Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Soar High and Spread Cheer!


In the new year, may you experience the joy of being free

To fly high, very high, higher than where your thoughts go

In the new year, may you accept the world and everything for how it is

And know that if there is something you can change, it is only yourself

In the new year, as you reach out, sense and feel everything else

May you experience that everything is one, and it is you

In the new year, may you spread your hands wide to touch those

Who have lost much, or never had as much as you did

In the new year, may you realize that there are no limits

There never were, and there never will be, for what can be

In the new year, may you recognize yourself for who are

And stop trying to become, for you already are

In the new year, may you be brave to let go, and be carried away

To drop your fears, live your dreams, soar high and spread cheer!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Spirit of a City

Many years ago, I was discussing the monsoon patterns in India with a relative in Tamil Nadu. While Mumbai typically sees heavy rain when the South West Monsoon reaches the city after hitting Andaman & Nicobar islands & Kerala in June, Tamil Nadu gets rains with the North East cycle around October / November. Considering the relatively low rainfall and perennial water shortage in Tamil Nadu, I quipped (in an attempt to be clever) that the scanty rainfall which Tamil Nadu gets cannot be considered as any kind of a monsoon really. That has been the case since long, water shortages being a major concern for the state and rivers drying up. My grandparents had told me about a flood long back when the river Vaigai was in spate in Madurai after heavy rains, leading to considerable destruction and loss of life. But that seemed in the distant past and an odd freak occurrence.

This impression of Tamil Nadu being a mostly dry state strongly entrenched, the rains Chennai faced this year is hence unexpected and shocking. While Mumbai has always had heavy rains, it too was caught unaware with extreme rains on 26 Jul 2005 (I had written the short story based on real incidents with minor deviations in Call to the Edge). On that day, streets turned into streams and rivers – all in full force catching people unawares. As with Chennai, many lives were lost. It was hence easy for Mumbaikars to understand what Chennai must be going through – having lived through floods & bomb blasts. A program on NDTV after the 1993 bombs still sticks in my mind. Pranoy Roy ended the program with a tribute to the remarkable people of Mumbai. While haunting visuals played, a rolling text went “If it was terrorism's aim to destroy a city, in Mumbai it failed miserably. Hospitals had to turn away many of the large crowds who turned up to donate blood, while the city still mourned those it had lost…..”. Well, that kind of sensitive coverage is not to be seen on television networks any more – and that is a different matter. Coincidentally, in the case of the Chennai floods, NDTV had the best coverage allowing people to call for help. 

The extent of the tragedy became apparent as we desperately connected with relatives, some of whom were traveling. There were disturbing stories – bodies, snakes, no communication, severe flooding….. Many lives were lost, and there were others who lost all they had. The headline in the Economic Times said it all “Entire city a giant swimming pool”. All of the people I spoke to, though, displayed remarkable strength and composure. 

In the face of immense hardship and an unprecedented situation not seen in decades, the spirit of the city came to the fore. There are umpteen stories of people rescuing others, distributing food, providing shelter, and donating money. Social media played it's part as well in connecting people and spreading information. There was a period though when everything was simply down. The rest of the country responded as well – with people rushing supplies from other places too. There were of course a few who sought to profit from the situation – typically a few transporters and middlemen. But by and large, it was a city, whose people stuck together – determined to wade out (quite literally as well) of the situation. With people like that, nature's fury could not hold a city down for long. 

Chennai has bared it's soul this past month for all to see (as I have seen Mumbai do in the past) – and it was inspiring, very inspiring. 

It is only fitting that my first post on my new blog on life experiences is a tribute to the remarkable people of Chennai.