Dec. 1st 2016.

 

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Today marks a year since the incessant rains in Chennai that lasted days and led to the unforgettable flooding that caused many to flee their homes in the wee hours of the night.

Personally, it was an unforgettable night for me too – waiting seemed to be the order of the night and most of next day.

I waited restlessly for a train to reach Chennai…

Then I waited for the rains to stop, so a loved one can reach us safely from the railway station.

And when it did stop, I waited breathlessly for my husband to return after picking her up.

Soon after their almost-safe return, the flooding started.

Then I waited for the water to rise.

Early morning saw us waiting for the boat.

Once my son and I reached safe ground, it was a harrowingly long wait for my husband to reach our side.

 

At the end of that day, I said a silent prayer of thanks that after all that trauma, we were all together again. Safe and sound. And that’s all that mattered.

 

Within a few months, all of us bounced back to normalcy. We returned to our homes, got new cars, repainted the houses, bought new furniture, went back to work again…

The nightmarish morning soon became a distant memory.

But today, just thinking about the date opens a floodgate of memories. Not just the panic, but also the kindness I experienced from the people around me.

I remember the kind people who stood by us throughout that fateful experience with so much compassion…

My kind neighbor who served us all a hot cuppa that chaotic morning…

The gang of coast guards who risked their lives so many times tirelessly to enter into our street on a rickety motor boat, braving the strong river current to rescue scores of people…

The police officers who systematically controlled the evacuation with amazing organizing skills…

The kind man who opened his gate and welcomed us all to use his garage when we landed on dry land to wait for the rest of our families…

A kind friend who called me hundred times to say he’s booked a hotel room for my family and if we needed transport to get there…

The people on the adjoining dry streets who jumped on to the boats without a thought for their own safety, just to help us…

And after a few days, stories of selflessness and bravery started pouring in.

Hundreds of youngsters distributing food and clothes to the new homeless…

Kind people cooking tonnes of food in their kitchen to distribute to the people who were trapped inside their own homes…

People saving stray dogs from drowning…

Samaritans from all over the country and even abroad sending whatever they could…

The generosity and resilience of the human spirit shone brilliantly through this calamity.

 

As for me, the traumatic experience taught many unforgettable lessons.

First, the world is full of great people with large hearts.

Secondly, it is so much easier to handle a situation however bad, if you keep your cool. My street was full of cheerful camaraderie that morning. It made a difference.

And finally, all we need is each other.

Anything else can be bought.

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Now I know

“Never take ordinary days for granted,” I had read somewhere. “When you look back, those will be the days you will miss most.”

I realise the full meaning of that sentence only now.

Exactly 15 days ago, I fled from home, jumping on to a rescue boat from my first floor balcony. With a back pack with a change of clothes and other immediate essentials. (My son’s bag had a few comics and his sketching kit.)

The boat had hobbled a few feet above my husband’s SUV. Once we jumped in, we zipped and zoomed against the flowing current for the scariest 8 minutes of my life.

A few hours of restless waiting followed as we waited in the rain in somebody’s garage for the boat to bring my husband and sister in law.

I am one of the luckier few. Water did not enter my floor. Some thieves did, a few days later, but thankfully they didn’t take much.

Except for the loss of our cars and the locks on the front door, my family didn’t lose much compared to my ground floor neighbors.

They lost everything, but for some valuables they managed to save in a hurry, as the water level rose inside their homes.

My friend in the next building had just enough time to carry her dogs and cats to the safety of a floor above, that she couldn’t even think of her valuables.

We’ve also been luckier because we had somewhere to go.

Perhaps this was a wake up call to all.

Things can indeed change in a flash.

Homes can go under water.

Prized possessions can be washed away.

As can dear ones.

Your whole life can turn upside down in a matter of hours.

Though I know my home isn’t damaged and I can go back the minute power is restored and my street is clear of debris and damaged cars, a feeling of displacement is difficult to shake off.

A wave of homesickness washes over me when I least expect it.

I suddenly miss my morning cuppa with the day’s crossword, the bustle of breakfast and subsequent school runs, the mid-morning tea breaks when I have the whole house to myself, my bed, my favourite mug, baking the weekly bread, my tv shows, driving alone with my favourite song blaring….

Oh so many small things I took for granted.

If I can feel so much sadness for being away from home for a few weeks, I shudder to think of those who have lost their homes forever.

They will have to start anew. Build new lives. Create new routines. Make fresh memories.

Meanwhile, I will wait it out. Hold my breath a bit longer. Pause my regular life.

Till I can go back home.

And savour my ordinary days.