DISCLAIMER: These incidents are based on a true story.
Circa 2015. December 1st.
As a sophomore who’d just written the semester exams, I was euphoric about the break I’d been so eagerly waiting for. Truth be told, I was completely oblivious to the series of events that were about to unfold.
The skies turned slate gray with a slight drizzle on the dark, cold Tuesday morning where this story begins. I’d just deboarded at Tambaram station, and my classmate offered me a ride to home. I was grateful. I acquiesced.
Hauling my heavy bags, I walked into my tiny, one-bedroom home in Velachery. Amma (my mother) flung her arms around me — a warm hug that I’d longed for days on end. She quickly went in and reappeared with a towel, urging me to dry my hair.
‘You’ll catch a bad cold, kanna,’ she advised.
After I’d briefed her on my exam performance and complained a little about the hostel food, I went inside to greet my older brother Sagar. He was, surprisingly, happy to see me. We shared an awkward handshake, he asked me if I got drenched, to which I said no.
The story was yet to unfold.
I had the perfect plan in place — take a little nap, have some delicious homemade food (Amma is the best cook, hands down.), visit my school friend Kaleel, and eat a shawarma. I’d never eaten a shawarma at that point in my life, and he’d told me he discovered this amazing place that made mouth-watering shawarmas. I was hoping to discover that.
But 6 hours of sleeplessness had turned my muscles to jelly.
I took a shower, and the warm water soothed every inch of my body, lulling me into a trance. I got dressed, laid down a woven mat on the floor, placed my pillow in the right position, and dozed off.
The story was yet to unfold.
I had a weird dream. I was walking along the Besant Nagar Beach shore, hand-in-hand with the love of my life (at least, then she was). In a split second, we were floating in the middle of the sea, with the waves gently cradling our back. She took my hand, looked into my eyes, and smiled.
That was the last straw.
I woke up with a start. I hadn’t been dreaming.
I mean I wasn’t floating next to my crush in the middle of the sea — although that would’ve made an amazing movie. (Spoiler alert: it’s already been made and was a romantic masterpiece)
My back was soaking wet.
I called out to Amma and Sagar. They were one step ahead. We were panicking because a) my dad wasn’t in Chennai, and b) water had started to seep in from the floor.
It was the worst nightmare. Or so we thought. The story was yet to unfold.
There was, however, a silver lining — my aunt lived upstairs. Whilst the rains continued to pour, filling our tiny house with knee-deep water, we sought refuge at her house. It was at this point that Zeus decided to play his tricks.
With a thundering clap, the electricity went poof.
My phone had 45% battery left. With no Internet, of course. Lovely.
Sagar’s situation was worse. His phone was almost about to give up. He quickly sent an SOS text (or so I guessed) to someone close.
I quietly plugged in my earphones, scrolled down my playlist, and listened to Roads Untraveled by Linkin Park. Ironically, the roads that I did travel were gradually becoming invisible.
The sun went down without the slightest hint, and the water level was now thigh-high. Amma, Sagar and I rushed down to retrieve all our valuables. With the help of our upstairs neighbor, we packed everything in makeshift cloth bundles and carried them upstairs.
The water was rising at an alarming pace now, almost close to my chest. I felt a little discomfort there. I thought it was physical. Turns out it wasn’t, as I’d learn about it later.
Amidst all these important, economically “high-valued” goods; I’d left behind my personal treasures: a slam book from my 12th grade, a few poems that I’d written in an old diary, and an entire collection of foreign coins. (Mostly South African rands and Singapore dollars, but hey, it still counts.)
Meanwhile, the rains showed no sign of mercy.
With the winds roaring and the clouds pouring, water covered every inch of the streets, swallowing every pebble on its path. A stream of water replaced all these broken roads in an instant.
In the next three days, our supplies were exhausted. We couldn’t call anyone, and my phone battery had gently passed on while I slept. Sagar and I took turns monitoring the stream, my apologies, the street for any by-passers. There weren’t any.
Battling hunger and sleeplessness took a toll on me as I found it difficult to realize the fine line between reality and delusion. I felt like this would be the end of me.
The story was yet to unfold.
My silent prayers were answered and a boat came by, loaded with supplies and rations of candles, bread, and meals. An initiative to alleviate the affected.
That was the last thing I’d ever wanted to be called. The affected.
Yet here I was. A victim. A refugee. In my own city. In my own home.
The next four days were a blur, with the rains taking their final bow and a few boats surveying our neighborhood, offering us morsels of food. By God’s diving grace, we’d survived the rains.
We thought that was the end. The story was yet to unfold.
They say there’s a calm before the storm. I’m more scared of the one that comes after. The rainwater didn’t budge, remaining a calm lake surrounding our homes. Engulfing our homes.
I remembered my grandma telling me stories about how Velachery got its name. “It was earlier called Veliccha Eri,” she told me.
Veliccha Eri. Lake of Light. Ironically plunging us all into darkness.
Side note: Some would argue with me at this point, calling me names, telling me that Velachery comes from the ancient name Velir Cheri. Another origin story is that of Vedasreni, the refuge of the Vedas. To all you nascent etymology scholars — way ahead of you. I Googled all this. That’s why I specifically said, “stories about how Velachery got its name.”
Back to the story now.
Maybe Zeus still found our pitiful plight amusing, that’s why electricity wasn’t restored just yet. Sagar and I yearned for electricity, as much as an army man’s wife would year for a letter from her beloved.
(No, I did not plagiarize Sita Ramam there. Please.)
Yet the water levels remained the same, and electricity never met us like an old friend. We waited. And damn was it a long wait. Eight long days.
Fourteen days since my wet dream (I absolutely mean the one where my back was drenched), things returned to normal. I had to bid adieu to my family because I was soon going to start another semester. Wading through ankle-deep water, I embarked on my journey.
In that moment, I pleaded the Almighty to grace my life with just one thing: to never let me experience the horrors of a flood ever again.
For the last 7 years, my wish was granted. And life was beautiful.
Or so I thought. The story was yet to unfold.
Circa 2023. December 3rd.
History repeated itself. I relived the exact same horrors I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.
I got just one question on my mind: who should I blame?
Those who are in charge of administration, for not planning properly? Or those who migrated to the honey-laden trap of this city, only to suffer a similar fate like me?
Or those who promised gold and silver, and scraped away every last morsel off of our plates?
Or me — the fool who thought the Lake of Light would finally live up to its name?
Well, that story is yet to unfold.