Sunday, December 20, 2015

CC Project #10 - Inspire your audience - Small Drops

Whoever called me… Your parents are safe. Enough stock of insulin is also available. BSNL line is also working now. You can reach them now

This is the first message that caught my eyes when I logged into Facebook on the morning of 6th December, after a week’s break.  This message came along with the selfie of my friend Rajesh Natarajan standing near a 60 years old unknown couple … in an unknown place… and at an unknown time.  The moment I read this, small drops of water started to drip from my eyes.

Good morning fellow Toastmasters & Guests,

Let me take you to the 2nd of Dec. I drove to work in the morning, despite the heavy rains… thinking that rain is playing a trick to get the school kids yet another holiday. I reached office by 8.30 am and started my day. In about 3 hours, I got an email saying that the office has declared holiday due to heavy rains. When I opened my Whatsapp, I noticed that several companies in the city have declared holiday. Having come to work, I thought I’ll work until lunch and then go back home. In the meantime, I got repeated calls from my wife insisting me to come back home soon. Slowly employees started leaving office, one after the other. Around 2 pm, an office security guard knocked my cabin door, opened it and said “Sir! All the roads are water logged. We are evacuating our employees. We are arranging shuttles for employees to reach home. Please come out and take one of the shuttles soon”.

I finished some pending work, packed up my things in a hurry and reached my office reception at around 3 pm. Since it was raining heavily, I didn’t want to take my car and decided to go back home in the office shuttle. I asked the security manager “Is there a shuttle to Choolaimedu?”. He said “Sir! The shuttle to Choolaimedu, just left. We just have one last shuttle and that goes to Koyambedu. Do you want to board that?”. I didn’t have time to think and I decided to take the last shuttle and get down somewhere in between.  They squeezed all the remaining 20 employees into a 12 seater Tempo Traveler. It appeared very similar to the trucks that carry Broiler Chicken on a Sunday morning. The shuttle left my office in Guindy at about 4 pm.

There was water in almost all the roads. The shuttle crawled through the water logged streets like a snail. We were holding our breath and some were praying to God that the vehicle should not stop. I got down near Ashok Pillar and waved a good bye to my other colleagues going to Koyambedu. Thankfully the rains have stopped by then. I looked at my phone… it showed 4.30 pm. I thought I will catch an autorickshaw or a bus to my home. But, my bad luck - no autorickshaw driver was ready to go to Choolaimedu and there was absolutely no buses to my place. Since I took my car to work, I didn’t even have an umbrella with me. I waited there for a few seconds… water started to inch up near Ashok Nagar metro station. Seconds became minutes… minutes became an hour… Water started drenching my leather shoes now.

Suddenly, I got an idea. I thought “for every complex problem, technology has a solution”. I picked my mobile, and opened up the “Ola” app on my mobile… it said “0 cabs in your locality”. I cursed Ola and opened FastTrack app… FastTrack also said “0 cabs in your locality”. I didn’t know what to do. The problem started ballooning in front of me. I looked at the sky. I saw the clouds smiling at me.

All of a sudden an old auto driver, in his late 60s came near me, halted and asked “Sir! Where do you want to go?”. I said “To Choolaimedu”. He smiled and said “Sir! There is water everywhere. I just came from Choolaimedu. I can take you there. But, you need to pay me Rs.200”. I thought “What?! Rs.200 for a Rs.50 ride. It is too much…”. But, I didn’t have any other option. I said “Yes! Let us go”. The moment I boarded the autorickshaw, rains started to pour again.

The rains were hitting hard on the auto’s windshield and the visibility was very poor. The wiper blades have given up after working hard tirelessly. The old driver cruised through the water logged streets. He took me on a tour of the narrow streets of Ashok Nagar, West Mambalam, Kodambakkam and finally Choolaimedu. Normally, a drive from Ashok Nagar to Choolaimedu takes just 15 minutes. On that day, it took 60 minutes. During those 60 minutes, I was wondering… “What would I do if the engine switches off in the water? What would I do, if this driver asks me to get down in between and discontinue the trip? Is this guy really taking me to Choolaimedu or is he kidnapping me?”  Random thoughts were going on in my mind. Finally, he somehow managed to take me to my home safely. I opened my purse, took a Rs.500 note and gave it to him. When he dipped into his pocket to get me change, I said “You can keep the change… Thanks for bringing me back home safely”. His joy knew no bounds and he thanked me sincerely. I felt very tall… like the Rana statue in Bahubali movie. I thought Rs.500 is a small drop for me … but an ocean for him.

I walked into my house with my chin up, chest inflated and head held high. My entire family was happy on seeing me reach home safe. Unfortunately, the moment I reached home the power went off. After a few hours, the inverter started to beep and finally die. We went to bed with the company of mosquitoes.

It was about 6 am, the next day. I heard a lot of noise outside my home. My entire family was standing out. I thought somebody is quarrelling on the street and went out to watch what was happening. I was shocked to see my street. There was 2 feet of water flowing in my street. My neighbors were telling that the government has opened up the Chembarambakkam Lake and that is why the entire city is flooded. The water was flowing on the streets for 2 days. There was absolutely no power or Internet for 3 days. They restored power after 3 days, when the water completely drained.

The moment I got power & Internet access, I did what every IT engineer in India does. I logged into Facebook. The picture of Rajesh is what I saw as the first thing, when I logged into Facebook. He, along with a network of volunteers were helping the people who were stranded, feeding the people who were hungry, providing supplies for people who lost their homes. They were selflessly serving the community… while I was comfortably sitting within my home for 3 days… taking care of just myself, my family and my belongings. I felt very ashamed to call myself a leader... my Rana statue now started looking very small in front of the huge Bahubali statue of Rajesh.

Dear friends, the rains taught me the power of small drops. Small drops of water that joined hands to cause huge floods; small drops that displaced people; small drops that wiped off belongings; small drops that brought the entire city to a grinding halt.

At the same time, the city was able to bounce back … because of the small drops of help that poured from our large army of volunteers like Rajesh Natarajan. Small drops … feeding the hungry, small drops … giving clothes to the drenched, small drops … saving the stranded.  Without these small drops of humanity, our community would’ve been wiped off from the map. Fellow Toastmasters and guests, if there is one message that I want all of you to leave with … it is “Never underestimate the power of small drops”. If possible, be that small drop that changes the life of someone around you.