We – the Inter IIT contingent, research scholars, project students and final year students sitting for placements – were the only students left on the campus. People had tried to warn us about the ravages of the oncoming rains but we didn’t listen. Why bother? Something similar had hit Chennai just two weeks before. Or so we thought…
Shaswat Mohanty, an undergraduate sophomore part of the Inter IIT Football Team, recounts his experience of staying on campus during the week-long deluge.
Weather reports had suggested persistent rainfall but its sheer magnitude was something that many of us had not fathomed. Intermittent rains were the order of the day since the third week of November but they had gained a sense of regularity from the 29th of November, which was coincidentally the first day of the Main Camp of the Inter IIT Sports Meet slated to be held at IIT Madras.
For the past few days, frequent power cuts had occurred but none of them had lasted for more than an hour. It was around 7:00 PM on the first day of December (and the first day of placements) when the massive power outage began. Although final years students were inconvenienced because their placement interviews had to be conducted in candle-light, for the majority of us, it was just another one of those one-hour power outages. We just kept ourselves busy, fiddling with our phones and laptops. Little did we know what the week had in store for us.
The rains didn’t seem to cease even for a moment after that. Mandakini, which had gained some respite recently, was in the process of becoming a lake once again. Water had started logging at Sarayu’s entrance and the lake had begun overflowing. As the perpetual rainfall continued into the next day, we slept with the hope that the fan would be spinning when we woke up in the morning. But, this was not to be. The power was still out and all our laptops and mobile phones had now run out of charge.
At this juncture, charging hubs sprung up at the DoSt Office and the P.G Senapathy Computer Centre and students thronged these places. By afternoon, news about the various road cave-ins all over the city began surfacing, including two right outside the main gate of IIT Madras. The gravity of the situation was highlighted by such occurrences. It was then that many of us thought that it would be wise to stock up on food. Students and professors alike, started their march towards the shopping complex (which probably had its best day of business ever since its inception). It rained all throughout the 2nd of December and the power was still not back on. By now, some of the faculty houses near the lake were flooded and they had to be moved to the Taramani Guest House.
It was a perfect 1950’s rural India set-up with no electricity. Candles were now being rationed at Gurunath. Diyas and makeshift diyas were being used with every kind of oil being used to fuel them. Scrabble and Pictionary during the day followed by dumb charades and ‘Wolf’ at night was how most people passed their time. Applications for universities abroad were put on hold and the placements were postponed by three days. The messes had started serving thinner curries with a cap on the number of rotis that one could take. We became a more inter-dependent society and our bonding was forged to a greater extent. 30 hours into the blackout, all we could do was hope for a much brighter tomorrow, quite literally.
Dawn cracked with barely any daylight passing through the dark skies. It became known that the electricity sub-station was submerged and rumours started spreading that power wouldn’t return for 10 days. There was no stopping the students anymore. DoSt Office and PG Senapathy Centre were crowded with students confirming their exit plans. The sense of panic was infectious and it spread at the break of any sort of negative news. The situation in the city was becoming more grave by the minute, with the army having to step in. Since resuming the placements on the 5th of december seemed dicey, they were pushed to January. It was well over 50 hours into the blackout with the rains showing no hint of stopping; and the power was still out. We were off for the night, with the same hope that the following day would bear brighter prospects.
The power was still not back up the next day. However, the skies were much clearer. As I set out for breakfast, I witnessed an exodus of students to Bangalore. There was a parade of taxis and buses right from my hostel gate, up to Gurunath with people lining up beside them with their luggage in hand. Many of the contingent members also moved to Bangalore, intent on returning only if the Inter IIT Sports Meet would take place.
If only people were wise enough not to give into rumours. The power was back on by 7:00 PM in the evening, but at only half the capacity. The power outage had lasted for exactly 72 hours. Those who had left could count themselves as lucky, but the ones inside the campus were left with memories that would last a lifetime. The first thing that people did was charge their phones and laptops – two devices that a student cannot survive without. BSNL, Idea and Reliance were the only mobile networks that were functioning properly. A plan was made to distribute food to parts of the city around the campus, in association with NGOs. Contradicting further weather reports that suggested more rain, the rains were not regular anymore. Sanity seemed to have been restored.
The very next day, the messes started packing food items including rice, chapatti and curries which were sent off in buses to Velachery. We accompanied one such group in distributing the food packages. Students were still making escape plans but the airport shutdown was a hindrance to many. The airport was expected to be up and running by the 6th of December, a deadline which was surprisingly met. The Inter IIT Sports Meet was also called off in a Board Meeting held on the same day, which gave me little reason to stay back. I booked one of the special flights arranged by Indigo and went back home.
Every experience right from the start of the washout till the escape was etched in our memories. As we left, we could see the massive destruction that had been caused by the floods but there was one thing that stood out and it was the attitude of the people of the city who just didn’t bow down to nature’s wrath. Relief work was on and many of the youngsters of the city had stepped in. There’s nothing that can be done to fend off nature’s wrath but not giving up in the face of adversity is what defines Chennaites.
What I had learned about us as students and the people of Chennai in a period of one week was remarkable. Mumbai might be the “City of Dreams” or the “City that doesn’t sleep”, but Chennai definitely proved itself to be the “City that just won’t give up”!