A mini-van carrying relief material for flood affected persons had just arrived at Moovendar Nagar, situated along the bank of river Cooum, in Annanagar. In no less than five seconds, the vehicle was surrounded by youth, women, the elderly, as well as a bunch of ever chattering children. The youth, dressed in jeans, offered to identify the most vulnerable residents for whom ‘relief’ was imperative. The women, on the other hand, narrated their sordid tales of misery and pleaded for help. The elderly, often, and quite rightfully, the most sought persons by relief teams, barely spoke. But, with hands folded, they managed to convey their message. The children, in their dirty attires, eagerly peeked inside the van to find out what ‘material’ awaited them. In the end, though, relief did reach to a majority of them.
In the midst of all this stood Sushanth, a sixth grader. He was neither with his friends nor was he anywhere near the van. He preferred to stand quietly in the background and observe others. Casting a glance over the mad rush for the relief material, he shrugged a little. A fellow volunteer (we had gone as a team to distribute aid) indicated me to Sushanth’s presence. “Venkat, he speaks perfect English!” Subsequently, I decided to engage him in a conversation. “Hello Sushanth, my friend tells me you can speak good English. That’s wonderful!”
“Yeah, I can,” he said, a little timidly. By this time three of his friends had gathered around and started giggling. “When I grow up, I want to become a policeman.” When asked on his choice of career, Sushanth said, “They have immense power and responsibility. They can ensure order and peace in the society.” As our conversation extended, Sushanth’s confidence grew. My friend then interjected. “That, and I mean his confidence and the dream to achieve big in life is what education can do to children,” he said. I couldn’t agree more. Notwithstanding any economical or social constraints, quality education should be made accessible to all our young minds. This and this only will ensure upliftment of the poor and disadvantaged. If Sushanth were to realize his dream, he will definitely move out of Moovendar Nagar and out of the gloom that surrounds his present life. He will set an example for other kids in the neighborhood. However it was getting late and hence I wished Sushanth very best for his future and saw him hopping off to join his little gang.
The next stop was the Kotturpuram housing board slum, which is located at the very end of a very posh Ranjith road, which stretches along the Adayar River. Lined up on both sides of the road were individual bungalows, too splendid to describe, and occupied by the affluent. Yet, nature spares no one. One of the residents said to me, “I have lost lakhs in damages due to the floods. My three cars have been consigned to the scrap. One of them was carried along by the raging waters. It will take more than six months to return to normalcy.” The man, nevertheless, was obliging enough to let us access the housing board slum through a back gate of his house.
We then stepped down to earthen reality. The scene we encountered can’t be described in words. But let me try. Sewage, flood water, human feces and silt all were mixed up to present a scene that is just too gross. In the middle of that brackish mess live more than 5000 residents of the housing board. “We have been living in this area for the past 30 years and this is where we belong. The last time we had encountered floods were in 1970’s but 2015 has left a new benchmark,” one of the residents said.
The damage caused by the ravaging Adayar to this neighbourhood was too obvious to be missed. It is right there in your face. Heaps upon heaps of slush were being removed from the tiny huts, even as damaged furnitures and home appliances were thrown to the dumps. Property damaged, belongings lost, lives ruined. It will undoubtedly take months to clean up the mess, but even then it will not quite resemble a decent habitat. The government will do well to resettle these people elsewhere with livelihood and education opportunities. Proceeding further inside the slum, I saw a young man exchanging words with his aunt. Sounding exasperated, he bellowed, “Fine, fine! I will go to work from tomorrow. Happy?”
After finishing up our work, I returned to find Naveen, a 4th grader, bending down and examining something in the brackish sand. I went closer with keen interest. He was fishing, for just beside him lay a container containing half dozen tiny fishes. Giving up after sometime, he joined two other kids in having a splash in a nearby pond. “When will your school open?” I posed. “Well, someone mentioned it will reopen by the month end. But I don’t know,” Naveen said.
Upon reflection, however, I feel that question of mine was the most mindless considering the circumstances.