By Abheek Dasgupta
As heavy rains in Chennai and the resultant floods brought the city to a standstill, IIT Madras (IITM) got its fair share of woes as well. Classes were not disrupted during the first round of the rains in mid-November. But, with the semester coming to an end towards the end of the month, professors rushed to complete their classes. Some classes were reduced. However, classes did take place for many courses when the educational institutions in the rest of the city had declared holidays. Mandakini, a student hostel found itself flooded as it was on lower ground. Students from this hostel were evacuated and sent to the newly built Bhadra hostel, which had no students residing before the rains.
The examination schedule (November 18-27) remained unchanged and students, professors and examiners ensured a smooth running of the process.
It was another story before the second lashing on the city. Many undergraduate students who were not from Chennai, left the city. The ones who were sitting for placements, and the first year students who had to go through their compulsory workshop course, stayed back.
The power cut started on the 1st of December. The next day we got to know that the transformer in the neighbouring locality of Velachery, was under five feet of water, and that the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) had shut it down to prevent casualties from electrocution. While the IIT Madras transformer was in regular shape, power to the campus comes from Velachery, and as a result, there was no power in the campus.
The placement window started functioning around midnight of 1st December. Some students completed their interviews as power was still available, but the situation was short-lived. Many interviewers come from outside the city, interviews have been postponed to January when rail and air services resume to capacity. First year students were spotted in their workshop uniforms during the power cut as well, but as processes that involve electrical equipment could not take place, it is unlikely that the workshop courses were completed. However, as the courses are done in batches, it is expected that should there be any processes that weren’t completed, they would be done in the summer.
By the evening of the 2nd, as news came in about the situation of Velachery, it was evident that the residents would have to sleep for one more night without power. There were worries about water supply as water for washing and cleaning was not provided on that day. The next day (3rd) however, water was pumped using diesel generators, and the residential zone got cleaning water. Drinking water was not available, as the self-help group that sells water cans in the campus did not receive any water. Bottled water was available in the shops the previous day at normal prices, but not on the 3rd, and as a result many had to resort to boiling tap water for drinking.
The hostels on the other hand, had no cleaning water, but the mega messes were working and students’ meals were rationed, but there was enough for everyone.
Information had come in by then that Mylapore and certain pockets of Adyar had electricity, and the Mylapore sub-station was willing to provide power, should Adyar allow that. But, at sunset, people were preparing for yet another night without power.
Most of the shops in the campus were functioning. The Gurunath Departmental Store was selling candles, lighters and torches – products whose demand had skyrocketed over the last day or two, at the MRP. The vegetable shop was getting supplies every morning, and the family run stores, albeit having a reduced stock, were selling biscuits, oil and eggs, among other packaged food items. However, the store of Ambika Appalam, one of Chennai’s well-known supermarket chains had shut down, despite having half of their regular stock inside. Given that they had the largest plot of land in the institute’s shopping complex, residents were angry at the short supply of essential items that may have been hoarded. On the 4th, news arrived that reduced amounts of power would be provided using various routes by the evening. Power had come back to the campus at about half past six in the evening, and it became clear that this was not the reduced amount as was predicted, but regular amounts.
The internet servers were shut down on the first day of the power cut, and were not switched on that evening. Internet services were available the next afternoon in the academic and hostel zones, and a few hours later in the residential zone, barring a few regions where the hubs were not functioning as a result of electrical failures. These were sorted out on Monday, and normal services resumed.
( Abheek Dasgupta is a student of IIT Madras )