A Hyderabadi journalist, Hemanth Kumar wrote a letter to Chennai people expressing what he learned about humanity because of last week’s floods in Chennai.
It’s been five days since the floods wrecked havoc in your city and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what has happened in the past 100 hours and counting. As a journalist, I could put together a listicle to show how several acts of kindness have restored our faith in humanity or refer to several experts, who have clearly stated that it’s a man-made disaster due to rapid urbanisation among other factors. However, this letter isn’t about that. This isn’t about me pleading for help to aid your incredible efforts to reach out to lakhs of people all over the city. This isn’t about arm-chair journalism, if I may say so. This isn’t about how the perception of people has changed. It’s about the present. Now. This moment. And like scores of people all over the world, I would like to tell you that you have done something to me which I never thought was possible, especially because I’m a Hyderabadi, living 600 Kms away from the crisis zone, and the only information I relied on was – Twitter. You’ve taught me more about humanity than what I’ve learnt from 30 years of my life, so far. And for that, I’ll always be grateful to you.
On December 1, when I saw a video posted by a friend about rains in Chennai, I had a hunch that something was terribly wrong and later that day, my worst fears came true. Never have I ever felt so restless about doing something and reaching out to people, who were stranded all over the city. But then, I couldn’t because I wasn’t in your city and in my entire life, I have visited only twice. Yet, on those couple of occasions, it felt like I was in a familiar place. Chennai felt like home away from home. And since I’ve several friends and family members living in your city, I couldn’t help but feel terrible about the disaster that your city was going through. I kept thinking about them and hoping that they were safe.
They say that ‘Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.’ And, in the wake of the worst floods in over a century, you’ve revealed your true colours with such grace and sense of urgency that I bow to you with utmost respect and gratitude. In the first 48 hours of the floods, the only thing I could think of was the deluge of tweets crying for help. Of pregnant women who were in urgent need of medical help. Of diabetic patients. Of students stranded without food and water for 2 days. Of people stranded amidst 5 ft deep water around them. It gave me nightmares and the only thing I could do was to pray to God that there was a good samaritan, just around the corner, to reach out to these people. And boy, was I amazed with the alacrity with which you responded to most of the tweets in the need of the hour!
As days go by, we don’t seem to trust strangers and our fears are compounded by everything we read in the newspapers and other websites. But few days ago, it struck me that when you are in need, there’s always a kind soul nearby willing to help you. For instance, few days ago, a stranger offered me a ride in the middle of night, despite knowing that his house is in the opposite direction some 50 kms away. Or even that security guard at a popular director’s office who didn’t shoo me away, when I told him that I couldn’t reach my friend inside the office as I had run out of battery in my mobile phone. I don’t know why they helped me out, but it taught me something. That our fear blinds our faith in humanity and acts of kindness. And you, my dear Chennaites, have set a great example for rest of us to follow. I run short of phrases to describe my reaction every time I saw the term “they are safe” in the tweets, or “babies delivered. Everyone is fine”, or maybe even “food delivered.”
You taught me that you don’t even have to know the other person to offer help. All it takes is a moment to empathise with their situation. It was heart-breaking to read a series of messages about people trying to reach their dear ones in Chennai to inform them that family members had passed away. Or even those messages where people couldn’t reach out to their family for three days. Moments like these will continue to haunt me for a long time and at the same time, it was heart-warming to see hundreds of people volunteering to help others, deliver food, water and other supplies, or just guide people to the right thing to do.
It might take Chennai a long time to recover from the calamity, but the city is in safe hands. Because you now have an army of young men and women, who are willing to put their lives at risk, to rebuild lives. Because you refused to give up or wait for a miracle to occur to save others. Because you opened your doors and hearts to strangers to reassure them that you’re there for them. Because with every act of kindness, you triggered a ripple effect across the country to sit upright and take notice of what you were doing. Because you stood on top of the world and made a statement which I’ve only heard when you cheer for your IPL team – “Chennai ku whistle podu.” And that’s the only thing I can think of right now. Three cheers for you and a big royal salute to all of you.