Wednesday, February 10, 2016


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.

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