kaalam became Chennayil oru Kodu Mazhai Kaalam and finally it had become Chennayil oru Kodumai kaalam L

Then even the DG power went off. They announced that, to conserve diesel, power will not be available from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. So here was the plan. We would buy breakfast and tea from the hotel nearby. And with whatever power was there, we would make rice using the induction cooker if we can start the cooking by 6:00 AM. The dishes made for the banquet was in the fridge, but there was no time to warm it. That is ok, we can adjust with cold dishes, we agreed. They were made using traditional Kerala techniques, and boiled well, in such a way that it won’t get spoilt soon. Hence, that was the routine. At 6:00 PM, we would sometimes buy tea from the nearby shop or make it ourselves if we have time or if the induction cooker had enough power.

The mobile networks got shutdown. I sought the help of my good old fiend, the internet to communicate with friends and relatives, to assure them that we are safe, to know about weather, airplanes, trains, buses, etc. All eyes were on weather forecasts, all prayers were for the rains to stop. TamilNaduWeatherMan facebook page was the lifeline for all us to know what lies in store. We had booked tickets for my wife to go to Mumbai. It got cancelled. It was rescheduled. It got cancelled again.

The water and power started to get switched off earlier and earlier. 10 AM, 9 AM, 8:30 AM. We had just 2 hours to do all morning chores, cook rice, stock up on water etc. Then one dark morning, the internet also got shutdown. We were completely isolated. Physically and virtually. Almost all the gates in the township lead to water logged dead ends. There was absolutely no communication channels left. Landline, internet, mobile, 3G, all had given up. My worries started soaring. One by one, all the civic amenities where getting shutdown. I was living in a bubble, a bubble created by a not so low lying area and an upscale neighborhood with DG. But the diesel will run out. The power will run out. We won’t even be able to cook rice. We won’t even get running water. The rains by this time had subsided to a drizzle, so even rain water harvesting was impossible. We just hoped that we had enough diesel to sustain basic needs till main power and water was back. Then my dad stumbled upon the ChennaiLive 104.8 radio channel, which was doing an awesome job by giving live updates and linking volunteers and those in need, by crowd sourcing as well as typing up with some volunteers, using the power of WhatsApp and SMS. That became our only connection to what’s happening inside the outside world. Updates about which areas are affected, which areas are now ok to travel to, what help is being done, what is the weather now, what is the forecast, everything was given out by this awesome news channel whose jockeys themselves were forced to live in their studios for 4-5 days.

Then it became even more frightening. They announced that power and water will be available only from 6-8 AM and 6-8 PM. Mornings became a race against time. Do morning chores, cook rice, make coffee, stock up on water, all this before 8 AM, in 2 hours. All this became all the more challenging with an ailing 84 year old grandfather who was bed ridden due to partial paralyses due to stroke who needs constant attention, and who was unable to fathom the gravity of the situation unfolding around him. With this announcement I was convinced that we are seriously running out of diesel, and with roads blocked, procuring diesel also might be a challenged. I prayed that even if water and power is reduced to 1 hour per day, it is manageable, compared to having absolutely no power or water altogether. The radio show I was listening to was giving me hopes as, they said power and network were slowly coming back

The very next day, around 4 PM, main power was back, much to our relief. Then after 10 minutes, broadband was back, connecting us back to our relatives and friends. We immediately reached out to near and dear ones via WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype and Hangout. As we surmised, they were all really worried and concerned, since there was absolutely no updates from us for the last 3-4 days. Couple this with the gruesome images of the deluge in the worst areas, all day in TV and they were fearing the worst. We assured them that we are completely safe, barring minor inconveniences.

I was glad that the city is on its way to recovery, but things were not all smooth yet. Gas was still down. So we were still resorting to the hotel for breakfast. But since now we had main power 24/7, we could use the induction cooker at full power to cook rice, make basic dishes and boil tea. We were still forced to refrigerate, re-use and save whatever dishes we have, and stretch it as long as it goes. It is today morning that we finally got cooking gas. Mobile networks are still not fully up, even as I write this.

At this time, I am filled with many emotions. Gratitude. Gratitude that there has been so many lucky coincidences to make me stay in a place where which was not affected in a life threatening way by the deluge. Gratitude that I am lucky enough to afford such a place. Gratitude towards the support teams and support systems and backup systems at my Bollineni Hillside Township who made sure that the residents felt as little impact as possible. Gratitude to all my family members who did not lose their cool and who calmed each other down, and who took strains to ensure we had enough food on the table and other amenities even in such a tempestuous time. Gratitude towards all my well-wishers.

But this is just the tip of the ice berg. We may be physically ok, but mentally very sunken. The personal fears and worries caused by the disaster is just a part of it. But I am mostly filled with sadness to see the fellow men suffer. People, friends and strangers who were not as lucky as me, who lost everything. Life, possessions, shelter, food, dignity. My maid waded through hip level water to reach my home. I stand humbled in front of her resolve, dedication and mental strength in spite of suffering so much. Places are still water logged, relief materials still not reaching them, death of 250+ people. I can’t even imagine what they are going through. I am trying to do whatever little I can, by donations, cash and kind, passing on info about volunteers needed and offered, passing on info about operable roads, keeping a close watch on weather updates and keeping everyone informed etc. but this is absolutely miniscule, compared to what some people are doing. It was heartwarming to so much strength and unity, so many volunteers who risked their own safety. Hats off to everyone who is trying to revive the victims. All we can wish and pray is to never see such an event again.