Mumbai.. Day 4th July 2006..Time 11.00 a.m..interior.. bedroom..sound of rain and winds lashing against window panes..background skies.. dark and menacing
Kitaro playing..aroma of parathas waft in from the kitchen along with an agitated babble of arguments between the son and the maid on choice of spices, proportion of cheese, and addition of butter on insistence of son while maid confused at whether it was a preparation of parathas or pasta that was being discussed!
Hubby on phone with colleague..pacing the room, leading on to the terrace..watching the monsoon lash the plants with all its fury.."No way that I am going to venture out..yeah its me saying that.. I know.. I know..nothing keeps me from getting to the office but today nothing will get me there...declare it a holiday.. Its insane expecting anyone to turn up..the city is on 'High Alert'..let them take leave till the situation is under control".
Me.. getting the table ready for breakfast.. nodding vigorously.. inwardly thankful that he needed no coaxing to stay back.. putting in a word.. whenever possible.. edgewise..heaving a sigh of relief that hubby had decided to be cautious. "Whats surprising "? you might ask.. Not if you knew hubby..come hail, storm or high water he never cancelled appointments. So how was this day any different from previous years. Well.. it wouldnt have been had 26/7 not happened to Mumbaikars and to us as a family!
Cut to 26th July 2005.
Mild rains .. heavily overcast skies.. me.. packing hubbys bag.. readying for the flight he was to take at 9.30 p.m. to New Delhi and onward to Nainital..he insisted on last minute detailing for the staff whilst away, so left for a few hours. Son at school in Juhu..
Something.. premonition .. I cannot say for sure.. kept me back..also the fact that hated to drive in monsoons.. and driver had not turned up.
2.30 p.m.. noticed dramatic and extreme darkening of skyline.. and a torrent of rain that seemed to unleash all of a sudden..I rushed out to the terrace.. 'Cloudburst" was my first reaction..waited hopefully for it to wane.. Sonny had extra classes and would still be in his classroom.. Called up hubby..he sounded apprehensive.. said something like .."Its weird but there is a traffic jam and I am in the midst of it at Juhu." his tone of voice made me sense that all was not fine on the roads. Asked him if he could turn back towards Sonnys school and pick him up. He said it was impossible.. traffic was inching forward and the downpour was torrential.
Now panic began setting in slowly.. Sonny, had taken on the services of an Auto rickshaw for these extra class days.. which meant by now he would be en route and alone. I called him.. His mobile was responding indicating he was out of school.. His first words' Mama.. its bad .. the rain..stay home..dont get out.. I'm Ok.. wheres Papu?".. apparently both were less than half a kilometre away from each other, but there was no way they could get together.. Both were just a kilometre away from our residence.
By the time it was 3.30, situation had changed from grave to very grave.. Mobile calls were jamming because of heavy usage. Hubbys call to me said said in the calmest of tones but which had me paranoic and panicky informed 'water is upto my waist in the car and it is seeping through continuously.. there are a 100 cars in front and behind.. I am stuck..If the doors jam I wont be able to get out.. the air conditioner duct has water in it.. I have had to switch it off..cannot open the windows.. its a storm outside" I kept my voice modulatedly stoic..asked him to try and get out of the car.. abandon it wherever it was and head home walking..When he came to realise that sonny was on the perpendicular junction he said he was going there to check on all the rickshaws.. which was not such a good idea since it meant he would be walking against the gush of water.. coming in now from the high tide at Juhu.. I dissuaded him amidst failing signal and indecipherable words.
Here I was all dry and at home while my family was facing a situation unimaginable, even an hour ago.. Just not fair. After this ALL efforts to speak them came to zilch.. Hutch service had crashed. Its not difficult to predict that I was wailing.. no way to get in touch with them.. all police lines were unavailable.. off the hook.. the t.v. channels were of no help.. there were no helpline numbers..in short.. no one seemed to care and there seemed no saviour.
I just could not sit back and not do something..armed with my windcheater, mobile and umbrella I left the house, with a paranoid maid begging me not to..I began walking in the direction of the two.. I had to find them,.. By the time I reached the end of the junction, I was thrown off my feet by the force of what seemed like a River.. a spate of deluge.. I had lost my slippers by then and found myself walking against the tide...I realised for the first time, first hand what was meant by the term 'raging flood waters'. By this time a bunch of men began screaming out at me to turn back..I had tried to keep to the middle of the road.. but soon I found myself in almost chest high water and unable to get a firm foothold..I was alone in the middle of nowhere.. One from that gang, came up to me and literally pulled me away..constantly asking.."do you want to die?.. you will drown.." He pulled me , and we reached the other side..Needless to say my mobile had got lost..I went up, swam would be more like it, to a nearby store.. and tried calling..No avail.
It is difficult to describe the walk back home the helplessness and the fury of feeling impotent in a situation such as this.. the astonishment that this could happen to us in a city like Mumbai, the hopelessness that could engulf you in a matter of hours and turn your life topsy turvy. And all you could do is .. WAIT..
That is what I did for the next most excruciatingly agonising FIVE hours of my life..WAIT..I had by then called my friends.. each one consoling me that all would be fine.. but none able to offer any solution...Unbelievable.. What should I do?? Where should I go??
My puja temple was the focus of my attention and gaze..I had nowhere else to look..literally...
Finally at around 9.00p.m. the doorbell rang.. I rushed out.. It was my son.. looking almost blue..I rushed down.. he was with the auto guy..No words were needed.. He had brought back my son from neck deep water, holding his hand and carrying his school bag on his head..He said it was his responsibility to do so..Crying is so 'filmi'..I felt these words thronging in my mind.. but here I was crying unashamedly, profusely thanking him blessing him and thanking him again.. all at once..Whoever said there are no angels??Or that there is no GOD??
"Wheres Papu?".. I had no answer.. kept distracting him.. pushing him to the bathroom to have a shower.. asking him whether he'd want hot soup or milk.. chattering all the time.. what could I answer?
I had faith in the Supreme.. half hour later.. the doorbell rang again.. It was hubby.. drenched.. and smiling.. 'Its Okay".. In the meanwhile I had cancelled his ticket with the airlines.There was no way I was letting him out of my sight.. in any case the flight too did not take off due to bad weather ..
The car had been abandoned like so many others.. but that seemed the least of our concerns..we were together again..
Next morning.. we walked off to get the car..but could not get as far, since the waters had not receded. But what I saw brought a lump to my throat.Those who werent living close had to spend the night in their cars..in conditions which were frightful. Most cars with central locking had the system dysfunctional so in fact they were prisoners in it ( There were cases reported of deaths in the car due to lack of oxygen) Houses lining Linking road were privy to the situation and residents braving the weather had spent the night going from car to car offering support in whatever manner possible. This was a side of Mumbaikars I had hoped to see but never witnessed. The "spirit of Mumbai" was visible in times of calamities as these. Mayhem exposes virtue. And the Mumbaikar had risen to the occasion splendidly.
The following days saw various such deeds being written about in the media ..but sadly not to the extent one had imagined. Why is it not as important to expostulate on stories of gallantry and bravery, goodness and positivity in as much footage and glare of media attention as the sensational ones depicting debauchery of a rape, murder and assault? How is it possible, in the absence of such stories, to reinforce the faith in one another as humans? To assure that the milk of human kindness flows as energetically? Chivalry is not dead.. it only needs to be re-awakened, re-kindled form its slumber of dormancy into active expression. What better way than a real life story which depicts its presence, in all its glory?
Cut to ..4th july 2005..Any wonder then that hubby and kid are at home, like so many other Mumbaikars? While the citizen may have learnt his lessons, the Government seems a slow learner. 400 crores they claim has been spent on Mumbai and another 100 crores on roads..(yawn)
Trivia: Is Mumbai the only city in the world which has POTHOLES even on its RUNWAY??..Asked with a wide-eyed genuinely quizzical expression!!