Any calamity brings with it a deep spiritual learning. From Chennai right now, the learning is simple: Get Up, Let Go, Move On!
Chennai has leaped– not limped please, I repeat, leaped – back to normal.
This morning Vaani and I went around the city in an auto-rickshaw. Even as water levels all over had receded dramatically, the spirit of the citizens of Chennai soared!
|Parked inside yet not spared|
We saw some very rare, interesting scenes. Motorists and traffic cops engaging in cheerful banter. A volunteer inspiring motorists to cross a deep trench – cut through the road to speed up water drainage – on North Usman Road: he wore the biggest smile that I have seen in days. At gas stations people waited patiently. No honking. No public display of impatience. Hawkers and street vendors went about setting up their displays. Cheerfully, enthusiastically.
|Everything’s out to dry!|
|Or everything’s gone!|
Ashok Nagar, from what we saw, was the worst affected. The ground floor of most homes in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Avenues had been invaded by the most innocuous, hard-to-imagine, intruder in Chennai – water. This is where water had risen to almost touch first floor levels – up to about 12 feet. Furniture, TVs, computers, cars, home appliances – nothing’s been spared. This is one calamity that struck across social strata. From the lower income group folks to those who live in bungalows and own, in some cases, more than two cars! As we rode through 9thAvenue and beyond, we saw cars washed away from a long distance – appearing to be parked precipitously on pavements; in reality they were tossed over by the gushing water! Some of them had been reined in by kind folks to the gates of their own houses – an act of absolute courtesy to car owners who would then not have to go too far search for them. Others had turned turtle or were buttonholed into street corners – their windscreens smashed; such was the water’s force and fury!
But nowhere did we see anyone moping and mourning. Almost Zen-like, people were picking up the threads of their material Life. There was something surreal about their equanimity. What we saw was a personification of the ‘this-too-shall-pass’ philosophy!
We met a lady who has been living alone in her bungalow for over 40 years. Everything in her home is a write-off. Basically she just needs to buy everything anew. She can’t walk. She’s 75. She had to move into her tenant’s office on the first floor of her house to escape the flood. But this is what she told us: “I am surprised this happened to us. Can you imagine, for the first time in 40 years, I have seen so much water in my house? But then things happen. What to do? I will be back in my bedroom tonight!”
Her spirit – of acceptance, let go and move on – was evident everywhere. People just went on with their lives.
|Motor Mechanics in Big Demand|
|TASMAC: Always Open!|
Mechanics were busy helping two-wheeler, auto and car owners to get their vehicles going. Saravana Bhavan, near Ashok Pillar, opened uncustomarily late. But they opened. And, sure enough, soon they had hundreds of hungry breakfast-seekers thronging there for sambar, idli, vadais and their signature filter kaapi. People were washing their cars, furniture and home appliances. Or they were putting out their soaking wet sofas and cushions to dry. There were those bailing out water in buckets on to the street. There were long queues outside all ATMs that had cash – and, importantly, power! But no one complained. A vegetable vendor assured his patrons that he was selling all items at cost price for the day. Corporation workers made sense of the garbage and debris, even as they cleared up, that had been washed onto street corners and pavements. The Aranganathan subway – one of the critical links between Ashok Nagar and T.Nagar – was still flooded to the brim and had floating debris; just looking at it reminded me of the Cooum that perhaps once was! Of course, while a sign outside Big Bang Theory (a favorite, new-age, happening nightlife place) said “Bar Closed”, the ubiquitous TASMAC stores were open – and doing brisk business already!
|The water came with such Force & Fury|
|Force & Fury 2|
If you just saw the material devastation and estimated the amount of money that people have lost individually, you would have expected them to be glum and grieving. Our auto driver, Shankar, exclaimed, “Saar, minimum Rs.1 Lakh per family is required urgently to get their houses back to normal.” That was his sweeping, generalized estimate, albeit, a naïve one too! Yet we only saw people who displayed an uncommon – in ordinary times – trait: practicality. I was amazed and humbled, at the same time, that people have simply accepted what is and moved on.
|And so you just move on…|
|Life and livelihood|
Outside a gas station on Kodambakkam High Road, a Herbalife volunteer stood with a weighing scale, under a branded kiosk-umbrella. He invited me to check my body mass index (BMI) and fat. He called out, “You can lose weight in just 10 days, saar!” I found his sales pitch opportunistic and jarring – a blemish on an otherwise pristine canvas, where loss and pain had been rendered irrelevant by acceptance, letting go and moving on. But then, isn’t moving on also about letting everyone live? His Life, and livelihood, I reckoned, thrived on the number of conversions he makes per day. So, upon reflection, I concluded that his valiant effort – even when fuel, water, milk and a warm, dry home matter more than BMI – is evident of a city moving on.
To that Zen spirit, to her people, to Chennai, I bow.