A hot and bothered Chennai is peering at Fani's path and wondering what all the fuss was about. The weather forecasters had initially promised that the monster cyclone named by Bangladesh after the hood of a snake was headed directly towards Namma Chennai. The city had reason to feel terribly let down no because it wanted to be battered by a storm but because it badly needed some rainfall. A wag’s explanation that Fani showed her fanny to Chennai and breezed it to Puri did not seem like laughing matter.
If any city needed the rain, it was Chennai, now progressing towards Cape Town as a modern metropolis that may run out of piped water soon. They might as well apply for twin city status though one would daresay Cape Town is a bit more scenic with its Table Mountain and its spectacular bay. But there was not even a drop of rain to capture in a bottle and send a message of thanks to all those weather pundits who got the path and trajectory of Fani so terribly wrong.
They had sent out early warning signals on the assumption that they had studied the path so well that all they had to decide was which point of the city would the eye of the storm pass over. In keeping with their fear of being told after the event that they had not forecast the storm in time as in 2015 they may have been extra cautious in sending out their red coloured warnings that proved way off the mark. If you recall, they flopped in December 2015 when none of them spotted the storm of storms to hit the city and drown it in 50 centimetres of rain in a 36-hour period.
People of Chennai may be forgiven for placing all their huge vessels out in the open or their water tanks on the terrace open in the hope of catching the Fani downpour. The water managers were worried whether Chembarambakkam, Red Hills, Sholavaram and Poondi would be overflowing if Fani was too kind and too wet like that perfect storm of 2015. The water tanker owners may have been the only ones depressed over the possibility of their roaring summer business coming down if there was too much rain in this rare April-May storm that may come near the city once in 50 years.
Forgive the Chennaiite again if he had shown the least inclination to hold a garage sale and put up his entire umbrella collection last year when the forecasts of rain bombed for an entire northeast monsoon season. Chennai of the old rain shadow fame had regained its title as the driest metro of the country. Things came to such a pass that the astrology section may have been seen hitting greater levels of accuracy than the weather forecasts.
Probably vexed by all these failures, more outlandish solutions had to be tried out. No wonder then that a swamiji who went to the Marina in the hope of converting the sea water into a sweet potable liquid even had a few followers in this day and age of scientific temperament. Just imagine how much of sea water is available and so easily accessible from the starting point of the Marina Beach near the Napier Bridge right down the long coast to Kanniyakumari. Convert a merest fraction of that and you might as well dismantle the expensive desalination plants in Nemelli and Minjur.
As if to add insult to injury, Fani sucked in all the moisture from the air over Chennai and Tamil Nadu and brought an early Kathiri season to the city that sizzled at an unusual 41.5 Celsius on May Day, which my ready converter app on the phone says is 106.7 on the good old Fahrenheit scale.
This must have spoilt the mood of all the workers of the city who wanted to bask in a hard-earned day of rest while saluting the noble concept of the Statue of Labour adjacent to the burial sites of our famous starry politicians.
The ubiquitous water tankers, doing the rounds in their typically dangerous looking runs hogging road space are already demanding a clear path as they weave and duck around the traffic like Lionel Messi carrying his Barca towards the Champions League final. They have even had a meeting with top cops to sort out the minor issues of people getting knocked down as they speed on to make the maximum number of trips in a day to cash in on the seasonal business best. Why not compulsory insurance premiums on the tankers to take care of third-party injuries?
Meanwhile, the gods who are being beseeched to solve this water riddle are themselves running short. The temples of Mylapore are looking for other water sources or buying from tankers for the rituals. It is a triple whammy now that Fani has moved on after the last two monsoons deserted Chennai. And to think this is the season in which about several tmcft of Cauvery water are said to have flowed into the Bay of Bengal in the Cauvery, the Coleroon and other channels in the Delta.
If only we had had the wisdom to build a dam on the Coleroon nearest to Chennai so as to keep the excess water in a good monsoon season in the Cauvery catchment in Karnataka and distribute it to the capital through Veeranam lake and the pipeline. But that would need water planners who can think ahead and get the backing, the money and the clearances to make a dam possible in the legally knotty Cauvery course. And clear-thinking leaders would be needed to think of long-term solutions to water scarcity. Making wishful weather forecasts or magic to convert sea water is not going to work.
(R. Mohan is the Resident Editor of the Chennai and Tamil Nadu editions of Deccan Chronicle)...