The power of power

Chennai has off-late been battered by a host of natural calamities. If these recent annual occurrences are a result of climate-change (I suspect this to be the most probable cause) or just a coincidence and a barrage of bad luck (municipal bodies seem to believe in this explanation) are a topic for another day. What I want to describe here is how the power structure of society has seeped into every aspect of life in India, with examples of how Chennai battles its calamities. I was in Chennai during the floods of 2015. Having visited the city during summer vacations from long ago, the arid, hot and humid city with acute water shortage now being associated with flood is a rarity in itself. A combination of events and ill-luck in the visa department forced me to joyfully extend my annual pilgrimage to the city and enjoy my parents’ company for a bit longer. It all turned out to be for the best, as I realized in the days to come since November 30, 2015.

Roads became rivers, smaller by-lanes became ponds and localities unfortunately located near local streams and rivers – Coovum and Adayar, were inundated with garbage and sewage mixed with this flood water. For once, the floods spared no one, not the rich or the wealthy or the posh localities. It hit every single one of them. People suffered, stray animals died, elderly residents were left stranded, cars and bikes submerged and went defunct and drinking water and milk were in short supply. All of this went unnoticed by the national media until the airports closed. This set of events made me realize the degree of fallacy in news reports and exposed the lack of empathy shown to the southern states in national news channels reporting from the far-north.

The interesting observation though (which warranted this post) is how the clean-up happened. The news reports that generalize and announce proudly and succinctly of how the city bounced back is far from the actuality. It was then, who lives where became important. Localities closest to the residences of the leaders of the political parties and the opposition (AIADMK and DMK) were restored overnight. Electricity, internet and commuting was no hassle at all! Ironically, the very people who caused the floods due to gross mismanagement and human complacency, had to suffer the least. Over time, localities that housed powerful politicians, film actors (in Tamil Nadu, they often are the same folks), IAS officers and hooligans closest to the political top brass were cleaned up and restored. Rest of the city, had to rely on the youth,  their swimming abilities and grit of the locals to survive until help arrived.  Everyone was mentally compiling a probable list of bigwigs living close by who had enough influence to attract the repair crews to their neighborhood. People were trying to call up their friends in political or administrative positions trying to remind them of their friendship in hopes of extracting favors in the form of manpower and supplies to help clean up, remove flood waters and hopefully, restore electricity. Our locality, a huge, popular suburb with the best city schools and the swankiest of malls, unfortunately housed none of the “powerful” people. Despite the popularity and affluence of the neighborhood, we had to wait close to 8 days to get our lives back to normal and local apartment communities kept life afloat by running generators, fumigators and trying their best to “attract” the restoration crew. I was disgusted by the role of power during such trying times. Thankfully, by the foresight and intelligence displayed by our apartment architect and builders in constructing on higher ground with no underground carparking facilities, we weren’t affected directly. Somehow, recovery and restoration doesn’t correspond to the size or population being affected. Your proximity to political bigwigs is all that matters.

The city was struck by cyclone Vardah, on December 12th 2016 (my birthday!) and suffered damage of a slightly different variety this time around. With tremendous wind gusts over 120 kmph, thousands of trees and electricity poles were downed. The pattern and timeline of restoration that followed in the city localities was exactly the same as last year.

So people looking to buy homes in Chennai, here is my two cents for you. Don’t live under the impression that your neighborhood, schools, local amenities, transportation and real-estate value is all that matters. Go around and count the number of politicians and/or IAS officers living in your area and their position in the government. If none of them can speed dial either a minister or his/her goons, you might be better off living in potholes located right under the political honchos’ nose.

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