She had braved chest-level waters to get the milk and bring it to her customers.

news Chennai Rains Saturday, December 05, 2015 - 08:00

It was in 1976 that Radha got married to Rajamanikam and moved into her house in Ashok Nagar in Chennai. That year, the city saw massive rains - recording about 450mm rainfall on a single day in November.

"I went and got 10kgs of rice to stock up for the whole family," she reminisces, "MGR had just come to power," she adds with a smile. She is pardonably wrong though, MGR came a few months later in 1977.

Today, four decades later, a similar spell of torrential rains has catapulted the 60-year-old to international social media fame.

On the morning of December 2, 2015, Radha woke up at 4am as usual and went to the Aavin pick up point at 5am sharp. By 6, she was at Srividhya Apartments, with 300 packets of milk. She had braved chest-level waters to get the milk and bring it to her customers. Just the previous night, Chennai had received 30cm rainfall.

As she was returning from the apartment complex, a resident Padma Ramani clicked a picture of her, and it was posted online by this writer. The tweet has got more than 3000 re-tweets and over 2000 likes.

The tweet grabbed so much attention that viral-content websites picked it up and international news websites carried. By the afternoon of December 2, Radha was an internet celebrity.

She wasn't alone that morning, however. There were 15 other vendors at her collection point alone who turned up. All over Chennai, Aavin vendors did their best.

Radha is a certified vendor with Aavin - Tamil Nadu's state milk cooperative - and has been in the milk-delivery business for 32 years now.  She has a son, Nilakandan, who is a van-driver and a daughter Devaki, and both have delivered milk at some point in their lives. "At the peak of my career, I was delivering 1200 packets a day," she says with pride.

Today, she does about 300 packets to more than 50 households. "Other stores have taken away my business. But that morning, only I came to deliver, no one else," she says.

Today, Radha doesn't need the money. It helps, but she could stop if she wanted to. Her kids will take care of her. But she won't stop. "For me, Aavin is not just a job. I made my life out of it. I'll do it till my body allows it," she says.

But why did she have to deliver milk that morning? It's not the money, and her customers wouldn't dare admonish her for not turning up. She reacts with a surprised look, the idea of not turning up is unthinkable. "So many people dependent on me, how can I not go? And so much milk would go waste if I don't deliver it!"

"Look what happened this morning," she says. On Friday morning, as Chennai limped back to normalcy, there were street-fights over milk, with a litre being sold for Rs. 100. People stood in long queues for hours to get milk.

"Kaathu adichalum, mazhai peyinjalum, naan paal potruven," she says, meaning even if the wind is blowing or the sky is pouring, I will deliver the milk.

Since that day however, she has not been able to deliver milk, "I go to the collection point every morning. Today I went at 5am, then 6am and then at 10am. They didn't deliver from the depot, so I got back. Tomorrow definitely I'll be able to deliver."