Off-roading enthusiasts find firm ground where none exists. They find it inching up inclines. They find it plunging into pits. And they also find it wading into waters. With torque fed to all four wheels, their 4WD machines unbox the first two experiences for them. Snorkels turn 4WDs into something of a dabbling duck and offer the experience of “water crossing”, a hallowed chapter in any play-book for off-roaders. During the recent rains, off-roading enthusiasts are thumbing through this chapter, ironically “on-road” at GN Chetty Road, North Crescent Road, Sixth Main Road (RA Puram) and Jawahar Nagar (Perambur), to name a few.
On November 7, the night of November 10 and on November 11, a handful of off-roaders were neck-deep in efforts to winch out vehicles stranded in rainwater-soaked roads.
“On November 7, we would have totally pulled out nine cars,” notes Arkaprava Datta of Terra Tigers Jeep Thrills (TTJT) which has put out “helplines” to address this often-ignored category of monsoon distress. These are temporary helplines (listed at the end of these article) that will go silent when the last raindrop from the monsoon falls on Chennai soil. “It is a free service we would be offering through the monsoon,” notes Arkaprava, adding that TTJT has been rendering this free service every monsoon since the 2015 floods and 2016 cyclone, but has become more efficient in orchestrating it.
“We are giving the information systematically so that people can reach us easily and quickly. During the 2015 December floods and 2016 cyclone, there was no Internet connectivity, and where there was connectivity, the 4G connections were patchy, and so by the time, we could respond to a call, five to six hours would have elapsed. We are now taking a highly localised approach to addressing this issue. We have kept our members informed. Going from Ambattur to Velachery is about an hour’s time, so the guys staying on the Velachery side can take care of recoveries in Velachery and surrounding areas like OMR. Those in Kilpauk can take care of Nungambakkam, Egmore and Kilpauk. Those in Tambaram can take care of that region; and so on,” explains Arkaprava.
The group puts out the list on Facebook and Instagram and other shareable platforms, and the multiplier effect of social media seems to be helping the initiative reach intended targets.
“People are leaving stranded cars in the middle of the road, not even bothering to push them to the side of the road, which causes a traffic problem. If a truck is going behind them, it cannot pass. We faced this problem on the Korattur side. Three cars had been abandoned in the middle of the road — on November 7,” recalls Arkaprava, domiciled in Padi and could therefore land up at the spot promptly. “I myself pulled out two cars. We normally have all the recovery gear with us and bringing out a car is a 15-minute job. We put the stranded vehicle in a safer position and later on, people can take it for service or repair.”
The Good Samaritans do not overdo the charity and baulk at starting the recovered vehicle. The mission ends with leaving the machine on drier, higher and safer ground. Once there, it is over to the car owner.
Though the owner is benefited by this action, the initiative’s primary objective is about ensuring stranded vehicles do not bring the traffic to a standstill.
“If we do not do it, it is going to become a pain for us. Imagine one road is blocked, and all of us are going to lose productivity. We do not want it to have a compounding effect. One vehicle is stuck, and another may try to skirt around it and end up in deeper waters.”
That said, the initiative is responsive to people problems (which have included distribution of food packets in the 2015 floods), but without overreaching itself. It does not go beyond the length of the winch rope, desisting from any form of volunteering divorced from operating four-wheel-drive vehicles.
On the night of November 10, a family in Jawahar Nagar was transported to safe ground following flooding of their home and street. On the morning of November 11 — a 4WD was headed for Jawahar Nagar to effect an almost similar rescue.
Says Sharan Sanjay, also an off-roading enthusiast with TTJT: “On November 7, someone had to reach their grandparents whose ground floor house on North Crescent Road was inundated. From Adyar, we had to reach North Crescent Road in T Nagar on Sunday morning, when the downpour was at its height. All the access routes to North Crescent road were cut off. Vijayaraghavachari Road was completely submerged. GN Chetty Road was submerged. Literally from four sides, one could not enter North Crescent Road.”Finally, the snorkel-fitted four-wheel-drive machine prevailed over the conditions, and the seniors were evacuated to a safe space.
“On my way back, I received a call from Sixth Main Road in RA Puram. There, this gentleman was worried that his car was going to get submerged. It was in waters that had come up to the side indicators and another couple of inches, the water would go into the engine,” shares Sharan. In fact, those rescues make up only half of the noble deeds Sharan had performed that Sunday. “On our way to North Crescent Road two cars were stranded near the Residency Hotel signal, and due to that, we could not pass. That time I got down in knee-deep water and used my winch and pulled those two vehicles out of the way so that the bigger vehicles can pass.”
Arkaprava remarks that the initiative costs them only the price of the fuel expended on it, and of course the time they take out for it. In rare instances, there has been collateral damage resulting in high spends on repairs.
“Most of the vehicles are running a raised air intake — a snorkel. Besides, we have fitted extensions for the air inlets for the gearbox and all that. We can go in water but again, the 2015 experience taught us that sometimes you will be stuck in water picking up people from houses in a span of 30 to 40 minutes. That takes a toll on the vehicle. We know the cost and the damage a vehicle can undergo. During the 2015 floods, four jeeps packed up — the engine and gearbox suffered damage. We had to completely build them up,” recalls Arkaprava.
Sharan adds, “Even now a bunch of water has entered my vehicle. If I do not take out the carpet, I would start seeing rust in a month. The alternator, the starter motor — these things tend to fail after you drive in water. The brakes can also seize. these basic things will happen.”
Here are the areas-specific helplines put out by Terra Tigers Jeep Thrills: ECR (Sharan Sanjay — 9962208821; Madhu — 9495359169), Velachery (Bala — 988420222), Tambaram (Suren — 8056108805), Ambattur/ Anna Nagar (Arkaprava — 7200666657) and Kilpauk/ Egmore (Balamohan — 9840348464; Shyam — 9840317041).