RAMBLINGS OF A RAIN RATTLED RESIDENT
Hi. I am a Chennai resident and was one of the victims of the unrelenting rains that had ripped the city apart in early December, 2015. In this last 4 months since the disaster I read quite a few articles & stories written by my fellow Chennaites about their experiences in the rain hit capital city & it inspired me to pen down my own experiences. I had an initial draft which I had written during the rains when I was trapped in my room with no means to pass time. So I decided to give it a proper form & type it out & post in on the internet. I realize that this comes 4 months too late but as someone once said, “Its better late than never.”
Rains mean different things to different people. For instance farmers would treat rain as Gods descending on earth to aid their cultivation. A filmmaker would make rains the backdrop of his romantic songs or fight scenes. But for most people especially in this part of the world rains come as a relief after a treacherous summer. For me personally rains meant nothing more than 1 of the 4 seasons. My one most prominent childhood memory of rain featured the times after a burst of rain when me and my friends used to pool up our pocket monies and buy a large bar of Cadbury’s Diary Milk which would then serve as a reward for the winner of ‘Cadburys Chocolate Paper Boat Championships’. The Championships were divided into 4 stages. 1st round where all the children who had “invested” in the winner’s prize can participants. The top eight times of the 1st round would move to the quarters. Yes we used a stopwatch to time all the boats. The semis would have the top four contestants and the finals would showcase the top 2. Each contestant was allowed to have a backup boat in case the first boat sinks but if you lost your back up boat too that would lead to disqualification from the race. So you see my personal equation with rain so far had been cordial or indifferent. But all that changed in the past few days when rains lashed my adopted home and turned one of the country’s largest metros into a godforsaken hellhole. The rains hit the city in 2 spells. The first one although left a huge trail of death & destruction in its wake didn’t have much of impact on me personally and I unlike most people don’t give a damn of anything unless I am personally affected by it. (That was a sarcasm in case you didn’t notice). Also in its second spell the rain was way more lethal crippling the city’s infrastructure. Electricity and water supply where the first to go, followed by the cell towers. Then the ATM’s of my neighborhood and its surrounding areas ran out of money. No food was available as all restaurants had shut down. Without any internet or mobile or friends ( I am new to the city having moved here just this September as I had got a job in a US based company at DLF IT Park, one of the prominent Software Parks in the city.) I was struck in my own personal hell and thus took up writing about my ordeal to pass time and also with a faint hope that these writings would fetch be immortalized as a personalized account of human tragedy one day like Anne Frank’s Dairy. Yeah yeah I know it’s more than a bit of a stretch of imagination that’s why I used the adjective ‘faint’ to qualify the word ‘hope’. Having got that out of the way I now proceed to narrate my arduous adventure day by day.
DAY 01 THE DAY WHEN IT ALL BEGAN
After an uncharacteristically brutal first spell of cloudburst when all the Chennaites including yours truly were thinking that the worst was over but we were completely unaware of what the rain gods had in store for us. It had started to rain quite heavily since early morning so I decided to wait a bit before starting but even after 12 when the rains showed no signs of abating I decided to leave anyway. So after half an hour of hopping, skipping & jumping trying to avoid potholes and puddles (My office is a 15 minute walk from my room.) I finally reached my office only to find that there was hardly anyone there. My boss who arrived earlier was getting ready to leave & advised me to do the same as the rains were gathering momentum. But I had some stuff to care off and decided to wrap it up before leaving. By the time I was done it was evening and the rains were showing no signs of ceasing so I decided to make a move. Upon reaching the main gate of the IT Park I was greeted by a huge traffic jam which stretched my travel time by almost an hour. Tired and drenched to the core I reached my room took a bath and was going through the day’s newspaper when the power went out. As the rains had intensified I couldn’t go out to buy food and had to spend a sleepless night with mosquitoes enjoying a grand feast on my body. Ahh! The cruel irony.
DAY 02 THE DAY WHEN IT GOT WORSE
Next day I got up & decided that I have only 1 option left with me. Escape. Make a run for it. I checked in the internet and found out that the trains & flights were not running but the buses were operational. I couldn’t book the tickets because my net connectivity failed. So I decided to go to Chennai’s main bus terminus and try my luck there. So I packed a few essentials in a bag, sprayed on some deo as I couldn’t take a bath, the water supply had gone kaput since the earlier night and got out. But I had only reached as far as DLF IT Park (where I work) when I met with a horrible sight. The main road stretching from the Software Park’s main gate to as far as eyes could see was flooded with water reaching up to hip level. Then I realized that I only had 2 options either to go back to my room or go inside DLF. Hoping that at least there would be electricity and water at my office I chose the latter. So I waded my way to the office. The lifts were not working (which though escaped my notice then was a sign of things to come) so I had to walk six flights of stairs to reach the floor where my office is situated. Upon reaching I plugged in my laptop & mobile to charge them and went back to ground floor to withdraw money from the ATM. There I met a massive queue. After waiting in line for about an hour and a half some more bad news came my way, a staple over the last couple of days that the ATM had run out of cash. I fumbled my wallet to find I had a little over a hundred rupees which I then used to buy some snacks. I went back to my office and waiting for me was….. Yes you guessed it right, no prizes though, more bad news. The electricity was gone as the basement levels were submerged under water so the administration team came an asked us to evacuate the building. So I exited the building with another couple of guys. As we reached the ground floor by stairway one of them said before he wanted to check his bike parked in the upper basement. So we went down the stairs leading to the basement but couldn’t go to the basement as it was submerged under water. The building looked like a sinking ship. Remember the scene from Titanic where as the ship is sinking Rose goes to the lower deck to rescue Jack who is imprisoned in one of the rooms there and as she climbs down she sees water rushing up. That precisely was the sight we were met with as we tried to go down the stairs leading to the basement. But we are not Rose so instead of going down we decided to head back up to the ground floor. Eventually after half an hour of wading through water reaching up to hip level we reached the main gate to greeted by another unimaginable sight. The highway in front of the DLF building had turned into a mighty river & there were boats running on them. Just imagine how you will feel if one day you wake up and see the roads in front of your houses had transformed into river & there were boats on them. It will blow you away. That’s exactly how I felt. There were 4-5 trucks with the words National Disaster Response Force emblazoned on the sides parked near our main gate. That was the moment it struck me that I am caught in middle of freaking natural disaster. With this horrible thought in my head I didn’t realize that I had crossed the water logged portion of the road and had reached dry land from where I made my way back to the room. My escape plan had failed miserably. I was back in the same place I started in the first place. It was just late afternoon but the cloud cover caused my room to be engulfed on darkness. No power meant no way to pass time. I just lay down in the bed staring at the ceiling. Soon I began to feel hungry and so ate a little of the mixture I had bought earlier. I had bought a Rs.85 mixture packet and I decided to conserve it so that I can use it for as long as possible as I had no idea how long this situation was going to last. Then I laid and tried to sleep but just like God, sleep had abandoned me as the lack of fan and the abundance of mosquitoes made the night even worse.
DAY 03 THE DAY WHEN I SAW BOTH SIDES OF HUMANITY
The next day when I woke up I decided to go out and take a stock of the situation to see whether there are any means of escape. So I got up, brushed my teeth, eat some more of the mixture I had and went out armed with my smartphone and my ATM card. Smartphone to search for a cell signal and & ATM in case I found a ATM in working condition but finding either of them was proving to be more difficult than finding the Great Indian Bustard. Finally after hours of fruitless search I returned home. Now I had walked for hours and was dead tired and awfully hungry & the mixture was finished. Apparently my mixture conservation project had failed. Also I had nothing to do to pass time and so I decided to write about my misadventures. So I took out a pen & paper went to the balcony & started writing. Just then I saw a van filled with water cans pull in front of my mansion. I went into my room grabbed my wallet & the empty can & hurried downstairs. By the time a large group of people had already gathered around the van. I also joined the crowd feeling every bit like a Syrian refugee in Europe except at least they were given free food & water but here we were being charged INR 80 for a water can that usually costs INR 35! Talk about profiteering from other’s misery. After around half an hour of being pushed and shoved around I realized I was no closer to getting some water than I was when I arrived. So I decided to summon my latent leadership skills & tried asking the unruly crowd to fall in a line so that everyone can get some water. But no one even bothered to listen. Also by then there were only a few water cans left. So I decided to add this to my list of unfortunate incidents that happened in my life over the last few days & returned to my room. I continued writing till it was dark & I could no longer see. Then I went to balcony & was sitting there staring at the cloudy night sky wondering if the rain would ever end when our mansion keeper joined me in the balcony. We swapped stories of our misadventures over the last couple of days. He told me he didn’t come for work for the last 2 days as his house was flooded & I told him about how I had no money & had to survive on a mixture packet. On knowing that I was hungry he offered to take me to his relative who runs a mess & said that I could eat for free there & pay later once the ATM’s started working. So I went with him to this small mess run by this sweet middle aged couple who not only had food but also kind words for my hungry soul. In this modern world were humans are fast turning into monsters it was a relief to stumble upon this small oasis of humanity. The food consisted of the most heavenly chapattis & vegetable stew I had ever had & before realizing I had 5 of them. Then after thanking them profusely I returned. For the first time in a long time I fell asleep almost immediately after I laid down in my bed despite the fact that the mosquitoes had upped the ferocity of their attacks on my body.
DAY 04: THE DAY THAT BOUGHT SOME RELIEF
Last night my mansion keeper had informed me that today electricity will come for an hour and asked me to recharge my mobile & laptop then. So I decided to switch on my fan & lights & plugged my laptop & mobile to charging points before I went to sleep. Today I woke to the sweet humming of the fan. I immediately got up & got dressed & hurried out hoping now that there is electricity the ATMs would have also started working. I was met with huge queue outside the ATM kiosk which was a huge relief as that meant the ATM was up & running. Look at me. My ordeals over the past few days have turned me from a person with a pathological hatred of crowds to a person to whom large groups of people are a relief. Anyway I joined the line & after half an hour came my chance to withdraw money. In a few seconds I had 10 INR 1000 notes in my hands. It felt so great to finally be able to handle money again. By the time I reached back to my mansion electricity had bid adieu but not before fully charging my mobile phone & laptop. So after days I had cash in hand & fully charges electronic devices. Boy this calls for a celebration I thought. Disasters have a way turning mundane events of your day to day life like withdrawing cash from ATMs & recharging your phones to special occasions. So I decided to celebrate this & went to the mess I had my dinner last night & had a full meal with fish fry as a side dish. That was pure heaven in my mouth. I then paid them for both today’s meal & last night’s dinner & returned home with my stomach full & my spirits high. On my way I bought a packet of mosquito coil. Let the mosquitoes come today I will show them who’s the boss. After I reached home took out my pen & paper & continued writing till darkness fell. Then again I went out & had dinner. Came back & slept peacefully for the second night in a row, a luxury in these troubled times. Before sleeping I did two things, first I lit 5 mosquito coils & placed them all around my bed. You would think 5 coils isn’t that too much? Maybe but I had been tortured by these evil army for these past few days so today I was determined to take the fight to them. Secondly, I made a plan in my head to get out the hell out of here & make my way to Trivandrum, my native. First I decided to go to the railway station to see if there are any trains running or else make my way to the Chennai’s bus terminus to try & get a seat in any of the buses leaving Chennai. Worst case scenario I would not find any transportation out of Chennai & would have to come back but I will at least have the satisfaction of having tried. Satisfied with my plan I closed my eyes & drifted into sleep.
Day 05 THE DAY I MET ANNIE
As I got up I had one thing clear in my head “I got to escape this hellhole”. I counted the money in hand. I had INR 9000-ish. That would be enough. I did some mental calculations. I would need INR.1000 to reach the Chennai Central Railway Station as this was kind of risky to drive in these conditions and that would be the fare any auto driver would charge extra for that. So I got up, got dressed, caught an auto from the main road and made my way to the Central Station in an auto rickshaw. (The driver charged INR 1500 but I didn’t try & bargain with him as my intent was just to get out of here.) Fortunately trains were up and running. Thanks Heavens! I checked up at train list and there was a Guruvayur Express leaving for Trivandrum that very evening. Now there was cell reception and internet at the station. A quick check at the IRCTC website told me that there were 22 seats available. As I was about to book my ticket. I heard a nervous, female voice speaking over her cell in chaste Malayalam. It was coming from the girl sitting opposite to me.She was saying, “The ticket to Trivandrum is Rs.1000 but all I have is just Rs.750. Oh God! What am I supposed to do now?” After some time the line got cut off apparently because its battery was dead as she threw it right at my feet and covered her face presumably sobbing. Now normally I don’t go around trying to rescue every damsel in distress but I decided to make an exception for this one. After all she was from my hometown (& really pretty. Wink. Wink). So I picked up her phone, tapped her shoulder and handed it to her. She looked up blinking away her tears and muttered a feeble Thanks. “Excuse me” I said in Malayalam “I overheard you speaking to god on your phone and I think I can help you.”
“What???” she asked, her brows furrowed.
“I said I overheard you speaking on the phone. You said you were short of money hence cannot book the ticket to Trivandrum. Then you uttered the words “Oh God! Now what am I supposed to do?” So I thought you were speaking to God.”
She smiled weakly and said, “No I was talking to my father. I was appraising him about my situation. My folks at home are worried sick.”
“Yeah. I would presume so and that’s why I am offering to book your ticket along with mine. Coincidentally I am also travelling to Trivandrum and it would great to have a travel companion as 14 hours can get pretty boring when you are alone.”
“Will you do that for me? Oh that will be great.” She said her face lighting up “Thanks a lot. And I promise to pay you back as soon as I can.”
“Ok, Ok. First things first. Can you give me your full name and age so that I can key it in?” I said playing it cool cause you know chicks dig cool.
“My name is Annie Abraham.” (Catholic hmmm…. I know about Jesus and the Ten Commandments And that God created the earth in 7 days and Adam & Eve and their tree of knowledge and also about all their important holidays (viz; Christmas, Easter & Good Friday). The rest of the stuff I will just learn along the way.)
“My age is 23 years.” (Two years younger. Yay!!!!)
So I booked her ticket and she bought lunch for both of us. I didn’t get a chance to play the gentleman there as she excused herself saying she had to use the restroom and went and bought food. So I played the same trick on her at dinnertime. Squared.
She was a really nice girl. A bit chatty & very friendly. After chatting with her for half an hour I almost forgot that we had just met. She was a MBA Finance and working at Accenture.( I had read somewhere that if spouses work in the same field it results in more harmony between them as both understand the nature of each other’s work. Did I mention earlier that I also am in Finance and work in an IT company?) The train came on time and after boarded we continued chatting till around 12. Rather she chatted and I sat their listening some time and rest of the time just staring at her pretty face. I never considered myself a romantic but here I was falling head over heels for her. As someone rightly said “You are never a romantic until you meet the right person.” Actually no one’s ever said that I just made it up. It just felt right to add a quote at this juncture. We were allotted side upper and side lower berths. She said she wanted the upper berth so I took the lower one. At around 12 a.m. we laid down to sleep. Just a few minutes later she came down and said, “Hey. I am not feeling sleepy. Are you asleep?” I had almost fallen asleep but of course I didn’t admit to it and instead replied in the clearest possible voice. “No. I am not.” So we sat and chatted till dawn or rather she talked and I sat there drifting in and out of my sleep. Finally as the train was nearing its destination (Yes I was fully awake by then) I asked for number.
“Oh.” She replied and added inquiringly “Why?”
“So that when we get back to Chennai I can contact you to get my money back.”
“Oh. Right. Right. I am sorry I totally forgot that.” She replied unable to hide a note of embarrassment from her voice.
The train had finally reached Trivandrum Central. We alighted the train and she ran towards a balding man in his late fifties who was standing right in front of the door from which we alighted. He was her father. She introduced him to me & he thanked me profusely for aiding the safe return of his daughter. He then took my Account Number and promised to wire in the cash today itself. As the father daughter duo turned to leave, Annie waved me goodbye and made a phone receiver gesture with her hand and mouthed the words, “Call me.”
Oh my God. She likes me. There’s no other reason for her to ask her to call me given her father had already taken my account number and promised to transmit the cash. No you idiot she was just being polite, a saner voice in my head chided me. But then almost at the same instant she turned around again and smiled. That’s clear sign that she liked me. She was a movie buff and was specially a sucker for those breezy romantic ones & she knew I was a movie lover too. So she knew I would understand the sign. For those who are not into lovey-dovey Bollywood movies FYI there is a recurring theme in these movies that “If a girl turns around and looks at you while she’s walking away she’s in love with you.” My heart stopped. The last few days may have sucked but all that suffering is finally being paid off. I had met the girl of my dreams and she liked me. I wanted to break into a dance on the platform but there were people around and I was a horrible dancer. These beautiful thoughts running in my head was rudely interrupted by a loud banging followed by a familiar voice calling out my name. I woke up and realized that it had all been a dream. Of course it was. I had been a fool to think otherwise. There were signs in the dream telling me that it was a dream. First one being all the trains to Chennai were cancelled owing to the rains so there was no way that I could go to Trivandrum in one. Second; Guruvayur Express starts from Chennai Egmore not Chennai Central. Third; I am an introvert ergo my chances of starting a conversation with a stranger is almost zero. Fourth and the most apparent; the chances of a beautiful girl falling in love with me after a 14 hour train journey is as remote you finding a bunch of Smurfs hiding in your grocery bag. Anyway after the things were put into perspective I realized the loud banging was that of someone knocking my door and the voice belonged to my brother’s.
DAY O5. The REAL DAY 5.
So my brother had arrived from Pune to search for me as my folks had instructed him to do so. He had also started a Facebook needle or thread or something (unlike most people of my age I am not an avid FB enthusiast and hence I am unfamiliar with its lingo.) stating that I was “missing”. I was like dude I am out of cell phone coverage for 3 days & suddenly I am missing. Is this what the world has come to? Anyway I was planning to leave the place today so his arrival was right on time. So we got in an auto and went to his old place at Thoraipakkam where he lived before being transferred to Pune as there was water & electricity there. Only two of the eight people were in the apartment as the others had gone to their respective hometowns so there was plenty space for us. Fortunately here my TATA PHOTON dongle was working so I could book tickets for both of us to Trivandrum. The day’s seats were all booked so we could only the next day’s bus. I then took a bath, a really long bath as I washed away all the horrors that I had been through, watched a movie (As I mentioned earlier I am a movie addict and watch one every day if possible or at least every couple of days. These godforsaken rains had also robbed me of that ) & went to sleep hoping that we are able to reach the Chennai Moffussil Bus Terminus which is our boarding point in time as the place is at an hour’s distance on a sunny day & Lord alone knows how long it will take to reach there during these crazy times.
DAY 06. THE DAY WHEN I FINALLY MADE OUT OF THE RAIN LASHED CITY
The next day I got up, took a bath. It was almost afternoon by then. So I went out & brought 2 lunch parcels from the most expensive diner in the locality. After lunch we packed up our stuff & decided to leave immediately for the bus stand. It was just 2.30 pm & the bus would only arrive at 6.00 but we decided that it was better to go & wait at the bus stand rather than arrive late & risk missing the bus because I didn’t think I had it in me to risk suffering another setback. So we hailed an auto rickshaw as the call taxi service was still out. The auto guy charged INR 900 which my brother pointed out was almost 4 times the actual fare after a bit of bargaining settled of INR 750 & we made our way to the Bus Terminus. Exactly at 6 the bus arrived & we got in. I was the first one in. As the bus started & moved out of the terminus I breathed a sigh of relief. I had lived a sheltered & almost uneventful life. This is the first time I was in middle of a disaster & I was all alone & made it out almost single handedly. Yes, yes I had a little help from my brother that is why “almost” being the operative word here. This ordeal gave me confidence that I am a much stronger person than I give myself credit for. So with this new found self-confidence & a quite prayer in my lips I made my way out of the rain stricken metro to my cozy, beautiful hometown.
Last December, the city of Chennai was struck by the heaviest rains it had seen in almost a century. I was one of the victims of the disaster & in this article I recount my ordeal.