Last night, or must I say this morning, my husband decided to apply for a record of sorts. Guinness, Limca, anything really. He felt, fairly, that if there was a record going for the longest time taken to reach from a reasonable point A to point B, roughly 10 km, then he had a good chance. Given that he had unusually, therefore cheerily, set forth from his office at about 5-45 pm but stayed on the roads till about 12-45 am, a solid seven hours, he though he was justifiably calling dibs.
Last night is also when I well and truly lost it. As a life long Chennaite, I have never been so angry before, and God knows this city tests us all sorely from time to time. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I wondered what this city had come to. As a city, Chennai had failed us all miserably last night. As a friend said, pardon his French, bloody suburb!
I’m usually the first to rush to the defense of the city, sometimes my task is to defend the indefensible, and it hasn’t fazed me yet, until yesterday.
With a few hours of very heavy rainfall on Monday, this city of mine careened to a grinding, screeching halt. Roads were inundated immediately, the only scorching that was happening was of our hopes that the flood waters would * somehow* drain out. But in a sense, the worst was yet to be, as we stepped out to make the brave journey home.
Public transport, in the best of times, indifferent in this city, was no bet. Buses were leaking initially as it rained, friends reported, and anyway were stuck in the great big traffic mess that the roads had become. MRTS was a life saver, if you lived along its snaking route, but you’d have to step off the train, into the icy, black waters of Chennai roads. If you were lucky to put to use the Metro Rail that basically, at this stage, connects nowhere with nowhere, there was still the small matter of getting home from the station.
If you were in a car, then woe be to you. You could go as fast as you could to the nearest traffic jam and then wait there, moving forward in interstitial progression between the car in front of you, and the truck behind, both of which were crawling, when they moved. In most places, the water beneath, if you were lucky. The water in your auto, if you were not.
Which made that guy who slept in his car in Saidapet a smart cookie, actually, but only if he woke up before the flood waters came in. Or he and his precious car might be bobbing along the Adyar in spate, under the Maraimalai Adigal bridge. We hope he hasn’t.
Because the roads, frankly they were best negotiated on boats. Several roads of Chennai that had just emerged after the showers of last week had gone right back to bring invisible again. Water was everywhere, like an albatross, reminding us of past trespasses.
For certainly, we have failed to do things right. We have been anal in the way we planned the city’s burgeoning growth, we’ve allowed housing schemes on lakes, squatters on the banks of rivers, allowed waterways to be built on and covered up, left storm water drains clogged, always planned for a deficit monsoon, whilst praying for bountiful rains. And the fault, my friends, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.
That we allowed our great acquisitive greed to subsume this city. That in the floodwaters of our callousness, this city of mine is submerged. It’s a fait accompli, and this season it rides on El Nino, discomfiting our daily lives, making diehard fans of the city like me wonder. What’s a city, after all. It’s you and me, and the people who govern it. It’s the people who fail a city, it’s us that have failed Chennai. I’ve no business being angry, I’m guilty.
As you are.
Pics: Ramya Kannan