Kamal Haasan’s Visit to Ennore Creek; Not Just Altruism?
The timing of Kamal Haasan’s visit to the Kosasthalai river is interesting.
Kamal Haasan has a history of humanitarian work in rehabilitating HIV-affected children, blood donation drives, and as the face of Swachh Bharat. But his visit to the Kosasthalai river by the Ennore creek, on 27th October, is tinged with political foresight.
The MET department has announced incessant rains for two days, warning of continuing monsoons. It has been raining intermittently, from a few days ahead of the forecast. Social media is rife with 'Stay Safe', 'Not Again', 'Chennai you deserve it', and a dozen other profile updates that act as bitter reminders of the 2015 floods.
It is at this juncture that Kamal Haasan chose to visit the Kosasthalai river, which is four times as large as the Adyar (and neglected in equal measure), concerned about its environmental degradation. The ‘twitter activist’ took to the road, amid the incessant clicks of cameras. His office released photographs (and a video), of his visit to the lake, most of them taken close to the golden hour, as the Ulaganayagan (universal hero) looks pensive, by the bank, his arms in the pockets of his fashionably tattered jeans.
Kamal Haasan was one of the first superstars to use his fan clubs to carry out social work. He brought them all together under the Kamal Narpani Iyakkam (Kamal welfare association), through which his fans continue to conduct blood donation drives, eye donation camps, and distribute education material to the poor.
He is also known to pledge monetary support for various causes. The most publicised example, is the Rs 50 Lakh he won in the Tamil version of KBC, that he pledged to the Petralthan Pillaya initiative, that he co-founded to rehabilitate HIV affected children. He later donated Rs 16 crore - that he earned through his first ever brand endorsement (Pothys) - to the same cause.
Mayyam, the magazine of his welfare association was the chief broadcaster of his political views on various subjects, until of course, he debuted on Twitter on 26th Jan, 2015.
Chennai and Rains
The monsoons are no more a thing of beauty and joy in Chennai. The 2015 floods threw the entire city, and all of its people into weeks of destitution, huge losses and a general fear of water. Last year's Vardha cyclone only rubbed salt into the still fresh wounds, as the storm razed tens of thousands of trees to the ground, and cut off power supply. Many areas in Southern Chennai went under again.
Kamal Haasan's visit to the Ennore creek - which is as much a hotbed of political apathy, as it is an environmental disaster - and his subsequent rant/warning on Twitter has gotten the city's attention.
Grabbing the City by Its Fear
“The Kosasthalai river near Chennai that has not yet turned into a drain still provides livelihood to fishermen...”
So begins the post, which warns the people that:
“North Chennai will be flooded even if there are normal rains like last year. Weather experts predict heavy rains; that could cause property, and even life loss to nearly 10 lakh people.”Kamal Haasan
That the city is unprepared to face another flood, is evident, thanks to the PWD's refusal to come clean on the progress of the Rs 633 crore major drainage project.
According to Arappor Iyakkam, construction of most of the major drains is yet to start, and many won't be ready in time, or even in the near future. Nithyanand Jayaram, Chennai's go-to environmental activist links the abuse of Ennore Creek and Kosasthalai river, to the 2015 floods, and says there is every possibility that Chennai will see another flood.
While Kamal Haasan may be pandering to popular public fear, he's not entirely off the mark factually. But then, his statement takes a political turn.
He rubs the government's raw nerve, which he touched in 2015, with his tweets against the insufficient relief work carried out by the then CM J Jayalalithaa:
“100 walkie talkies and boats may be the way to save people who will be affected by the predicted rains in the short term, but a good government should have a long term plan for the betterment of people. This is not a critique of the mistake already committed. Rather, this is a warming for the grave danger ahead.”Kamal Haasan
In one fell swoop, Kamal Haasan not only rallies public sentiment towards himself, but also gets an 'I told you so' moment aimed at the government. Such a publicised visit barely a week from the 'big announcement' scheduled on his birthday on 7th November does raise a pertinent question.
While Kamal Haasan's intentions may be altruistic and honest, this is also his first visit to a cause he believes in. Like the man himself, and like the movies he makes, Kamal's visit behooves just one question (inspired from his cult hit Nayakan) :
Neenga Nallavara Kettavara? (Are you a good man or a bad man?)
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