10/12/2015 8:08 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

3 Ways In Which Chennai Set A Powerful Example For India

People with their children wade through flood waters in Chennai, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. The heaviest rainfall in more than 100 years has devastated swathes of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, with thousands forced to leave their submerged homes and schools, offices and a regional airport shut for a second day Thursday.( AP Photo)

There's something about incessant rain. I remember the time that my friends and I were stranded for several days in our hostel. Cyclone Baaz had just hit. We endured day-long power cuts, no access to public transport and lived off just chips, instant noodles and takeout. We were in our second year of college and the whole situation was both frustrating and amusing. Rainwater seeped in through cracks in the walls and we had to walk through ankle-deep water to get around indoors. Outside, autos and cars were stuck in potholes, electric cables fizzled in puddles and sewage lines burst and broke. That was 2005. Now, 10 years later, Chennai is still crumbling in stormy weather.

Yet, there are several reasons why we must pay closer attention to the flood crisis in Chennai. At a time when national morale is low and our emotions are running out of steam, the city is reminding us of the power of unity. What began as an outpouring of frustration against the weather, government and infrastructure, has now turned into a city-wide collective effort in doing something that we seldom have the courage to do: take charge of change.

Resilience keeps us moving forward

Resilience is a quality that we seldom appreciate in our society. I've been frantically calling family and friends for the past few weeks to check if they are okay. In spite of all their hardship, all they say is that they are doing fine. Chennaiites are fighting muck, water, sweat and tears to move forward. In low-lying areas that were severely flooded, nearly 3000 people were left without proper access to food or water, waiting for rescue. Some waded through waist-deep waters, holding their belongings and children above their heads, towards shelter. Others took temporary refuge with friends or colleagues. Many parts of city have literally come to a standstill with waterlogging. Yet, people are persevering -- hitching rides, sharing food, enduring long hours without electricity and opening their homes to those in need.

People are not discussing limitations but thinking quickly about how to rise above crises against all odds.

Compassion binds us as people

College students, office-goers, workers, businessmen -- people from all walks of life -- are coming together to show the world that all those deeply drawn societal boundaries of caste, religion, class and gender mean nothing. Citizens are stepping up and taking matters into their own hands to help their neighbours, friends and complete strangers. Arjun, a Chennai resident, started a volunteering initiative called "Namma Chennai Calling" with his friends to provide the disadvantaged who have been affected with food, bedding and clothing. Some citizens created a page called "Chennai Rain Relief 2015" to match people in desperate need with others who are able to help. In the past few days, these selfless volunteers have brought relief to thousands of people. Arun Prasanna, an animal lover who founded People for Cattle in India, mobilised volunteers to rescue and treat animals who need care.

Keep dreaming big

From crowdsourced maps to locate flood inundated areas and relief centres to local boat services, innovators from Chennai and other cities are working round the clock to plug gaps in governance. People are not discussing limitations but thinking quickly about how to rise above crises against all odds. The message is loud and clear: if we dream together, we don't just achieve big, we achieve bigger. Companies like UrbanClap and Survival Instincts are coming forward to offer free pest services to curb the spread of diseases and train volunteers in rescue operations.

While the mainstream news has focused on how the country is debating intolerance, venting anger and dissatisfaction in politics, Chennai is sticking together to remind us of the values we have forgotten. People have lost their loved ones, homes and belongings, but their spirit shines through. In stepping out onto the streets, pulling up their sleeves and opening their hearts, the people of Chennai are fighting their personal fears, distrust in government and putting aside their biases to show us why companionship wins. If anything, we should be following their example and taking a moment to look inward.

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