Why being in Chennai, even in such a time, is so beautiful

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment” – Mevlana Jalauddin Rumi, 13th Century Persian poet and Sufi mystic    

Chennai continued to amaze – and humble – me with her attitude on the third consecutive day in the aftermath of the worst rains and floods that it has ever seen in a century!
Here are some moments of sheer bewilderment that I experienced as we went around several parts of the city today.
·    The staff at my bank’s branch were mourning the loss of their colleague – he was swept away in the floods on the night of December 2nd. Yet they attended to their customers patiently, diligently. Raji, the customer service officer, informed us that they were working full days this weekend – Saturday (5th December) and Sunday (6th December). I expressed surprise and called the move to work on Sunday historic – in the annals of Indian banking history! She replied, “The calamity is no less historic Sir. We would like to help everyone get on with their lives.” To be sure, this remark was coming from a public-sector bank officer!
·         
     A part of the busy and important TTK Road was cordoned off by residents from K B Dasan Road as they tried to drain the water in their area. They had been water-logged for 5 days – without power and drinking water. Boats were still plying on K B Dasan Road. But even as some of the residents deployed a professional team to pump and drain water into the sewage system, across TTK Road, on C V Raman Road, several others among them regulated the traffic on behalf of the cops. Again nobody honked or complained. There was order, patience and empathy.
·         
   We heard of a friend’s boss’ story from Kotturpuram. He had barely 15 minutes on the morning of December 3rd to collect all important documents, gather his family and leave his home. The water that came gushing in soon after left nothing – repeat nothing – usable; clothes, furniture, home appliances, computers, everything was destroyed! Yet he and his family have chosen to simply move on; they are not grieving what they have lost – which is, practically everything material they owned!!!
·         
     We stopped at a store to see if we could pick up some milk – something that is in extreme short supply in Chennai these past few days. The storekeeper did not overcharge us – unlike what other opportunistic traders were doing – but allowed us only one sachet (half a litre). He requested us to “adjust” because he wanted to ensure that everyone got a little of what was so scare and so much in demand. Even as he was ringing in our check, he was inviting a bunch of volunteers to “pick up whatever they wanted to from his store – free of cost”. The volunteers, I gleaned, were cooking meals for people from a nearby slum whose homes were still flooded. We thanked the storekeeper for being so generous. But he brushed the compliment aside saying, “It is my duty. The least I can do is to support the relief operations to the best of my ability.”
·         
     
     There were rumors flying thick and thin across social media – predicting a horrendous end to Chennai later next week! A young friend, who was rushing off on relief work, had this to say, “Can we do anything to prevent the future from happening the way it must and will happen? Since we can’t, why not just focus on the present than worry about what is still unborn – the future?” Such a spiritual perspective – born right in the throes of an apocalyptical crisis!  
·      
   

Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Internet

    Everywhere we went, people were immersed in relief work. Students, doctors, managers, artists, filmmakers, actors, business leaders, traders, autorickshaw drivers, government employees – everyone is chipping in with whatever they can. Chennai suddenly is a city that is driven with purpose, empathy and compassion. My most enduring image of the day came via Facebook – it showed a Muslim man walking through a Vaishnavite shrine in some part of Chennai; he was there to lend support to a relief camp inside the temple. It’s an image that will stay with me for a long, long time.

·         
My daughter, who’s all of 20, had been saving for months to be at the Bacardi NH 7 Weekender Music Festival in Bangalore this weekend. She had bought her tickets from her student earnings. But she canceled the trip and joined a bunch of people supporting relief work. She told us: “I just can’t take my mind off what’s going on out there. I don’t think I can enjoy the festival when my city and my people are struggling to get drinking water and food.” I teared up hearing of her decision – both as a parent, and as a fellow Chennaiite.
    
Our entire day today, yet again, sums up why being in Chennai, even in such a time, is so beautiful. We are seeing a city that clearly is living up to what Sahir Ludhianvi wrote for Mohammed Rafi to sing, and make immortal, in Hum Dono (Dev Anand, Nanda, Sadhana, directed by Amarjeet/Vijay Anand, music by Jaidev) in 1961.  

मैं जिन्दगी का साथ निभाता चला गया
हर फ़िक्र को धुंएँ में उडाता चला गया

बरबादीयों का सोग़ मनाना फिजूल था
बरबादीयों का जश्न मनाता चला गया

जो मिल गया उसी को मुकद्दर समझ लिया
जो खो गया मैं उस को भुलाता चला गया

गम और खुशी में फर्क ना महसूस हो जहा
मैं दिल को उस मकाम पे लाता चला गया

मैं जिन्दगी का साथ निभाता चला गया
हर फ़िक्र को धुंएँ में उडाता चला गया

Chennai, like Sahir Ludhianvi’s poem, has infinite depth. It has soul. And so it knows how to preserve and persevere.
This is what I have learnt from Chennai over the past few days. As citizens who are ‘earning a living’ we are perhaps cold, business-like and, well, even clever. But as a people who are coping with an enormous crisis, who are picking up the threads of our material Life, we are every bit human! And that’s why we will never quite cease to amaze ourselves!

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Author: AVIS Viswanathan

Happiness Curator, Inspired Speaker, Life Coach and Author of "Fall Like A Rose Petal"

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