Are heroes born? Or do they take form when they are most needed? History seems to prove its the latter. There are times when adversities bring out the best in people, times when personal priorities take a back seat and people come together for a cause they feel is important to them. 13th February was one such life changing day for the 162 students and the 20 odd staff at Great Lakes.
The present campus of Great lakes is located at the upmarket Saidapet Colony in Chennai. Serving the needs of the colony are a group of 10 families living in 1 roomed thatched shacks adjacent to the main colony. The men folk of the slum either work in construction sites or are auto drivers and the women folk work as housemaids in the upscale houses of the colony. These are people who live from one day to the next with little or no savings except their personal belongings and the support of their families. Some of these women also worked as maids in some of our houses.
On the night of 12th February, 2009 tragedy struck in the form of an inferno which engulfed these fragile lives. What started the fire is still being speculated. Some say it was a cigarette butt. Some say it was an electric spark. Some say it was a politically motivated arson move them out of the area. Whatever be the reason, by the end of it 6 houses were razed to the ground and 6 whole families (about 30 people) were left homeless…
I woke up to the news of the fire, but didn’t think the extent of the damage would be much. What I witnessed on my way to college at 7:30 AM for the first of my classes, sent a chill down my spine. Until then, I had never seen the look of total loss in anyone’s eyes. But the vacant look and flowing tear in the eyes of the women there gave me a glimpse of their horror. The fact that one of them was my maid, somehow gave it a feeling of personal loss.
By the time I reached college a task force had already been put in place to try and help the affected. People were abandoning classes to try and do their part. Here was no dearth of volunteers who wanted to pitch in to do their part. In half hour a committee was formed to oversee the donation drive that was put into force. We asked people to contribute whatever they could – money, clothing, food. Anything. And donations came pouring in. We needed 3 people fulltime to just keep track of the money and to keep accounts. We setup a collection box for people to drop all other things. By the end of the day we reached about 40% of the class and stall and managed to collect close to Rs. 19,000/- We contacted the alumni, who also assured assistance. The college, thanks to Prof. Sriram, also pledged to equalise the contribution that we were putting together.
Among the victims was a small time trader who used to trade in scrap paper, metals and glass. This person had close to Rs. 80,000/- in inventory in his shop and lost it all. The remains of the bundles of newspaper were still smouldering till late in the evening. Allen and Vidya took over the task of going from house to house of all Great Lakers living in the area and collected old newspapers, plastic and glass bottles etc that we will be handing over to the person so that his loss may be minimised. The humour in this was that they went about with the collection in a Toyota Corolla!!
The college staff helped out too. Ms Uma, Deputy manager, pulled all the strings that she could and got the ladies of the colony to donate old saris towards the cause. Mr. Balasubhramaniam, Placement Cordinator, literally emptied his pockets when we went to him for donations. All the other staff helped out to the best of their ability.
Parallel to this, we also went over to the affected and asked them what they wanted (In management parlance – Requirements Gathering). Once we had a broad idea of their requirements, we discussed on it and filled the gaps of the bare basic that the families would want (Requirements Analysis phase). Our final list consisted of Cooking vessels and utensils, straw mats and sheets, rice and dal, basic clothes for children and towels. By about 2 PM, 4 of us rushed to Saravana Stores and procured the list of items that we had finalised, taking care to pick up 6 numbers of each item (Operations). By 5:30 PM we were back at college with the items. By that time the others had collected clothes, food items, mattresses etc.
Without further delay, we called the womenfolk of the families and distributed all the items in equal measure and also handed over Rs 500 per house for the other needs that they might have (Delivery). The rest of the money will be used judiciously to by way of helping the children in the families further studies or will be put to such progressive work (Maintenance).
What stood out during this entire exercise was the solidarity and compassion shown by Great Lakers on the whole. There were many people who were out of town, but many of them contacted us and assured help as soon as they were back in town. The way a few of the Great Lakers unselfishly, at the cost of their classes, ran around the entire day, tirelessly working towards a solution was highly commendable. Of special note was Kavitha, Sijo, Rahul Prakash, Sheeba, Vidya, Allen and a few others. The passion shown by each of the Great Lakers was unparalleled.
What is more heart warming is the fact that it will be this set of 162 individuals who will be holding aloft the beacons of the Indian Industry in a few year’s time. And from what was witnessed, it can be safely said that the beacon will shine high and bright for years to come.
Celebrating the spirit of Great Lakes – Global Mindset Indian Roots.
Class of 2009