After having to vacate home twice during the floods in Chennai, we got back home just a few days before Christmas. Staying at a make shift place, we had waited for two weeks to slip by after water had been pumped out of our colony. Christmas this time was pretty dull. I did not even push myself to put a star even though my wife had requested me twice. Putting up the Christmas tree was out of question as it was already the 21st of December. I believe my sister portrayed more spirit as she put up a star at the ground floor of our home. My wife also never gave up her tryst with baking cakes. I tried to liven up things on Christmas day by playing the Gunter Kullman Christmas Choir numbers for a while and it seemed to mollify the situation a little. Thus Christmas this year slipped by without a big impact.
As was the normal practice, we shared the Christmas cakes with our neighbours. And this time we gave it to a more number of them, because the floods brought a connect with a few more neighbours. It is a popular observation that if we have the habit of smoking or consuming wine or whiskey, it's a great leveling platform where irrespective of position and class, many times people seem to bind while they are into these. Calamities offer another leveling platform bringing together people from different levels in the society to enquire and help each other. Thus our cakes found their way to more houses this time.
The floods gave me a true picture of the unity in diversity, right there in my colony. We had a huge community of Muslims who went all over the place offering food and clothes. They even opened the mosque for anyone to stay. Many Hindus and Christians stayed there for days. Looking at the social circle that I am in touch mostly, I have to admit that other than my few relatives and just three individuals from my huge church community, nobody really called up to enquire about our state. This church is where I go to every Sunday and it is for this church that I sing in their choir. I don't blame them. May be they have called up more worthy friends. Probably our colony does not feature in the so called elite list for being considered worthy enough for a call. We Christians have always been ordinary people claiming extra ordinary things. We get too worked up worshiping God and singing for Him, that we forget our neighbour. This is the picture that I see. May be I am yet to see a better picture of the Christian group around me. It is not that we expect all our friends to wade through the water and reach us. At one point, we were running out of ideas on how to move my father out of home after the water levels had gone up and vehicles were refusing to come inside the colony. The main road was a good half a kilometre away and the vehicles would only come till there. Friends could also help by giving ideas. I have to ask myself if I would also have behaved the same way. However, I did hear about our church extending help to several flood affected families.
That apart, the person who played a key role in evacuating us the first time was my driver, a core Hindu, who offered to walk all the way from his house through the hip level water and then again wade through knee deep water in our colony. He could have always told us that he was not in a position to move out of his home. We had a tough time convincing an ambulance driver to come into our colony due to the deep water level, but it was our driver who called up and convinced the ambulance driver to move into the deep water to take my sick father out of our home to a safe place. I truly consider it a great help that he did. The second time when we evacuated, it was another uncle, a Hindu converted to a Christian, who helped us in the rush hour to pack all things and keep them at an elevated level in our ground floor and then leave on time. It really helped to save a lot of damages. He was the same person who bailed us out of the tsunami in Velankanni in 2004, driving all the way from Chennai and braving an accident en route. We also had a person from the hospital where my sister worked, who came to our make shift shelter almost every day and provided us with essentials.
My college friends with whom I am connected in Whatsapp, frequently enquired and kept my morale high. Some of them really ventured into helping people in distress. Coincidentally, all of these good humans were mostly Hindus and Muslims.
Besides these good angels, two atheists called up and enquired. One of them called up daily and gave me very accurate indications of the weather forecast. It really helped me to plan in advance and take drastic action, while also giving me to time to convince my dear ones. This friend even went to several places to rescue people and carry out relief efforts. Sometimes atheists are much more better humans than the ones like me who scrupulously follow religion. I am not sure if I would venture out in the same fashion.
Sometime after we got back home after the first evacuation, I noticed while standing in my car porch, that a family staying on the street opposite to our home , about ten metres away, were all looking towards our first floor roof. I wondered what was there that attracted their attention. A few moments later, one of them walked up and requested me for a few coconut branches for their religious function. I opened my gates for them and they went out happy with what they wanted. There have been many Hindu friends who have come with similar requests and we have always made it a point to give them.
A few days past Christmas, when I was sitting with my father in his bedroom, I noticed a white hat suddenly appear through the small opening that the curtains left near the window. It made me cautious as we were always careful about strangers stepping into our home, although we just left the gate with a latch that could be opened from outside. This opening action of our gate, always gave out a loud sound and so we would easily get to know about anyone who entered. But I had not heard anyone enter as yet.I waited for a while and again the white hat appeared and moved aside. I called out to enquire who it was. My sister hearing my call, went out and saw a young Muslim boy standing near the window and calling out "Aunty". She tried to understand what he wanted and then gave him whatever he was looking for. He was looking for some nice stiff bamboo branches and this was for his teacher in the mosque to whack students like him when they failed to learn their Quran lessons. He went home with a warm smile on his face and with a handful of bamboo branches. A few days later he again him with his few friends and they took some more. Days later when I was accompanying my sister to a nearby shop, I heard a boy call out "Hey, see that cane stick Aunty". It was the same boy Mohammad Nazir telling his friend. We waved at him.
More than being a Christian, it is this co-existence with people from different beliefs, that I love. This period of calamity gave me that picture, that belief, that in many humans, whether an atheist or a person pursuing a religion, there is that inclination to do something good. So I believe we don't have to really debate whether God is there or not there. Kindness exists and that is the biggest thing. How does anything else matter?