Saturday, 12 December 2015

Ordeal by water

It was the evening of Monday 30th Nov. 2015.  We had just returned from Pallavaram after escorting my niece Shyamala to her in-law’s place.  Right from Friday the 27th we had been busy in connection with her marriage, what with the pandakkal, bride anointment, bridal party welcome, Mappillai azhaippu. and the actual function of marriage. As we rested that night, the rains started and was pouring continuously all through next day.  I cancelled all my idea of going out to attend to some work before leaving for Palani which was planned for that weekend and concentrated on completing the uploading of Photos to Flickr and to Facebook when suddenly the lights went off.  Thank God I could complete the work on hand running the laptop on battery, for electricity supply came back six days later only. With no electricity, mobile phone could not be charged.  So when the land-line went dead next morning we were cut off from the outside world.  We could not bother about it at that time; for in the meantime the thoughtless act of the authorities of opening the lake waters. without giving us any prior warning had presented a bigger menace threatening life and property even in otherwise safe places.

For the previous night, Government had increased to ten times the release of water from Chembarampakkam Lake and that too at a high tide time.  The gushing waters breached the barrier wall in the banks near Jafferkhanpet and waters rushed out of the breach inundating Jafferkhanpet, parts of Ashok Nagar, K.K.Nagar and West Mambalam. The swirling waters from the 11th Avenue of Ashoknagar were rushing down the Kodambakkam lane and this raised the water level in our street so much that water entered the ground floor flats of our building. As the water started raising, filling the lift well and the first three steps of the staircase, one family from ground-floor, moved to our flat in the first floor and another family to a flat in the second floor.  The third family had fortunately vacated on 30th Nov. to a new flat in second floor in an adjoining area. The family that moved with us consisted of a young couple Rajamani @ Ganesh and Jaishree and Ganesh’s mother as their two daughters were with Jaishree’s parents in a first floor flat nearby. Ganesh’s mother, Lakshmi, who already knew Rajam, was a good company for Rajam diverting her mind from the shortages and TV-less, Telephone-less loneliness of darkness while Ganesh and Jaishree helped me to know other residents of the building as I had been so far treating my flat as a retreat during the days I stayed there. Further they brought with them the provisions they could salvage from their flat before leaving, which pooled with ours could help us to tide over the initial period without any serious problem.

We all watched from our balcony the rising level of water with fear, anxiety and concern. As water slowly rose covering the tyres, then doors and then the bonnet with only the windshield visible in a parked car in our compound, our BP also rose. And lo ! it stopped at the ceiling of the car covering the wind-shield, but without drowning the car though we could hear still the sound of the rushing waters in the street as if we had been standing on the  banks of a river in torrents. Blissfully the darkness fell and the torch was of no help to determine whether the level is static or raising or receding. So after a candle-light dinner that consisted of Upuma only and a short time of chit-chatting we retired to bed, outwardly hoping for the best and inwardly fearing the worst.

When the next day dawned, we rushed to see whether we could see the car and were relieved to find it has not submerged and water stood at ceiling level only. The relief was all the more when in the course of the day we could see the wind-shield  of the car and also noticed that the water had given up its attempt to climb the stairs and retreated to the level of first step.  The feeling of relief on this front was overshadowed by shortages in other fronts like water, milk etc. We decided to skip bath and bring rain water from the street for use in the toilet.  We conserved milk by drinking black coffee, saving it for buttermilk next day.  The next day as we were running out of drinking water, one Mr.Christopher from the second floor, offered us his can of water, as he was leaving for his native place. Using the hand-pump downstairs, Ganesh and Jaishree could also bring a few buckets of water for general use.  Further water has run out of our building by this time and so they also started the job of cleaning the slush left behind and took stock of their losses.  It was quite a heavy loss as the cot and mattress had soaked, fridge had toppled down and all the books and clothes in the storage compartment of the cot rendered unusable, Still they kept their cool and brought water for us, managed to get milk from somewhere, moved their mother to her daughter’s place and helped Jaishree’s parents as well with supplies braving the knee-deep stagnant water in the street.

The first big relief after deluge came when land-line telephone started ringing.  It was my niece Sandhya from T.Nagar who had been trying repeatedly and was successful then in contacting us.  Through her we sent message to our daughter, Suchy in Australia, that we were safe and the landline was working.  She promptly contacted us and it was a big relief talking to her ourselves. Rest of the day was mostly sent in receiving and making calls exchanging notes.   Our servant-maid, Mariamma, whose house was flooded and had been housed in a school also came for work and helped us by getting water from the sump downstairs and we could take bath after three days.  As Ganesh managed to bring milk and vegetables going round the few open shops, the dark days of our ordeal was slowly coming to an end.  It was complete when electricity was restored next evening and we felt like celebrating.  I was then reminded of a Mullah story.  He was struggling walking in tight shoes.  People asked him why he does not change to a bigger size shoe.  Mullah countered  saying how he can then savour the relief and joy that he gets when he removes the shoes.  So as the simple act of removing a shoe gave Mullah joy and relief so the simple act of restoration of electricity gave us great joy as now the fridge can be operated, motor can work, lift can fuction, TV can be seen, laptop can be worked, mobile phone can be charged, WI-FI can operate and what is more important than all these, we need not struggle in the dark as the sun goes down.  Though the ordeal was not over, we could now clearly see the dawn of its end

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