Fifer for Ashwin and Vardah

Pages from a personal diary when the cyclonic storm struck Chennai

Chennai, Dec 14:

After last year’s complete shut down of the city during the unprecedented floods, Chennai looked well prepared for any kind of disruption. But, as it happens, when disaster again struck, things went completely haywire and it will take several months perhaps even a year, for things to get back to some amount of normalcy. Okay, enough of demonetisation woes.

Now, let’s get talking about the Vardah storm that has battered Chennai. Without doubt, it was one of the worst cyclonic storms that the city has ever witnessed. The previous cyclonic storm — old Chennai hands may remember this vividly — was almost 10 days ago, Cyclone Nada, which though never made it to the city, probably having got trapped at the notorious Guduvancherry-Perungaluthur traffic bottleneck at the entrance of Chennai. Okay, not really. Cyclone Nada just dissipated over the ocean and tapered off into an insignificant trough, triggering in its wake only a few spells of rains but many rounds of old jokes on Met office predictions.

But no such luck with Vardah, which is supposed to mean red rose in Persian. Why would anyone want to name a life-shattering cyclone after rose? Probably that is the weather people’s revenge on the public for making so many uncharitable jokes on them.

Anyway, here are some pages Crank’s News Reporter’s personal diary during and after the cyclone struck Chennai:

Monday morning, it is grey and raining incessantly. It is also breezy and chilly. It is decidedly un-Chennai. The mood is ominous. By around 10 a.m., winds pick up speed, and the advisory from the government tells people, even if they are not fishermen, not to venture out.

To get a feel of city, this reporter goes to a nearby tea shop. By now, winds are — exactly like it does before the hero twins are separated in masala Tamil movies¬† — howling. It is also swirling. And one of the two guys in the shop, sipping the tea and looking intently at the darkened skies, tells the other: Ashwin has taken another five-for. That and Vijay’s ton in the Test, augurs well for TN, he says. Chennai, this reporter notes down, takes Vardah seriously, but its cricket even more seriously.

It is afternoon, and it is clear that the cyclonic storm will indeed keep its unfortunate date with the city. Rain is pelting down hard. Wind speeds tip over 100 km, and someone in the office makes a West Indies fast bowlers joke. Chennai, this reporter again notes down, does not take Vardah seriously, but takes cricket more seriously than it is good for it.

We set out of the office to check out, in the true spirit of journalism, whether there are people stupid enough to be out on the streets under such conditions. On the arterial Anna Salai, on the Guindy railway bridge, an autorickshaw travelling in front of us suddenly swerves and turns 180 degrees. The wind has twisted and turned its direction, says a friend. ‘But with Chennai autos you can’t rule out the possibility of the driver himself turning and going back against the traffic,’ he adds matter of factly.

Near the famous Olympia Tech Park in Guindy, water is already knee-high, some vehicles, having guzzled water, are already stalling. Scaffolds and billboards are flailing around dangerously. The situation looks perilous. It is then a few youth step forward and take charge of the situation — this is what is so beautiful about human spirit — by snapping a few selfies in front of a car that was caught in the water.

All through the drive, we see plenty of trees toppled over and many roads are totally cut off. The damage because of the uprooted trees is enormous. Amidst the carnage, we realise what a visionary the late lamented Jeppiar was, who, urban legend has, never allowed trees to be planted in his college campus.

We somehow reach the safety of home, where of course there is no real safety as all manner of debris and detritus are landing in on the terrace from elsewhere, including what looks like XXXL Jockey of some man in the neighbourhood. Twisted cables and curled wires are hanging loose from everywhere. People are calling up the EB to — oh, the sweet smell of irony — to actually switch off power lines. By late afternoon, electricity supply to the entire city is cut off.

Soon enough, telephone lines, without anyone asking for it, go on a blink. ‘Emergency calls only’, the mobiles say. Emergency calls, for the uninitiated, is the telecom company speak for: ‘ROFLMAO‘. When you see the ‘Emergency calls only’ message on your mobile you have to deduce that you cannot make emergency calls. With no internet and telephones, the city is more or less pushed backed to the Neanderthal age, which was four years ago when there was no real penetration in internet broadband connections.

The winds abate a bit by night, but the rains persist. With nothing to do much, you stay put at home. As providence would have it, you also run into the man whom you last met probably a year ago — your next-door neighbour.

In the morning, the phone kind of runs into life. A torrent of WhatsApp message arrive. You are happy to note, that with Chennai virtually cut off, your other city friends and relatives, have responsibly stayed awake all night and have striven hard to spread even more panic. The gist of the messages is: Another cyclone is in the offing which will — stay tuned for a big surprise — practically wipe out all of Chennai. This, of course, is courtesy: NASA satellites. which one would think is the American space agency involved in creating WhatsApp forwards to these parts.

Luckily, the phone lines go dead again. The WhatsApp fwds stop. But, if you have escaped Vardah, there is no escaping WhatsApp fwds. They will continue to swirl dangerously again.