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A Century of Progress Rendered Futile by the Fury of Nature

Published: 14th December 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th December 2015 12:22 AM   |  A+A-

When the skies opened up over Chennai, some meteorologists were wondering if the rainfall for the season would overtake the record for the century.

A century ago, my grandparents lived in a village in Kerala. A canal ran close to the street on which they lived. It rained cats and dogs during the monsoon season. Dams had not been built across some rivers and flooding was a common occurrence. Waters from the mountains entered the canals and overflowed onto their street, entering all the  houses.

My grandmother was pregnant at that time. She hid her jewellery in the attic.  The house was locked and they left the village with three children in a canoe rowed by some kind men. They reached a town where a railway station was available, boarded a train and reached Thiruvanathapuram where a relative lived. My father was born during the floods at Thiruvananthapuram and was named after the presiding deity of the temple in the city.

After the waters receded, they returned to their home. The jewellery hidden in the attic had been stolen.  It was surmised that my grandparents had talked about the jewellery being in the attic while in the canoe and were overheard by the rowers and fellow travellers.  A few otherresidents of the village had the similar misfortune of losing their valuables. 

My grandfather was a school teacher and the losses, due to the floods, were heartbreaking. But he had great fortitude and recovered from the misfortune. After many years, he lived to tell his story to his grandchildren.

After a century, Chennai was overwhelmed by a deluge. Flood waters surrounded my house. There was no power.  Milk was not delivered. Smartphones failed to deliver. Miraculously, the landline was functional. When the rains continued and weather pundits predicted more rain, flood waters entered my house. I decided to lock up the house and move to a hotel. Many hotels said they were full. Finally, one hotel offered a deluxe room for a fortune. We packed our clothes and looked for conveyance. Call taxi offices had a standard answer: “No vehicle available”. An autorickshaw driver said, “The subways are flooded. All roads leading out of this area are under three feet of water. The railway tracks are flooded and trains suspended. Town buses are not plying. You will be risking your life if you wade through the water, because manholes are kept open.”

I abandoned the idea of moving out and awaited doom, calmly. My wife prayed to the gods for relief. The rain gods heard her prayers and it stopped raining when the waters reached our bedroom. After a couple of days of utter misery, the waters receded.

But, flood waters continued to stagnate. Electricity failed and all communication channels failed. Airplanes did not take off. Milk, newspaper, vegetables and provisions became scarce. There was water everywhere, but none safe to drink. Black marketers thrived. I shuddered whenever the weatherman predicted more rains.

A century ago, my grandparents could travel about 200km by boat, bus and train to find a safe haven from floods.  After a hundred years, with all the technological progresses, their grandson could not travel 15km to reach a safe haven.  The city planners could only say that they had planned for normal monsoon and not for excessive rainfall. A century of the ascent of man proved futile against the fury of nature.

 mailpsubramanian@gmail.com



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