Les Miserables – Chennai pe charcha

I would like to keep this short. That said, I would like to start with the rather long opening line of Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”…

Chennai in the Crisis that Had No Name….

How did it feel for me? Pardon me, if I say that this last week was a bit like what one experienced during the tense times of watching 26/11. For us here in Chennai, with no electricity, water-water-everywhere-but-not-that-much-to-drink, pounding-pounding-pounding of non-stop rains, with the knowledge in one’s bones that this one was the real thing – the disaster that we were afraid to even fear… The knowledge that out there, there would be thousands and thousands who would be suffering far more than I, and the feeling of guilt that accompanies that silent knowledge… And then, by the time it was Day 3, and still no signs of end, the desperate question, “is this for real? Is this really happening?”

And when the rains did seem to stop, the deluge that followed… With the waters being released from the bursting catchment lakes…. With sudden rivers flowing through city streets….

And the other city… The noble Chennai… No dhakka-mukka in the few shops that opened up… No sudden sky-rocketing of prices… Ordinary people helping each other… Many going out of their way…. The dignity of India… While it lasts… Surely, this wont last, and soon commerce will take over… As will politics….

Remember, we had no TV. Our phones were out… Most of us were in complete Radio Silence. And when the first crackle of signals did come, there came the SOS-s from friends and relations… Each of us perhaps knew some people, personally, who were marooned with water coming up to first floor… Wanting drinking water, and milk if possible… Even as I write this, I have a cousin’s family whose only mode of transport is by boat, and they have no electricity yet – and they have at least four people at home who are above 80 years of age – and so please don’t say ‘Why can’t they go to Bangalore?’

And again, even as I write this, the rains have started once more.. Maybe just a short and sharp shower… But such has been the pounding of last week, that we shall be suspicious of every shadow of a shower….

Oh I could go on.. But here’s some plea, if I may

Let us, as a nation, get our disaster-management act together…

Do not inundate sufferers with dozens of different agency numbers and options, out of which we hesitate to call any (Take your pick Army, Navy, Boat Agencies. Food relief folks Government Bodies etc etc). Please have ONE number that people should call – and let that number be manned by a Command and Control centre that routes the right relief to the right place.

Take control of communication. People may not have phones working. How do you get messages to them? Have clear and purposeful messages. Get them across. Do not make the sufferer sift for signal from a flood of meaningless noise.

For sure the rescue workers from Army, Navy and other Government agencies did terrific work. Help them by having a well designed Disaster Management Plan. Let each one know exactly what they would be doing. And let there be an overall control mechanism….

As I write this, I see a message in one of my groups where someone is asking – “Can someone suggest what medicines need to be got? One relief truck is coming from Bengaluru”. One more helping hand waving uncertainly…

One more request… This one to news channels.. Please do not come to Chennai and interview people in Hindi (although, I humbly submit ki some of us can match you gaali to gaali in khadi boli) … And if you can, please do not bring in words like Secular etc into this conversation. You agree to that, and I grant you your right to scream from your studios that your channel saved Chennai… And tomorrow (why tomorrow, even today), you may go back to your recently all too familiar ‘Papa beats Momma’ theme of ‘India Intolerance Unlimited’.

mujhe tumse kuch bhi na chahiye
mujhe mere haal pe chhod do
mujhe mere haal pe chhod do

(… ai maalik tere bande hum… )




2 Responses to “Les Miserables – Chennai pe charcha”

  1. Srinivasa Says:


    This is indeed very touching. I feel the pain of thousands of people of Chennai. It’s very hard to understand what it is to feel the brute force of nature but I think I now get a glimpse. I myself with so many relatives and friends in Chennai have, at best, felt helpless. To be in the middle of it is quite another feeling altogether.

    Thanks for helping people understand. I hope and pray that Chennaites’ troubles are at an end.

  2. Mani Says:

    An impassioned powerful piece, that lays out a simple and logical framework for disaster preparedness and management. May it be heard, may it move the necessary wheels. I’ll do my bit.

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