Chennai has emerged as the city of courage and compassion. In an unprecedented time of distress and difficulty, it turned into a helpline with a million arms, showed how a city transforms itself into a human personality and rises to become an angel. Not just the image of that milk-lady, who waded her way through the knee-deep waters to perform her duty of providing milk when it was needed the most, but common citizens, unknown faces and strangers who helped others as if they were blood brothers. People saw small cars and big SUVs loaded with food items, whatever they had in their home, being taken out for distribution to those who needed it more. Doctors formed tele-groups, and tried to reach out to the sick and helpless. Social media played a big role as #ChennaiRainsHelp and many other hashtags gave hope when the darkness of helplessness prevailed. Newspapers and electronic channels turned into centres to disseminate helpful information and coordinate efforts to give relief.
A distraught phone call from an unknown person was too scary the other day, he said he had seen dead bodies floating in water in a private city hospital. But people were coming to take them to a morgue. Political groups forgot their usual sharp-edged animosities and joined together. Religious groups and ideologically opposed segments of our social life simply erased the peripheries of agendas and became one entity to help Chennai. I haven't seen reports of looting or stealing during this bad patch, when the darker side of our life becomes active. For us, in Delhi, it’s really a pleasant surprise.
Chennai, in such a time, became a definition of the idea of India.
In comparison, forgive me, Delhi looks rude and ruthless. It is a rootless city of mute spectators, where a stone-hearted crowd kept watching till a woman bled to death as she was stabbed twenty-seven times. The culture of a city depends on how people behave. The heritage and the binding threads of a common language and legacy do play a role, but more than that a sense of the state being independent is crucial. Delhi’s spirit is political and state-crafted. The ‘Sirji syndrome’ makes it more of a city of political communicators rather than a society living on human values away from state patronage, though this can’t be applied to the Old Delhi circuit, even if it is diminishing fast.
Chennai, in contrast stood taller and brighter as an independently active city, without caring or complaining about the state’s help. We didn't see demonstrations or riots against the government by those who were in distress and neither were political statements issued blaming this or that party and the state apparatus for ‘failings and not doing enough’. The ardent followers of the Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa too were silently working to give maximum help in a spirit of togetherness. And here was a great statesmanlike statement by M Karunanidhi, elaborated by his daughter Kanimozhi in Rajya Sabha, pledging the DMK's help to the state govt efforts for providng relief. We saw hundreds of RSS workers and BJP supporters working relentlessly proving food, medicine, and emergency help to the people. And so were other groups belonging to different thought streams.
This happened when the communication systems had failed totally. There were no mobile phones or internet and landlines were too faulty. The airport turned into a river with planes looking as toy islands. Houses and cars were like floating icons of despair in a sea of water. It is difficult to imagine how people of Chennai managed several days of unimaginable damage and deaths. It will take a long time, to come back to normalcy even if the rains stop now and water begins receding from streets and homes. But what shall remain forever is the lingering image of the milk-lady and the many anonymous people helping each other as if the city had turned into a loving, caring mother for her children.
Thank you Chennai for showing us the most ennobling way of togetherness. A million salutes to you.
(Tarun Vijay is a BJP member of Parliament.)