[Author’s Note – I had written this piece of article as a tribute to the city that survived a disaster and limped back to life. I had sent this piece to a leading newspaper’s Open Editorial Column. But they refused the article. Since then it has been lying in a folder in my laptop. Today being the first anniversary of that terrible disaster, I thought this would be the best time to bring out this article from my closet and post it here. This post is dedicated to my fellow Chennaites who worked hard to bring back the glory of Chennai.]
“Insaani rishta nibhaavaan mein, gehraaroun apna banavaan mein” (May I fulfill all the human relationships whole heartedly, make even strangers mine).
These soul searing lines from an Urdu-Punjabi song have always captivated me. But the question always lingered in my mind ‘Where and when will I find humanity’ and my quest seems to have become fruitful finally.
December 1, 2015 was the fateful day when Chennai was flooded dangerously and the metropolis was completely marooned. There was no connectivity with the outside world for full four days and we suffered in darkness and hunger, with fear in our hearts. The city of traditions was an island with water everywhere. “My Chennai is completely ruined” I thought. I lamented and felt my heart heavy thinking that the city I grew up, the only city I have ever felt home in this world was going to become history. Those four days were the worst of my life. We slept in darkness, woke up in darkness and ate whatever we could in darkness. I felt I was living a nightmare that would turn into reality soon.
With the power being restored after four days of darkness, all I could think of was the social media. The moment I logged into my account, I felt something hot sting my eyes. Posts, hundreds of thousands of posts asking for relief materials were staring at me on my page. Twitterati was abuzz with hashtags and tweets for sourcing relief materials, assessing the damages, setting up relief camps and what not. I could witness the mass levels of relief work that was being carried out. I could see young people, including many of my friends venturing out of their safe havens, braving the rains and flood waters to help strangers who were stranded.
There was no connectivity, phone lines were dead, mobile networks were down and city was looming in darkness. Yet these brave hearts managed to network with people and formed groups to volunteer in relief efforts. I felt my chin go up in pride when I came across an army personnel say that this is the first place where we have seen more volunteers than victims.
I could see neighbours sharing whatever they had with each other, who on normal days would have ignored each others’ existence. Usage of crayons in place of candles, boats made of waste available in hand, mobile ATMs and many more such cool innovations also came to the fore. I could even witness a cute yet a heart warming scene of children gathering their ‘piggy bank’ savings to donate to the relief fund. There were good Samaritans who worked day and night to save animals from getting washed away.
In the wake of trauma and distress that the city was facing, I could see only one religion work tirelessly to bring back the city to its old glory and that religion is humanity. Amidst the intolerance debate that has been creating havoc in the country, this disaster in Chennai came as a sharp reply. I could see no Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains or any other religion in the volunteers who brought earth and sky together to help. All I could see was a fellow human being helping another.
I have never seen a city ravaged and turned to rubble by a disaster get back to its feet in a very short span of time. The strength, agility and courage that Chennai has shown is indeed commendable and this has been possible only because of good Samaritans.
I realized something today that where humanity exists, there even a disaster of this intensity cannot shake our stupor. Indeed proud that I am a Chennaite and this humane place is my home. As I again get back to listening the song, I am not skeptical any more. I am confident and happy that humanity exists and exists right in Chennai, my home.