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A Night Near Chennai

Close your eyes.

Close your eyes for 2 seconds and imagine a white Tavera.

Now imagine the Tavera plowing through a fast flowing current of muddy water flowing from everywhere to everywhere.

Imagine the water level rising up over the bonnet of the car and reaching the windscreen. The windscreen.

Imagine the fearsome grunt of the engine as it tries to push forward.

Imagine knowing, if the doors were to leak somehow, the car, along with the people inside, would be washed away.

Now imagine me sitting inside the car, wondering which Gods atheists invoke in times of fear.

“Jai Shri Raman”, I whispered, as the car lunged forward.

 

Chennai was suffering from deluging rainfall for over a week. When the semester finally ended on Tuesday, we had thought to ourselves, “How bad can it be?” and started for Chennai a little past noon. It normally takes 3 hours to reach the Chennai Airport from our college in Vellore. It was raining heavily at that point, but we expected to still make it in time.

There were 3 of us in an Indica. All of us had a flight at around 9pm.

Remember all those stories where the horse senses something dangerous up ahead and refuses to go any further? Our driver stopped at least thrice on the way- “Anna go back to Vellore, anna”. However we pressed forward, so at Kancheepuram- 75km away from Chennai- he put us on the white Tavera of the same travel agency. There was water up to knee level up ahead and he couldn’t risk his Indica.

The driver of the Tavera was a young Tamilian, confident that he’ll take us to the airport by 9pm. Realizing I’d be missing my flight, I called up the airlines and changed my flight timings to the next flight. It was on the next morning at 6am. I was prepared to sleep at the airport.

All this while, the driver’s phone kept ringing.

I sat tight as I saw the driver racing the car on the windswept rain-washed road, one hand holding the phone and the other hand switching between the gear and the wheel. Of course he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Bad news kept pouring in with every passing phone call. Lakes were overflowing, walls were breaking and bridges were collapsing. We even got a mail from college warning us about a dam releasing 20,000 sfps water. That is like 5.6 lakh liters of water being released every second!

Pictures like these started pouring into our inboxes

 

There aren’t too many roads from Vellore to Chennai, and one by one, they all started getting ruled out till we were left with only one dangerous track. It was a by-pass of the main highway, and naturally quite lower than the highway.

Remember how most of life’s bad decisions start with “Fuck it, let’s do it”?

Exactly.

Half an hour into that off-road, we saw a car stopped right ahead of us. There were no street lamps in the area and the only light came from the headlights of the cars. There was nobody around except the driver of the stopped car who had come out.

I looked out of the window and saw that we were in knee-depth water already. The driver of the other car spoke to our driver, and from what we could understand, there was waist-deep water up ahead. He wanted to turn around.

But after all this while, nobody wanted to go back to Vellore. We’d rather be stuck than go back.

Guess who else did not have the sense to retreat? Hitler, and he lost the World War.

So anyway, there we were, sitting tight inside the car. The driver whispered “Masha Allah” a couple of times before slamming his foot onto the accelerator and going right into the raging waters.

Time stood still.

All we could hear was the loud grunt of the car over the pitter-patter of rain striking the car.

The headlamps shone into nothingness.

At one point, we could feel the car drifting in the strong water current.

Everybody sat silent.

Two minutes passed until the car finally found some land. We all heaved a collective sigh of relief. The driver collapsed on the wheel in relief.

At this point, we were 27km away from the airport, and hoped to make it in time.

We barely drove a couple of miles when a barricade greeted us. The water up ahead was so dangerous that even buses weren’t being allowed to go further towards Chennai. We couldn’t go back towards the highway through that stream we just crossed either. Essentially, we were stuck there for the night. Two bottles of water and a few packets of biscuit to survive the night.

Manimangalam is a small neighbourhood with few pucca houses. The only two storeyed building there was the police station. We spent the night outside the dimly lit police station. Since the police inexplicably refused to let us spend the night inside the police station, we had to spend the entire night inside the car. Rolled down windows let in the rain and mosquitos, but hey, we didn’t have to die of carbon monoxide poisoning that night.

Meanwhile, we started receiving emails, calls, and updates about how bad the situation was in Chennai currently. We knew we had to go back to Vellore and then make our way to Bangalore to be able to go anywhere.

We lived through the night amid the rain, phone calls, and the ignominious mosquito bites.

Early morning sunshine brought the NDRF into Manimangalam who informed us that the way to Vellore was clear and that we were good to go.

It was a very silent journey back to Vellore.

By Surya

I am a student of Computer Science and Engineering at Vellore Institute of Technology. I like finding out about as many things in the world as possible!

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