By K Geethanjali
When nature’s fury sends routine for a toss, as it did during the recent Chennai floods, it affords many lessons, says K Geethanjali, particularly gratitude for the ordinary
The yellow school bus ground to a halt and I sighed. It was just another day. “WHY do I have to get up and go to work every day?” I wondered listlessly. “Why is life so boring?”
The grind of life, its unvarying routine, whether at home or work, was getting to me. Whenever anyone messaged me asking, “So what’s up?”, I would reply, “Nothing much, same old thing happening.” I longed for something exciting to do. Fun, adventure, something to get my heart pounding with the mystery of life – maybe going corralling or white water rafting! I loved the feel of water, and longed to at least dance under a waterfall as I had often done before at Shivan Samudram near the Kaveri river in Bangalore. The first deluge in Chennai after the Diwali holidays had given me something new to experience, but life soon resumed its normal tempo.
November 23, 2015, was just like any other day, save that I came home from work through another route because of water logging in the ordinary route. I curled up with the book, Gone with the Wind. Absorbed, I vaguely noticed that the sky had darkened. Slowly, as time went on, I started worrying when my family members did not return from work. Many friends on Whatsapp shared that their husbands too had not reached home.
The sky grew darker still, and the rain descended with a savagery I had seldom witnessed. I marvelled at the beauty of the storm. There is no better place to appreciate a storm than from my apartment building in the outskirts of Chennai. It is flanked by a lake on one side and vast wild spaces on the other. But the exhilaration was tinctured with a niggling fear. My sister, who lived in the apartment next to mine, had not yet returned from her work place in Adyar and the road to our apartments was blocked. My husband too was stuck in Mylapore, a good 20 kms away.
I would have really enjoyed this storm if only my family was safe! I thought. A few hours later after the harrowing experience of driving home alone through a different, lonely, dark and deserted route, my sister called to say she was home. I heaved a sigh of relief, but it was well past nine before my husband came home .Only then was I able to go out to the balcony and stand in awe of the water raining like sheets on the brimming lake.
“You are enjoying the rain because your loved ones are home, but see the motorists on the road and others caught in the storm; they are someone else’s brother or sister or son or husband,” a voice whispered. Funny how that disturbed my peace. I couldn’t get back to my book. Only after sending up a silent prayer that everyone should reach home safely could I even think of continuing to read.
Few in Chennai will forget the days that followed. I woke up to days that were far from ordinary!
The sky pelted and water levels began rising rapidly. Whatsapp messages spoke of lakes breaching in nearby areas, creating panic. No one knew what the next moment would bring. We were all on the razor’s edge.
“You longed for some excitement in your life, huh?”, Life seemed to ask me, “ I am going to heap it on. Let’s see how much excitement you have signed up for.”
Cut off from the rest of the world, telephone lines down, mobile towers not picking up signals, no television, no power, things only went from bad to worse. It became a daily exercise to peep out of my balcony to see if the waters of our lake had reached my compound wall. Would it breach? Would our parking lot be flooded as many of my friends’ parking lots were?
Being totally cut off from the rest of the world and being in the dark (literally too) about the condition of the city, hearing rumours of people being rescued by boats, watching the last bottle of pure drinking water fall down and spill from my hand, were excitement and anguish enough, and kept my heart pounding during those eventful days. Add to it the anguish of seeing little puppies rendered homeless, helping my husband rescue homeless cats, making momentous decisions on how to brave the potholes and waterlogged roads to transfer them to Blue Cross, braving the downpour to reach there, and I had more excitement than I could handle. Had I really longed to dance under the water falls ? Well, the sky had converted into one vast waterfall!
Water is a great leveller and the irony was that help had to be mobilised not only for our maids living in low lying areas, vulnerable animals stuck in gutters, or lost in the deluge, but also for our rich friends and colleagues marooned in their one-crore flats or magnificent villas.
We also learnt many other things – that we could exist without electricity and have candle-light dinners with the family. We learnt that we could forego serials and speak to each other about the past and laugh. We learnt we could live quite well without Whatsapp or Facebook, and use that time to get to know our neighbours. The ones who were fortunate to live in high-rise buildings learnt that there was always room for a few more people and food for a few more mouths. We learnt to mobilise funds and food stuffs for our less fortunate friends. Our lives were disrupted, but I felt that a great cleansing had taken place and out of the cleansing emerged a new understanding of the oneness of life. Nature had very frankly taken it as her duty to help us realise that at the end of the day everyone is equal in the eyes of the Universe and none can escape Nature’s fury; that even one human or animal in pain could affect our peace.
Much has been written about how people went out of the way to help those they never had met before. How animals were saved. How Chennai rose as one to face the tide. Varied lessons were taught, lessons that were received according to our capacity.
Being spared much of the suffering and trauma many others were put to during these testing times, the greatest learning for me began when a few days later I was able to look out at a clear sky and thank God that things were normal. Thanksgiving is not something to celebrate once a year. It’s a moment-to-moment gratitude for all the daily blessings of life, for the warm food on the table, fresh drinking water, or just a sunny day.
Today, when I open the front door and see the milk packets on my mat, I send up a prayer of gratitude. When I use my lift to get to the ground floor, when I switch on my laptop or just watch television, I am grateful. When I go to my balcony and see the stars out, gratitude wells up.
Thank God I had not gone with the wind but was still here to learn how to go with the flow. Do I long for excitement? Why, surfing the waves of everyday life and learning to rest on top of the game and learning to rise up once again if a big wave happens to sweep me off my feet is excitement enough.
And yes, when I hear my yellow school bus honking her arrival, I smile and thank God it’s just another day!
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