Living through the cyclone

Cyclone Vardah, which began on 12th December picked up speeds clocking 120 kph, ravaged the city between 12th December (Monday) and 14th December (Wednesday) this week. Reports estimate that over 10,000 trees have toppled across Chennai and perhaps IIT Madras is the most visible example of this phenomenon.

T5E brings to you a detailed coverage of the impact of the cyclone, starting with this light-hearted take on what it was like to stay in insti in the midst of the disaster. This will be followed by a report on the effects and aftermath of the event where we talk to the Dean of students, DMC and the authorities.

The scene in front of almost all the hostels
The scene in front of almost all the hostels

The cyclone Vardah had struck and it had certainly made its presence felt in the institute. With several of the beloved trees uprooted and things in general shaken pretty badly, it was a reportedly harrowing experience. On the brighter side, electricity is restored and normalcy is getting restored too. In this article, Paravthi puts together a lighter take on things. Which much seems to be the need of the hour.

There seems to be some sort of cyclic curse on Chennai. Each winter it comes back, one disaster more innovative than the last. The only difference between the floods of 2015 and the massive Vardha cyclone of 2016 seems to be that people were expecting it this time. The warnings started a couple of days back, and as usual social media helped spread the message. But what people did not expect was the scale of destruction. While all of us here in insti were expecting heavy rains and wind, the window-rattling, tree-shaking 120 kph winds left us dazed. The whole of the institute, like all of Chennai and nearby areas, came to a halt as we stood helpless in front of nature’s fury. Looking back, I think there were 4 common phases that all of us went through during the cyclone days. Before I list them, I would like to state that these are in no way exhaustive, and the multitude of emotions that all of us went through was probably a lot more entertaining. So here goes

  • ¬†Horrible Scaredness

I woke up on the 12th to a completely cloudy morning, temperatures hitherto unheard of in Chennai, and quite heavy rain. Taking nature’s cue, I promptly went back to sleep. Two hours later, I woke up to howling winds and freezing cold, and completely awake now, I started running around closing windows and generally freaking out. Thankfully power was still there so I plugged in everything that could possibly be plugged in, and started trying to see if I could get any info on what was going on. But sadly all signals were down, and there was no internet connectivity either. My Choreo wingmates had left early in the morning for dance practice, and I was stranded alone in my wing. So, as in many situations of my life, I turned to Friends (the TV series, not the alive ones) for solace. But the rattling windows and the whistling sounds made it really hard to watch and I kept on trying to contact my family and friends. Looking outside my window, the swaying trees and the sheer strength of the winds was nothing like I’d ever seen before. Around 1 p.m the power went out, so I gave up and decided to sleep.

  • Extreme Hungriness

I woke up around 3 p.m to an uneasy silence outside and grumbling sounds from inside. I hadn’t eaten anything since the morning and being the glutton that I am, this was a major travesty. The winds seemed to have slowed down somewhat, so I decided to go out and forage for food. As I stepped out of the hostel, what I saw was beyond anything that I could have imagined. It was like the forest had come crashing down. There were huge trees lying everywhere, uprooted like they were reeds. There were metal sheets lying around, cycles buried under tress and roads cracked because of the trees that had fallen on them. The roads were filled with people, some trying to clear the way, some with cameras around their necks trying to capture the fury, and many others, like me, trying to find anything edible. I headed towards Guru, where thankfully, food was being served. Leo’s was open too, and both shops were giving students food on credit, as cash was at a premium.

As always, insti and the whole of Chennai came together in the moment of crisis and it is people like Ramu uncle, the Guru uncles and Leo uncle who deserve praise for keeping aside their own losses and helping people. The mess workers too, who somehow managed to cook dinner for all of us even without power are true symbols of our resilience. So with the help of these people and many others, a sense of security returned and we returned to our rooms armed with Marie biscuits, candles and playing cards.

  • ¬†Guiltless Joblessness

The more than 24 hours of power cut that followed had four of us huddled in the same room, binge-watching TV shows, playing all the card games known to man and eating whatever we would find, from dates to home-made Bengali sweets. When the room got too suffocating, we would go out to Ramu for tea, and roam around searching for any sign of power. I’m sure that the people who got thrown together during the cyclone would’ve become closer than ever before, for nothing brings people together like lack of food and electricity. At the same time, we were desperate for news from outside, for a while insti was probably a safe haven, we knew that the situation outside would not be similar. But when calls from relatives informed us that timely evacuation and other measures had helped considerably reduce the damage, we were relieved and proceeded to enjoy the best excuse of all time for not doing work – ‘We were caught in a cyclone!’

The aftermath
The aftermath
  • ‘We survived a cyclone’ coolness

As I write this on the morning of the 14th of December, things are slowly going back to normal. The roads have been cleared, with both the administration and the students putting in their best efforts. Power is back on even though internet connectivity and mobile networks are still down. All relatives have been assured that we’re safe and alive. Messes are working as usual and now that there’s nothing stopping us, we are grudgingly going back to work. Chennai is slowly standing up again, thanks to the efforts of all those who worked throughout the disaster, disregarding their own danger and worries. The Chennai sun is back again from hiding, and cars and autos are slowly running on the streets. And enveloping all of this is that sense of ‘coolness’ (I have no other word for it),of having survived something scary together. Stories will be eagerly told, selfies taken, and bored random college kids will write articles.

In other words, all will be well again.

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This is a very light-hearted take on what was, in fact a very scary experience. The destruction needs to be taken into account and effective measures taken so that this does not repeat again. The people who are helping make a change on-ground need to be recognized, and it is their stories that need to be repeated. But I figure, starting out, we could all use a laugh – a little medicine for the cyclone battered soul.

Disclaimer: The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
Content copyright: The Fifth Estate, IIT-M's Student Media Body. For permissions to reuse part or whole of the content, email us at t5e.iitm@gmail.com

Parvathi Madhu

An avid book lover and unapologetic foodie. Has a tendency to regale people with stories and opinions that they really don't want to hear