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Panic Picnic

Thanks to the experience of the floods of last year, Chennai is now well prepared to, well, slip into extreme panic the moment the clouds get a bit dark.

Just this week, the weathermen announced that there was a possibility of showers for two days owing to a cyclonic depression, and much of the city reacted as if the neighbouring Sri Lanka had announced a nuclear strike on it.

The government machinery whose default factory setting is: ‘Sleepy SloMo‘, quickly shifted to: ‘OMG! Our Pants Are On Fire’ mode. And even before the first drops of rain fell on the ground, schools were closed for two full days, work-from-home option was availed by many staff, possibly even by the beat postman, the NDRF personnel were rushed into position, fisherfolk were asked to stay off from the seas and only the WhatsApp forwards stuck to their routine, purveying the usual well-meaning stupidity (“NASA satellites are saying Chennai will vanish in the ensuing deluge, so stay safe by emigrating to Singapore”). Okay, I am exaggerating. But not by much.

It, of course, rained. But intermittently and insignificantly. Heck, this is the rainy season. It has to. But the predicted cyclone, as is mostly the case with it, went from being a thick threatening radar blob over Bay of Bengal to a comical vague radar smear over some other part of the same bay.

Yet, you can’t fault the government much, especially since it was found wanting in preparedness last year, for erring on the side of caution. But what of the media? The moment the MET office said that there was a possibility of some heavy showers, the media, using all the resources at their command, put out two useful points: 1) The government is on all full alert 2) You could all be killed.

Most TV channels had their reporters at some seafront, where it is always blustery, to convey the important message: It is blustery out here. One reporter, I exaggerate not, gave out his report, clad in a raincoat with a hoodie even while holding an umbrella on his hand. And it was not even raining (going by the visuals, it was just windy) at that time. But the said reporter was earnestly pointing to the sea behind him and telling the people that it is precisely the same sea that they have been warned not to venture anywhere near.

What the floods of last year actually taught us was we can’t possibly do much to stop the marauding waters. But we can surely plan a few simple things to save ourselves and our properties when there is heavy floods. One of it is — I can vouch this really helped my friend Venkatesh and his family— to be in a totally different place. When Chennai was under water, he was holidaying abroad.

Okay, jokes apart. Here are some stuff that you should be focusing on ahead of the rainy season. Vehicle insurance, for starters. If you have a car or two-wheeler, you must immediately get flood insurance and most companies offer this for some extra premium. Like all other insurance policies that you already have, this one also comes with the guarantee that in the event of any untoward eventuality you will mostly be on the phone, speaking in ALL-CAPS, with the customer-care guy to send across the damage assessor at least today.  “DAMMIT, THIS IS THE 78TH TIME I AM CALLING THIS NUMBER. IF YOU DON’T SEND YOUR PERSON TODAY, I AM CERTAINLY GOING TO THE CONSUMER COURT”. The customer-care person meanwhile would be hard pressed to control his/her laughter drool that they inevitably let out whenever a harried customer brings up the topic of consumer court.

The thing is no insurance company is in the business to pay people money. It is in the business to make money from people. If and when we get this into our heads, our interactions with insurance companies will be a lot more realistic.

Another preparation you should make to avoid flood-related disasters is to ensure that your house is not on a “low-lying” area. You can check whether you live in a low-lying area or not by looking at your ration card. If it reads “Chennai”, you are living in a “low-lying” area only.  And thanks to the several re-laying of the roads since the last floods, the relative height of the streets has gone up, so much so that the first floor in most buildings these days are located underground.

In the event of floods, you would be needing plenty of food stuff, and our sincere advice is you buy a single Marie biscuit packet. Yes, a single Marie biscuit packet can see you through several days. Just by looking at those enormously unappetising thingies, you can easily put off the idea of eating. Dieticians prescribe Marie biscuits as they kill off eat-desire hormones in the body.

So with your house, vehicle secured and food needs taken care of, you have nothing to fear, provided you don’t commit the mistake of switching on the news channels.