Altruism first, artistry next

Musician K.N. Shashikiran is updating his Facebook wall every few hours these days. And not because the December Music Season is in full swing — it is not. The floods in Chennai have ravaged the city, leaving no one unaffected. Homes have been flooded, people’s belongings washed away, thousands marooned in their homes with no way to buy basic necessities, water, milk or food, there has been no electricity for more than 72 hours in many homes, with patchy or no mobile and Internet connectivity — Chennai is utterly and completely devastated.

Ashok Kumar

Carnatica’s manager Ashok Kumar holds an umbrella for flood victims as they collect food packets organised by musician K.N. Shashikiran

But Shashikiran is keeping his Facebook wall updated — in an effort to let people know of the ongoing relief efforts. ‘Organised food and medicines today too and some are giving clothes…Pl reach me in case you want to contribute. We need more support,’ one status message says. Another exhorts people to chant Aditya Hrudayam, sing Suryamurte and perform musical prayers to the sun. A series of photo updates show food packets being distributed to flood victims in Mylapore, overseen by his trusted lieutenant and Carnatica’s manager Ashok Kumar. Shashikiran quoteThere are many more updates — emergency contact information, areas where relief is required and ways to contribute to the flood victims. What’s easy to miss amidst all the relief-related updates is a photo of his own inundated house. Shashikiran himself has been forced to move out of his home and seek refuge elsewhere. Yet, he is working tirelessly round the clock, helping thousands of flood victims put the pieces of their lives back together.

Elsewhere, vocalist Rithvik Raja is doing the rounds, organising food, milk, medicines, drinking water, clothes, blankets, candles, etc., putting them together at his alma mater Vidya Mandir School in Mylapore, mobilising volunteers and cars, ferrying all the relief material to victims, distributing them and then starting all over again. He was one of the first to hit the flooded streets, unmindful of possible health hazards from the stagnant water, the breeding mosquitoes and the fallen electricity cables. Rithvik quoteThe morning of the day after the floods hit, he was at Narayani Ammal Kalyana Mandapam in Mandaveli, helping cook, pack and distribute food to thousands of victims. He has cancelled his concert for Kartik Fine Arts that was scheduled for today, so he can help more flood victims. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and kick starting the December Season relies on making sure everything else is in place, so that we can enjoy the season and welcome its madness! Looking forward to continuing the relief efforts tomorrow, and a huge thanks again to everyone who contributed tirelessly today. Proud of every single one of you. Time to get back to work!” he says, in a short Facebook status.

Anil Srinivasan quotePianist Anil Srinivasan has been working round the clock, rescuing people from flooded homes, helping contact missing people, collecting and distributing supplies from Ramee Mall in Mount Road and other relief centres. In a heart rending message posted on Facebook on 4th December, he says, “Today, I saw an old man sitting on his easy chair and refusing to budge out of his home of 40 years. He said “sarvam krishnarpanam asthu” and said he will wait for the water to consume him or wait it out. I saw a 30 year old man cry his heart out because he had to leave his pet of 5 years behind. I saw little children look for schoolbooks in the debris of the water outside their homes. Friends of mine working on the Nandanam rescue saw people climbing out of reach of the rescue boats. They did not want to leave their homes. Illogical, as my friends said, but understandable. In all instances, it has been a rather emotional day – full of freeze frames and memories. I sign out for the day after giving up on one frustrating rescue coordination. I pray for that soul, and hope he is safe, and someone found him and I will wake up and find something pleasant on his count. God bless you all.” He has been working on rescue and relief operations every single day, morning to night, until he can work no more and needs a few hours’ rest.

Vasundhra Rajagopal's photo of relief operations she is coordinating from Sringeri Pravachana Mandiram Hall

Vasundhra Rajagopal’s photo of relief operations she is coordinating from Sringeri Pravachana Mandiram Hall

Vocalist Vasundhra Rajagopal seems to have summoned superhuman powers, working as she has been for 48 hours almost non-stop, sending out supplies from Sringeri Pravachana Mandiram Hall, R.A. Puram.

An article like this does no justice to the absolutely outstanding work our musicians and music students are doing. Thanks to them, schools, malls and marriage halls have turned into relief centres; tens of private cars have become relief supply vehicles; hundreds of stranded people have been contacted or rescued; thousands of hungry mouths have been fed. There are many, many more like Shashikiran, Rithvik Raja, Vasundhra Rajagopal and Anil Srinivasan — mridangist Praveen Kumar, vocalists S. Sowmya, Nisha Rajagopal, Sandeep Narayan, kanjira artist K.V. Gopalakrishnan, violinist Shreya Devnath, music enthusiast Sunanda Rangarajan…the list is nearly endless.

Chennai, and indeed all of humanity, salutes you.

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