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When Disaster Strikes

In this time of quarantine and social distancing, what does one do to keep oneself occupied? I chose to pick a book from my TBR list. I started reading River's Remember - Is there a more terrifyingly titled book than Krupa Ge's Rivers Remember? At first glance, it sounds nostalgic, even pretty. But the truth is in fact, the opposite. The rivers in the title refer to the Adyar, the Cooum and the Kosasthalaiyar, the three that engulfed Chennai in 2015. She writes with searing fury about her beloved childhood home being destroyed suddenly by the floods as her parents flee in the nick of time, with no warning at all. They were the lucky ones. Many died, though no can agree on the exact number.

In the first week of December 2015, Chennai saw unprecedented flooding as a result of heavy rainfall. I was in my 12th standard and an oblivious kid who was just relieved by the postponing of my exams. I live in Velachery, one of the worst hit localities. Since Velachery is among the localities that developed after the late 1990s over a collection of low-lying wetlands, this wasn't much of a surprise. My apartment complex was one of the lucky few that wasn't hit too bad. We were living on an island and thus - we had generous residents who were ready to and offered to house any strangers stranded nearby. One of them had even volunteered to make meals for those residing in a school nearby and I remember how my day usually started with helping her cut vegetables for the same. For a good two months everything came to a halt, every other day was different than the previous. I was privileged enough to have a roof over my head- and no water entered my house. But the people still suffer today due to consequences from this - almost every important suburb had turned into a water body. Along with rainwater, sewage too entered homes and in many parts, the water level was over five feet deep.

Picture 1: Velachery during the floods (December 2015, Reuters)

It was also when the people rose, resilient and strong - not just on social media but willing to share their homes, food and clothing for their neighbours, friends, family and even complete strangers. Citizens banded together to rescue others stranded in their homes as the water levels rose to alarming levels. Together, they picked Chennai up and put her back on her feet, because they wanted to, because they could.

Picture 2: People travel on a boat as they move to safer places (December 2015, Reuters/Stringer)

Today we have yet another disaster, but much bigger and scarier. The novel Coronavirus has spread globally. Without a vaccine or treatment, the nation has just one solution for its citizens, "Stay Home, Stay Safe" - it is the best precaution to combat the pandemic.

While a privileged few can afford to stay at home, many continue to work in what have been deemed essential services and are tirelessly trying to keep the pandemic in check and to keep us all going in the meantime. These doctors, nurses, grocery clerks, metro water truck drivers, policemen, sanitation workers (and so many more) are whose backs many of us stand on so that we can engage in "social distancing". With 10 hour shifts or more, these people are working and putting their life at risk everyday only to ensure we meet our basic needs. Sitting at home, we get everything we need to continue working from home with no interruptions and a regular supply of food, electricity and water. Those still working are doing so for longer periods of time than before because they need to and do deserve our respect and appreciation. The only way we can help is letting them do their job, donate to help make their living conditions better all from staying indoors, only straying outside only if absolutely necessary.

Picture 3 : Sanitation workers in Mogappair, Chennai (April 2020, New Indian Express, EPS/Debadatta Mallick)

As a run-up to the national lockdown, the country on March 22 observed a "public curfew" and the Prime Minister had asked that at 5 p.m., citizens come to their balconies to clap, bang a plate or ring a bell to thank health care workers, doctors, cleaners and others for their service to the nation. Some people, however, didn't understand the part about doing this from inside their homes. They gathered in streets or localities, clapping and blowing conch shells. While it is important to display our appreciation, the best thing we can do is prevent the spread of the virus is help those who do work tirelessly and respect their advice. The more we all shelter-in-place, the more we do to 'flatten the curve' of the pandemic. The fewer numbers of people who get sick is the best way to preserve the capacity of our health care system.

It's time we come together once again - like we did in 2015 - irrespective of religion, caste or any other basis, and fight this together. The effort of every individual constitutes the success of the nation in curtailing this pandemic. By staying indoors unless absolutely necessary and taking necessary precaution while venturing outside, we would be planting our footsteps in the path towards greater good.

Cover Photo Credits : Fountain Ink, article dated 16th January 2020

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