Sunday, 6 December 2015

After the flood

Well, I'm back. Back in my comfortable Bangalore apartment.
And I'm not feeling relieved. I'm feeling guilty. Like a deserter.
Being in a catastrophe - and being healthy and not doing anything - isn't a good feeling at all.
I went to Apollo for my results on Wednesday, a day after the rain was the heaviest. I had to wade through waist-deep water, past parents carrying children on their shoulders and a few precious possessions, past patients who had come all the way from Bengal and Orissa for treatment, only to be caught in what was literally the storm of the century.
In Apollo, though, people were working. The nurse who administers the treadmill test had come from her West Mambalam home  - where the water was thigh high at its shallowest - by travelling half-way around the city. I saw Dr Vijay Shankar, my cardiac surgeon, looking tired and noticeably thinner, in his scrubs. Other hospital staffers looked bleary eyed, having stayed overnight in the hospital, as they struggled with systems without networking, trying to provide lab reports and perform X-Rays with generated power.  
There were corporation workers trying to clear blockages on the roads, so that water could drain out, and they were working as it poured. There were cops everywhere, trying to reach areas more inaccessible than moated medieval castles.
All I did was stay at home and watch the water level rise.
I had no lists useful contacts to share. I donated no drinking water - despite having plenty. I didn't take any cooked food to people who needed it. I had mobility and a full tank of petrol, but I didn't use it. All I did was go around looking for milk, and when I found it I didn't kick up a fuss when the shopkeeper told me that he was keeping it for women who had young children who would need it more. I didn't post notifications of people who were missing, or of localities which needed supplies. I didn't, like the guys I saw, go from Saidapet to Kotturpuram, with carloads of supplies, calling their friends to tell them which areas were under served and which areas help had reached.
All I did was fulminate against the rain, the closure of the airport and the cancellation of trains and the inaccessibility of Koyambedu, about how it would screw up my holiday if I couldn't get back to Bangalore by Monday.
Meanwhile, thousand of people have actually been doing things. Fuck politics, fuck religion. RSS guys have been providing aid to those who need it. Muslims have opened up their mosques to provide shelter and are cooking food to distribute to Hindus in temples. Movie stars have rolled up their sleeves and climbed on to boats - photo-ops to be sure, but more than I was doing. Even in their own shallow, opportunistic ways, the news channels have done some good.
But if the only positive things you can say you did when your city was reeling under the worst catastrophe in living memory is that you didn't get drunk and screw around with people trying to make a difference, its a pretty sad reflection on your character.
Well, it looks like I'm getting my vacation.
The prospect, which looked so attractive a week ago, seems so shallow now.