The Coronavirus triggered lockdown for 21 days made me to look back at similar crises that I could remember. There are many suggestions that are WhatsApp forwarded, helping the clueless to spend these 21 days at home, while socially distancing oneself. An article by Yuval Noah Harari inspired me to take a look at the past…
7 day shut off... 1983
The first one that I could recall was during 1983 when I was a High School student. A good number of refugees from Sri Lanka were accommodated at various Schools throughout Tamil Nadu. Hence, Schools were closed for a week. At that young age, I could never comprehend the severity of the situation. But it had become a daily ritual for me along with friends, to visit the School and have a look at the refugee camp from outside, as if they were from a different planet. We were having fun because of the holidays and I vaguely remember wondering why they were not dressed properly. We all wished they would stay longer so that the holidays get extended. That occurrence never had any impact on me, as a crisis, but somewhere deep inside, those images of people, who had lost everything they owned, worries running like roots on their faces, remain vivid.
It was a Sunday. Everything used to move at a slow pace in the morning at our home on Sundays. I was browsing the newspaper and suddenly heard neighbours getting anxious about sea water entering land in Chennai. I was living in Thiruvanmiyur in those days which was hardly a kilometre away from the beach. Those days, breaking news was not at such breakneck speed. I casually took my two-wheeler to find out what had happened. By the time I reached Elliotts Beach, there were barricades put up and policemen did not allow anyone beyond a point. I came back confused, unable to find out what actually had happened. Once I reached home, there was this talk of TSUNAMI hitting Chennai. That was the first time I heard the word and the news anchor himself explained what a TSUNAMI was. We received phone calls from our relatives and friends to find out how safe we were. But only the next day, I could realise the impact and the damage it had done on the lives of so many along the shore. For the next few days, there were lots of warnings issued on a likely TSUNAMI again but fortunately nothing happened. It was pathetic to drive down the Marina. I listened to a few witnesses who were fortunate to survive over the media and in person. Even now, it unleashes a thunderous pain thinking of those days.
When you realise slowly that you have no control over what is happening in front of you, insecurity creeps in. You seek shelter in the supreme power and prayer is the only weapon you seem to have. This was precisely my experience during the Chennai floods in 2015. It was a year back that I had lost my Father to cancer. It started pouring heavily without a break. Water level on the streets kept rising. We had to reach out to the local authorities as a group of neighbours and every word uttered by us, showed our lack of control over what continued to happen. Power supply got cut, water entered the homes and it was a nightmare. Further rain was forecast for the week ahead. I started interacting with many weather enthusiasts and collected lot of links that were more than 90% accurate in weather forecasting. The forecast for the week ahead was heavy spell of rains for 3 days and I could imagine the havoc it would create in the city. I decided to relocate my home and within a short period of 7 days, I had to move to a relatively safer area. It was exactly a day before the rain showed its prowess, that I shifted my home. 3 days of non stop rains flooded the city like never before. No communication was reliable, we had to make travel arrangements for a relative, we were fortunate to accommodate a couple of affected families (relatives though), due to relocation we had power back up but no news was reaching our antennas. If it had continued for a couple of more days, I was sure we would have witnessed street fights for food and essentials. The scenario resembled a war zone with people running like crazy. People were fleeing homes which were bought for crores. Many lives were lost during the episode and Chennai limped back to normalcy weeks later.
How easy it is live through those moments now ! In hindsight everything looks less challenging. l keep sharing with my family a few thoughts. A single event can be devastating if it matures in to a crisis (think of those refugees). Life takes a different road after that. No amount of preparedness is enough to handle those moments but the will to survive those harsh periods and the ability to start from scratch and put up a fight are crucial to stay afloat and grow. Nasim Nicholas Taleb keeps emphasising about fat tail risks and the devastating impacts of such events. Tsunami – Who was expecting it then ? We had not even bothered to understand what that word was, earlier. Just imagine how many lives have taken different paths after that crisis ! Though I was fortunate to prepare ourselves to stay away from the impact of Chennai floods, I owe it to my previous experience. How many times we are allowed to prepare ourselves before a crisis strikes ?
“Expect the unexpected” ! Collectively, humans have the potential to overcome such crises but at the cost of a few lives, on many occasions. A simple need based living with flexibility to adapt to different living conditions for short periods of challenging times is the need of the hour ! Let us live healthy, peacefully, in harmony. Every crisis reminds us that “This too shall pass”. We learn to adapt better in the process…