Thursday, February 25, 2016

THE BATTLE WITH SEEMINGLY STILL WATERS- THE MID THRILL

I settled down at my make shift place and started working for a few days out of there. Drinking water and food were the only things for which I had to venture out everyday and prices were slowly climbing higher and higher. Ayanavaram in many ways was a God blessed place, with water, power and internet  for use, available all the time. There was no water on the roads there and the huge storm water and sewage canal that had been cleaned up and maintained by the Railways just before the floods, was in full cry, filled to the brim and it kept moving all the water.

Every time a huge downpour came down and kept going for a while, the water level in the garden in front of my make shift place, would rise and come up to the steps of the house and that would raise our eyebrows and accelerate our heart beats. My daughter and me would work with the pointed end of an old umbrella to remove the leaves clogging the drain and then wait for the water to rush through this. Once it went through, all the water would disappear and that would give us all a temporary relief until the next downpour. At least five times in a day and sometimes at night, I would step out and walk up to the canal and see the situation of the water.

I had done heavy recharges for calls, messages and internet 3G as soon as I had indications of the water level going up and so there was enough balance left. I had a helper from the hospital where my sister had worked, to help us move canned water on his cycle from wherever we could locate it. I had gone on a hunt with several shops and got rice and wheat flour wherever I could spot them, paying the rising prices.  Besides this, we also stocked noodles, biscuits, bread, eggs and bakery items. We had milk supply coming in from a shop nearby. We avoided any fresh non-vegeterian purchases and just used up what we already had. 


We could not take everything while we had rushed out of home. So I went back alone on three occasions to get several things like the hard drives, USB drives, cameras, camcorder, clothes, books for my daughter and other things out of my home. Walking through the water each time, for more than a kilometre, both ways, was an experience. But the water did not have strong currents like what South Chennai faced. It was pretty still and only had the little waves that people like us created while moving around. I noticed a lot of people leaving our area for safer places, probably anticipating another bout of heavy rain. Ministers, officials and politicians were all over the place at the entrance to the housing area. Firemen on several fire engines, water pumps and boats, still kept working day and night to pump out the water and to move people. Their state was really sad as they did not have any rest.


I saw a lady compel her daughter who was not keen at all, to pose for repeated photo shoots, while in the middle of the road flooded with water. A lot of people were walking around them, both ways, but that never perturbed her. Many times we see comedy scenes like these sandwiched between layers of tragedy. The main road to the housing area had been dug up on one side, for about 100 metres. This was to drain the water out from the housing area, to a point, and from there it was to be pumped into the main drain, the top of which had been opened up by digging up one side of the main road. All this was a sight..a real pathetic sight.

My father and sister had already gone back to our home after cleaning up the ground floor and getting all the furniture, appliances and other things back into their places. It had taken about six days for the water to be pumped out by the administration, out of the housing area. My friend Magesh was my rain consultant and he gave me fairly accurate indications for the next three days at any time. It really helped me plan and take evasive action. Magesh had warned me about the possibility of another BIG rain and so I had tried my best to dissuade my father and sister from going back. But they did not relent. In fact we had arguments and finally I had to give in. We had damages on the doors, cupboards and furniture at our home. The smell of the flood water still remained, in spite of all the cleaning that was done with lysol and other solutions. After a few days, we tried burning frankincense and that really helped to a big extent, but still, the strange smell wafted out of the rooms whenever the breeze blew.

After working for a few days out of the make shift place, I started going to office from there. Me, my daughter and my wife, decided to hang on there for a few more days, till my daughter's school re-opened. I had taken Magesh's advice and left office on November 23rd along with him on the first company bus at fifteen minutes to 6.00 pm. We were sitting next to each other and viewed the sky to gather signs. "Not that ominous", is what we thought as the bus took off. The drizzle started as we moved further and then there was steady rain. In almost half hour we were up on the Koyambedu flyover. The steady rain stopped and the drizzle took over and after sometime a swap happened and this kept going on and on. Somewhere ahead, a huge downpour had sent the traffic amuck and we were stuck on the flyover for almost an hour and a half. This weather behaviour was different from what Magesh had predicted.

We were in a quandary as to whether we should remain inside, or get out of the bus and find another way of getting home. A lot in the bus were in the same situation as we were. I saw a few girls take a decision and step out and that made us hasten our decision making process. Finally Magesh and me stepped out with the decision to head for the metro station. I had an umbrella and a hat with me. The burden of carrying the laptop was killing. We walked down the flyover and reached a point where there was about two feet of water, but the points closer to the divider were still clear. So we kept walking along that path and at one point we removed our shoes and had them in hand too and rolled up our pants. Magesh compelled me and took over the laptop from me. He carried it all the way up to the metro station.

We took the metro from the Ekattuthangal station with a sigh of relief that it was all over and in fifteen minutes the train took us to Koyambedu. This was my first ride in the metro and it was ironical that I had to do it with bare feet and a wet attire. We negotiated through the huge crowd standing at the station and then stood in the bee line with the shoes still in hand at the automated exit path of the station. We then slowly made our way out onto the main road, only to find that we had stepped into a frying pan after having run away from a fire. There was water almost to the level of our hip on the roads and no autorickshaws were plying. The traffic was so pathetic and we knew it would be foolish to get into any vehicle and get stuck. And so we chose to walk again along the foot path which was at a higher level and had about a feet of water over it. We did not know what all we were encountering below the water as our slow moving feet kept feeling, spotting and carefully finding their way through the projections of the broken concrete slabs and the steel rods of the same, that were jutting out. But we kept moving and both Magesh and me kept looking out for any loose slabs or man holes and kept warning each other. We moved forward and cleared the area where water was deep and got onto the middle of the road and kept walking further.

As we got closer to the main road, I called my driver and asked him to wait beyond the point where the traffic started, so that he would not get stranded getting into the traffic while coming to pick us up. So, we planned to take an autorickshaw to reach that point. We walked forward and met driver sharks who told us their exhorbitant rate of Rs.350 for a drive of hardly two kilometres. We tried negotiations, like two drenched crows, wet all over and desperate to get back to our nests. Having no other choice, we relented and got in and with the rain taking off with another heavy stint, we moved ahead and inched through the traffic. It was about 10.30 pm when I spotted my car. I dropped Magesh at a point close to his home and then we made our way to the make shift place. This encounter with an aggressive Mother Nature and with a friend who was always by my side, is something that will remain etched in my mind, forever.

You may read the next in sequence at:

http://cherryspace.blogspot.in/2016/04/the-battle-with-seemingly-still-waters_14.html

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

THE BATTLE WITH SEEMINGLY STILL WATERS- THE FIRST BOUT

The next day November 16th, was the day of trial.. a day on which, we found it difficult to come to terms with the reality that was happening in front of us. It had rained the whole night. We had always believed that our home was a bastion of sorts, a bastion of peace, where canopies served as a home for many birds and these chirped everyday for us.We had all the facilities for a good life. The neighbours were good and amiable and all these gave us the feeling of peace on the outside irrespective of the occasional rumble inside and we believed that that peace was always going to be intact. We always had believed that this secure feeling and this exterior peace was impregnable. 

Note: The photographs below were taken at different points between Nov 16th and until the point of exit on Nov 17th.



I got the first shock at 4 a.m that morning, when my sister staying at the ground floor of our home called and told me "Water has found a way inside". I went down and saw that the chink in the cordon was the toilet drain. In about the next one hour, we saw every drain in our home saying "Hello". But the water was creeping in slowly in millimetres. 



It was like watching the Ten Commandments movie where the Angel of Death crept into every house very slowly. We tried piling up bricks around the drain and then collected the water in small buckets and poured them out, but the slow invasion continued. Very soon, what started as a patch became a sheet of water. I had to move my sick father who was mostly confined to bed and my sister to the first floor where I was with my family. It's really interesting to see, how calamity brings members of a family again physically together, breaking the walls of ego and the little petty hatreds that remain for each other, as every one looks forward to holding onto life. Like smoking or drinking, calamity is a great leveler. 



The rains had stopped that Monday morning and so we waited thinking that the water level will consequently go down. I had not taken out my cars from our car porch as I believed that the water level would go down, but the water level was only increasing. Our area was one of the most low lying places and storm drains had all been eaten up over the years by the roads that were laid in the name of progess. So, the water was flowing in from other higher areas like Korattur, where people had cut open at random wherever they could, to the let the water move out from their places. But we could not judge the amount of water flowing in and when it would stop. We could never see it flowing anywhere and the increase in level could not be spotted at any moment.

We moved a lot of things from the ground floor to the first floor and also pulled up a lot of furniture, bedding and appliances to the loft or to a higher level at the ground floor itself. There was no power and our land line connection was down. I kept the invertors still running and the central WiFi that was at the ground floor was also kept up and running. 



Sometime during Monday, I had listed down the documents and other important things that we had to carry in case of an evacuation. This flood had taken us by surprise and we could not plan the water pumping to our overhead tank. So we just had about half a tank of water. Me and my daughter started collecting rain water at the terrace and used it for flushing toilets and washing our hands and feet. 



The canned water supply from the shop close to our home, was getting tight and that made the situation even more grave. The toilet flushes were not working properly and that really gave me creeps. There were times when I flushed and waited long to see whether the whole thing was going down. It was taking real time and I was pretty sure that with the passage of time, all flushes would just get stuck. 

At any given moment, I had multiple tasks in my bucket for which my family was following up with me. In my observation, calamity brings in more work for the male folk as the women don't have much to do, especially in the kitchen as vegetables and other essentials soon deplete in shops and the family will have to thrive on oats, rice gruel or bread. The male folk will be the ones who will end up doing all the physical movement of furniture,appliances and other things and also attending to things that don't work. They will also often get lambasted by the women for bad decisions taken :)

By Tuesday afternoon, we had almost knee deep water inside the ground floor. The school ground behind our house was a sight by itself. It was full and the level there was more than the level of water inside our ground floor and it stretched for some eighty metres. It was a risk that way, as the pressure of the whole column of water, could lead to a collapse of the wall that lay between our home and the school. I had not slept the whole of Monday night, as I often went down to check the water level and it's creeping up the steps using a torch. And looking at the condition on Tuesday, my wife and I decided that we should move out. But it was not easy to convince my father and my sister. Decision making is one thing and getting everyone to fall in line with the decision is something else. Both involves time and have to be done quickly while calamity keeps biting our pants.

We knew that our cars could not be taken out as the water was pretty deep now and it would be much more deeper on the roads.I had asked my driver for help in bringing an SUV, when we would be deciding to move out. But the decision was still hanging and the water level was going up. Meanwhile me and my wife started packing all the essentials. My sister joined us too, but without being really convinced. My father who was mostly confined to bed, had seen the flood water only on Monday early morning when it had started creeping in and so I thought he did not know the gravity. I spoke to my sister and made her take him around the verandah of our first floor and that way he got a view of the road in the front and the school ground behind our home.

The decision was taken soon as he was convinced that holding on for more time was risky. I called my driver immediately and asked him for a vehicle. He told me that no vehicle providers were willing to come in, as the water level was pretty high at places now, between my home and the main road. The main road was like almost a kilometre from my home. So that meant that we were actually stranded. I heard from my driver that a lot of residents from our areas had started blocking traffic, in protest of the apathy of the officials and the administration, to what was happening inside the area. This had been happening since Monday afternoon. 


Many fire engines and pump sets were brought in after several politicians and officials visited the place and the firemen had already dug up a new drain beside the road, for the water to flow out of our housing area. They had also blocked vehicles from coming into the colony and were only allowing ambulances. So it struck me that calling an ambulance was the only way out. We called up for the ambulance giving them a picture of my father's condition and they were on their way.

I had called my driver to be around while we did the evacuation. I had asked him first to be near the main road, lest the ambulance driver found it difficult to reach home. The ambulance was let in by the police and it had come in to a point, half way between our home and the main road. Beyond that point, the driver was not sure whether to proceed as the water was pretty deep and could get into the engine. I called my driver and he told me that he was negotiating with the ambulance driver to try and get him to come to my home. 



Finally I stepped out and walked towards the place where the ambulance was supposed to have come. As I moved forward, I found that the water was almost up to the hip for me. Firemen and boats were all over the place on the road that was parallel to our street and I got in touch with them. I found that it took time for me to manoeuvre through the deep water and so I got on to one of the boats. I discussed on a plan with them to bring my father on the boat to the point where the ambulance was waiting and then get him in. They were fine with it.I also asked them about moving the food items and other things that we had packed for evacuation in the same boat. The firemen were pretty clear that they would not permit this and that they would pick up my father only after going around and picking up a few more old and senile individuals who had requested them earlier. They would not allow an exclusive boat for a family. It was like a luxury offer that we were demanding. So I knew that my plan had bombed while I was in the boat, but nevertheless I remained in the boat and asked them to come home. 



Meanwhile, my driver had convinced the ambulance driver and brought him near the gate of my house. So I took the help of the firemen who had come home, to move my father into the ambulance. The ambulance driver was about to take off after I got in with my father, but I asked him to wait. But seeing the amount of things and food items we were taking along with us, he lost his cool and started accelerating the engine, as he had been of the impression that this was an evacuation purely because my father was sick. But we managed to talk to him and got in and also got in all that we had packed too.

The ambulance had to move forward, as a reverse could slow down or stop the engine and water could get in. On the other hand, moving forward meant taking another street to reach the main road. But we moved ahead as we had no other choice. This actually led us into deeper waters as the area we were driving through, was much more low lying. The driver accelerated and I could see, sitting in the front seat, the waves getting created because of our vehicle. These waves caused the cars parked on either side to wobble like toys floating in water and they came and banged against the ambulance and then against the wall of the houses. I felt as though I was watching a movie scene. People from within the houses were cursing us as we were generating waves into their houses and knocking down their household articles.



 I wanted to empathize with them but the ambulance driver asked me to look straight and be ruthless. We moved forward and got onto the main road and there everything was fine. It had been two days since the rain had stopped and the rest of the city looked normal except areas like the place where our home was, because it was so low lying and almost hip deep water remained there still. We drove and reached my wife's house at Ayanavaram and camped there. What could have finished like a simple TV serial assumed dimensions of a big Hollywood movie, purely because we took time to take decisions. This was the first BIG rain, but we never knew that the best was yet to come.

You may read the next in sequence at:

http://cherryspace.blogspot.in/2016/04/the-battle-with-seemingly-still-waters.html

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