The government in Tamil Nadu may appear to have drowned in the surging waters of the Adyar and the Cooum, but the people of Chennai seem to have pulled themselves up to face the worst. Though navy, police and national disaster management teams have undertaken a massive rescue mission, the city’s residents have become the real heroes as Chennai’s infrastructure crumbled under the record rain. Most housing colonies have been inundated with the flood waters and roads have turned into rivers. With the city cut off from the rest of the state, food supply and distribution have been affected. People in many parts of the city have been forced to flee after flood waters entered their homes. The government-run relief camps could not have coped, given the scale of the rain and displacement. In this scenario, Chennai’s civil society has stepped in to make relief available to the needy.
In this time of crisis, social media became the forum for the back-and-forth of messages offering help. SMSs began to do the rounds with phone numbers to call for food and shelter. People across the city opened up their homes and offered refuge to the less fortunate. Malls and multiplexes were transformed into shelters for the flood-affected. Temples, mosques, gurdwaras started to prepare food packets. Of course, like other big cities, Chennai too can be a merciless, violent urban jungle where survival is a daily battle. But as these last few days have shown, when disaster strikes, the city can become a village, sheltering and enfolding an otherwise fragmented mass of residents.
As a landing point for cyclonic storms raging in from the Bay of Bengal, Chennai knows from past experience that the government is often too slow in responding to natural disasters and even more so to one of its own making. An early start to relief and rehabilitation helps to put life back on track. The current civic activism also reflects a sense of ownership of the city, which has been nurtured by state propaganda.
Singara Chennai (Beautiful Chennai) was a campaign slogan, but it is also a state of mind for many Chennaiites. That, however, should not become an excuse for the government to slip up.