No beating about the bush. Cyclone Vardah was a beast, a beast that scared the life out of most of us. The Chennai floods was another devastating disaster last year, but for me, personally, Vardah had a vaster impact. Something I wasn’t ready for, despite warnings issued in the news. As I write this post, the city still struggles to be up and going. This is one of those times one realises how grateful we ought to be for a roof over our heads and food on our plates.
I was in my hometown (580+ kilometres away from Chennai) this weekend as warnings of a cyclone with winds as heavy as 100 kms/ hour were issued. But none of us at home worried about me traveling the night before Vardah because one, we did not know what a 100km/hr wind meant. Two, a similar cyclone warning was given earlier this month but it kind of passed without much damage, just spells of heavy rain now and then. So the thought was “How worse is this going to be, no big deal.”
Rains started to pour as my train neared Chennai accompanied by gusty, howling winds. I thought the winds seemed that strong because we were in a moving train. I was proved wrong soon enough. Umbrellas couldn’t stand the force as I ran to catch my next local train to my place. Rains intensified by the time I reached home, so going to office was not an option. Power supply was cut leaving my mobile phone with no battery charge and my emergency lamp flickered and died after a few hours. Who wants a lamp in the morning, right? Actually, we did. It was dark the whole day.
Next to go was the water supply. I was already short on food. So, hungry and dizzy and tired, I sat by the window to watch the cyclone hit us hard. It was no less than ghostly. Rains weren’t heavy but they fell on us with such great force. The winds were insane, with the sturdiest of trees bending and breaking like pieces of styrofoam. But what was really blood curdling was the noises that accompanied. It alternated between a child wailing and a wolf howling. The winds fell so hard that the doors and windows shuddered with each blast. Trees were uprooted, electricity poles fell and thatched roofs destroyed, all before our eyes.
I spotted leaves being carried by the winds, then came umbrellas and small pieces of wood. When I saw bigger logs and roofs flying away, I knew how worse this was getting. Then came a point when deafening noise of the winds, flying particles and rain filled the atmosphere that nothing was visible anymore. I feared that the windows would give way, but what I did not anticipate was rain water entering through gaps as thin as hair. Such was the force of the winds. It was pitch darkness as I stepped in my hall, shocked as I felt water on the floors. Rest of the evening I tried my best using sponges to remove as much water as I can, mopping the floor and trying to seal the window gaps, but in vain.
The wind died down later that night and it was just rains for a while. Totally exhausted, I don’t remember when I fell asleep. When I woke up around 6:30 yesterday morning, the sun was up- a welcome relief. I made it to office, to see the beautiful bucket shaped glass building damaged in places. The campus trees were uprooted, our ground floor lunch destroyed completely, the car parking fences resting on the cars. But the most heart breaking sight of all, our favorite signature banyan tree took a heavy beating, something we hadn’t expected at all. As painful as it was to see all of this, I was happy that I finally had a way to call my parents and also found something to eat. Hunger is cruel. Talk about the everyday things we take for granted!
Many took refuge in office, which was evident from the overflowing dorms and dinner queues. It is a blessing to work for an employer that took care of its struggling employees during such a catastrophe. This is the second time we are experiencing this, the 2015 floods being the first. It’s been two days since the cyclone hit. My floors are still damp, power lines are yet to be restored, there’s water scarcity throughout the city, but things are looking up. Yes, it will be a long time before the city is back to its former glory, but that’s the thing about Chennai, it is known for its resilience.
I do not have any photos to share, and there are enough photos on the news already. But this I can say. Vardah has taught us, yet again, to be grateful, compassionate, helpful, and maybe in some ways, joyful- to take things as they come and move on.