It had been raining hard in Chennai for the last one month disrupting normal life, causing traffic jams and playing a complete spoilsport to the festival of Diwali. People just dealt with it individually. Every now and then my father would tell me how hard it was raining and send me pictures of his area. It was fine as long as I could call him on his mobile. But, on 2nd December the situation became worse, scenes of a flooded Chennai started to emerge and that's when the mobile network also went down. Now it's not that I call him everyday, but when the network goes down and you can't reach your family whenever you want, is when the worry sets in.
News from various sources showed that Chennai was drowning. Some places had water coming up to the first floors and many ground floor rooms were totally submerged. Some of the well known areas were totally under water. You could barely see the tops of the cars. Chennai had become an isolated island where there was no electricity, no mobile network and no access to various areas.
It was during this time, when I could not reach my family that I started to obsessively scourge the internet and social media for news about everything happening in Chennai. And, in this process what emerged was a slowly unfolding movement. A movement for relief work by the people of Chennai for those affected. Initially there was one guy who offered his home via a tweet to those affected. Then, several others followed suit, with not just offers of accommodation, but also offers of food, clothing, offers to recharge the mobile phones for free, offers of doctors available for help and medical advice, offers of people who would make sure that families of those who were not in Chennai were safe and report back to them. So many malls, schools and places of worship opened their doors to the victims. Someone then thought to compile all these offers in one place and the website http://chennairains.org/ was born. Then there were people like the RJ from BigFM, Balaji and the actor Siddharth who led entire volunteer movements to collect, stock and distribute relief material. This inspired countless others to do the same. So many people braved the muck, the sewage mixed rain water and the snakes to distribute food packets and basic necessities. The fishermen brought in their boats to rescue people from the areas inaccessible by cars. It was a true peoples' movement. The Indian army too did everything it could to rescue people who were stuck on second floors or roofs of the buildings.
There were of course some who tried to take advantage of the situation. The party workers of AIADMK for example slowed down relief work in order to paste stickers and banners of the CM on the relief material which was not even donated by them. Some airlines increased the price of their tickets by 5-6 times. But, the good far outnumbered such incidents and what emerged was a movement where everyone only wanted to help.
I feel proud of the people in my home city. They showed that they are there for each other. With no connectivity with the outside world, my mother in fact told me when I was finally able to talk to her today that it reminded her of her childhood in her native village of Bihar, completely cut out from the rest of the world. I feel lucky that water never entered our house when just a couple kilometers away there was extreme water logging. Nature's fury somehow missed our house. But, after being a witness to this movement, I feel certain that had we faced any difficulty, I could have reached out to the people of Chennai and someone would have definitely showed up to help. I am proud of this Chennai and this India.
P.S. There is still a lot of rehabilitation work left to do.
People in India who would like to donate can do so here: #ChennaiMicro - An initiative by RJ Balaji and Actor Siddharth.
And, people outside India who would like to donate can do so here: Chennai Flood Relief- 501c(3) Non Profit Organization or GoFundMe-TN Flood Relief