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Along with sunshine coming back to Chennai, the sordid toll that the past few weeks’ deluge took is slowly rising out of the muck onto the surface as well. An activist friend, who works in the enormous slum tenement just outside the city, the Semmencheri Housing Board, located just off the Old Mahabalipuram Road, informed me of a tragic story of three young adults who were orphaned because of the floods. Losing their mother, who they feel would have been alive if the least amount of precautions had been taken by the authorities.
R Gokul Krishnan, 22, R Keerthika, 20 and her twin sister R Keerthana, 20 live in house number 2397, inside the Semmencheri Housing Board. Till last week, their mother, R Nalini, 54, was with them. Now she’s no more. Nalini was washed away by flowing water, not while she was near a river or in any precarious area, but while walking back home on the evening of December 1.
The disastrous evening on which day the city received more rainfall than it had received on any one day in the last century. The highest rainfall was measured at 500mm just off the coast.
“When it rained a lot earlier in November, my mother stayed back at the Hospital where she works as an ayah. But I think she must have gotten really scared for us and decided to come back home,” says Gokul Krishnan when I met him at their home. The Housing Board, home to 6,000 odd families is one of the worst affected areas because of the floods with water rising to waist level at times. Many reports of snake bites have come from here, when people were trying to drain the water from their homes. The area is treacherous in the best of times and the floods made them worse than they had ever been.
Nalini had managed to find a bus back home but it dropped her off on the main road, with the driver not daring to risk the road leading into the Housing Board from the OMR. She decided to walk back home when the water flowing at an immense pace was too much for her, taking her away with it, only for her body to be found five days later.
“We searched everywhere, at the hospital and at police stations but got no news of our mother. It was only on December 6 that someone called and told me that they’d found my mother washed up,” says Gokul Krishnan.
Even after death the three young adults had to go through an ordeal just to get the FIR and get their mother body out of the morgue to cremate her. “Everywhere they were asking for money. Even at the government crematorium,” says Gokul Krishnan.
Karunya Devi, who works for the NGO Thozhamai, helped them get through the red tape and corruption to an extent. “It shows how pathetic the system is when they can’t even get their mother’s body out and perform her final rites without bribes,” says Karunya Devi.
Gokul Krishnan and her sisters bear a forlorn look now, not sure what their future holds or how to survive it. “I just want my sister’s to get an education now, get a good job. I don’t know how we are going to manage this though,” he says. He adds, “If only someone had told my mother to stay back at the hospital. She would be with us now.”
If you wish to help Nalini’s children. Please reach out to Thozhamai NGO,firstname.lastname@example.org