The city has always been insular. Never having been threatened by looting armies or marauding invaders, Madras has enjoyed the slow amble of a well-fed cat for centuries. I knew its well-sated genial attitude like the back of my hand. And preferred it greatly to the frenzy of bigger, more brash cities like Delhi. Compared to them, Madras was easy living.
But it’s also a city that hadn’t treated me well. I had been molested countless times on its streets. I rarely felt safe walking down its alleyways and after living elsewhere where I’d encountered more kindness, I found Madras’ smugness rather irritating. I found no reason to be proud of the city. And I found it particularly galling when I was automatically expected to feel pride. What have I got to be proud about?, I’d argue, weren’t most people just keen to leave the city and seek fortunes elsewhere? But all that was before the rains came.
This time the monsoons have been even more devastating. It has poured and poured and poured for days on end. The city where I was born and still refer to as home, lies marooned. Its residents cast adrift for days without food or shelter. And just when things took a decided turn for the worse, I started noticing a movement of sorts gathering steam.
People were rallying on social media, collecting help, mobilising essentials, distributing food and medicines, offering shelter, solace, comfort and reassurance where it was most needed. It was an army of people who had taken to helping each other out. It was a mob of kindness. Of the sort that I have never seen in that coastal city before.
As I type this, my elderly parents who live by themselves are still debating whether to remain at home or if it would be wise to move out. The water levels near our house are receding but not entirely so. It is too early to breathe a sigh of relief. I can only thank the stars that they live in a city that will come to their aid, should they need any. Thank you, Madras. You have given me a reason to be proud of you. And am I bursting with it.