Some stuff I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the flood –
When was the last time anyone credited Madras that is Chennai with community spirit? Most writings on the city have dismissed it as comprising an insular community where neighbours hardly ever bother to find out who lives next door. That notion it appears is now in for a complete revision. Last fortnight’s floods have brought forth a new Chennai as it were, where the citizenry has risen to the occasion in providing relief and rehabilitation for those affected.
It is not as though State agencies did not do anything. After the initial shock, everyone noticed several instances where Government-run services continued to function right through the crisis. The Metropolitan bus transport did not suspend its operations even for a day. Telephones largely worked and as for power supply, it was shut off only in places where human safety would have been at risk had it continued. Hospitals worked overtime. Even the Corporation, which has come in for a big share of the criticism, did its best. Officials were available on call round the clock and there are many stories of acts of kindness – oxygen being supplied in the dead of night on the basis of a single call, boat services for many marooned, and food supplies to those completely cut off.
Who would have thought that a radio jockey of a private station would become the beacon light – offering entertainment for three days and at the same time passing on information, acting as a node for vital communications and calls for help? When thanked, all he had to say was that he did not expect it, his actions were guided by a single thought, that his beloved city could not drown. Working closely with him was a young film star who became a real life hero. That, of course, led to several others of his kind realising that they were missing a good press opportunity and jumping into the fray. But his contributions really stand out.
It however, cannot be denied that it was the common resident who emerged up top. Right across the city, thousands of volunteer camps sprang up. Some large, some small, but all of them worked with the single goal, to ensure relief supplies for those affected. Dry provisions, cooked food, clothes, blankets, medical supplies and personal products were all collected in no time and sent out.
The effort has since diminished somewhat but it has not died out. The emphasis has now shifted to long term rehabilitation, with many volunteers banding together to collect funds that will help in this initiative. The task is by no means over, for there are still areas of the city where water has not drained and residents, particularly those below the poverty line, are completely cut off. All these angels of mercy have done these acts without any consideration of personal credit or publicity.
The political establishment has not exactly covered itself in glory. The sticker fiasco and the charges of intimidating volunteers and hijacking supplies apart, there is a sense of disillusionment about politicians of all hues. There is also a feeling that Government funds, when disbursed, will be slow and too small in quantity to be of any use to those affected. The city will therefore continue to look at private initiative. It is reliably learnt that the donors are also responding and several of the givers are planning to route a significant portion of their funds through NGOs and not necessarily via the Government. This deserves encouragement, for it is only by this that we as a city can live up to what Ramalinga Swamigal sang of as Charitable Chennai.