I am sure you’d have read about many many stories of goodness that unfolded during the Chennai floods exactly a month ago. Well.. Here’s my share of them –
One big beautiful virtual story of Chennai rescue that I saw unfolding right in front of me happened on Twitter. Yes, I am thousands of miles away from the city but this critical time proved that distance is nothing if you want to help.
On the night of Tuesday December 1st when the city was coming to standstill because of the rains, Twitter was being flooded with cries of help from people stranded. Similarly, there were so many people opening out their homes for strangers not bothering about their identities/addresses/telephone numbers being revealed on Social Media. Yes, this was great but it was important for someone to streamline these information and connect these two sets of people. That’s when a group of folks from other cities and countries got together and created a common hashtag #ChennaiRainsHelp. They created a virtual chat room and allocated an area/task for each of them. And then someone came up with a form where these can be exported to excel where it would be easier to match the requirements with the help offered.
That was the time I realized distance doesn’t matter if your heart was in something. There was no bickering or finger pointing. The only motive was to get through this crisis. There was one person who saved so many patients a private hospital just by connecting the right people and getting generators and oxygen cylinders. Someone came up with the idea of removing the WiFi passwords so that whoever has access to power and network would share the benefits with others who didn’t have them. One blog friend I know of pinged Sheryl Sandberg for activating the safety check feature on FaceBook. Someone else kept reassuring the outstation folks about the situation there. Small acts but big results. And no one even knew they did it. Real heroes.
And then, so many of them collected and organized relief material. Many many volunteers formed groups and just like that saved so many lives. How this Chennai stood up in this time of massive crisis will remain etched in our memories forever.
So Vinitha lives in Houston. We would’ve interacted a couple of times on Twitter and that’s it. She saw that I was giving updates on Velachery in Chennai (where my parents live) and DMed me to know the location. We got talking and realized her parents live in the same street as ours. But, they had evacuated a couple of days ago ‘cos their houses were getting flooded.
Two days after the rains, her dad was driving down from Ranipet to get something from her house. When I told her my parents were still there and the place was still flooded, she asked me if they wanted something. I couldn’t reach my brother except an occasional WhatsApp message. So, when I did he said they’d need only candles because they weren’t going to get power for a few more days. I told her that and she said she’d inform her dad.
But you know what her dad took with him when he went there? Milk. (Because it’s in short supply!) Bread (Just in case) Mosquito coils (You know, stagnant water and all) Candles (Of course) Match boxes (Because what are candles worth without these!) Medicines. This was not just given to my parents alone but to all of those stranded in the nearby flats. And to think he did it at a time when their house is almost in tatters and it would take a lot of work before they move in!
‘And on top of all this, he asked if I wanted any cash. Because you know the ATMs weren’t functional fully yet. How can someone I don’t even know offer me cash is beyond me. I was so moved.’ My dad was so overwhelmed when he told me this that evening.
I know I’ve said a few thousand times already, but I’ve never been so proud of Chennai like how I am now. But beyond that I am moved by the power of technology, particularly social media. Twitter, which is generally programmed for outrages and making jokes, showed us that it does have a beautiful side too!