The monsoons are here, be still my beating heart…

It happens every year, the skies darken with water laden cumulus clouds and unload their burden on the city which then promptly drowns under its burden of choked drainage systems, lack of desilting carried out adequately on its rivers and estuaries clogging with illegal waste dumping. On 26/7/2005, the brat had just started playschool, it was his very first day. I dropped him to school and picked him up, and then went off for an interview for an article I was working on to Worli. All was calm until 2.30 pm, when it suddenly began raining cats and dogs out of the blue. I wasnt too alarmed. I would finish within an hour, and I had the car and the driver. I would be a little late, but then, thats all in a day’s work. I left the interview venue at 3.30pm. The husband began calling frantically on my mobile. “Where have you reached? Try and get back fast. Things are bad here.” He didnt need to tell me that, I could see it all around me. The rain was like a sheet of water pouring all around us. The roads were flooded wherever I looked. The traffic was bumper to bumper. Choked in every direction. People had begun walking in long weary lines back to their homes. The trains, the lifeline of the city had collapsed. The electricity had gone off, the tracks were flooded, the city was in a complete mess. I sat in the car, unmindful of the water level rising upto my window, little realising the danger that could have happened had the automatic lock got jammed. Later, we were to read about the many people who were found dead in their cars, asphixiated thanks to doors getting jammed. The car moved inches in an hour. The heavens continued to rain. I couldnt call home, the mobile networks had got jammed. I could call Bangalore and Pune, and tell my sisters in law to relay my position back home, where the mother in law was bravely managing brat in pitch darkness. The flood had reached above the wall of our compound I was told. The ground floor flats had been evacuated and the entire area cordoned off by the police. The husband had decided to start walking home. He left behind his mobile with a friend (his brand new Nokia Communicator bought only a couple of days earlier) to save it from getting damaged, and I was in pieces with stress over his whereabouts. There was no way he could be reached. But I had told him to try and get home. Brat had to be given his anticonvulsants and MIL might not have been able to give him his dosage. But, she managed. The swell of people walking along intensified, I took in three women from the road, but seeing the car stuck, they prefered to get off and walk. One of them had a six month old at a creche in Nalla Sopara. The baby would need to be fed. God alone knows how she managed to get home. A van rushing around the direction back to town splashing through. A young college girl, drenched to the bone was just swiped up into it, and they disappeared into the darkness, her screams muffled by the rain. No one even bothered, my driver warned me not to step out of the car, I looked around for a policeman, I could find none. I did eventually find one near Bandra, but this was five hours later. And I did try to tell him what I had seen, but he had too much on his mind to be bothered. We inched through the night, but the roads were completely clogged. I contemplated getting out and trying to find a room in a hotel, but didnt dare wander around aimlessly in the pitch dark. My sister in law called to let me know the husband had reached home. He had broken through the police cordon and swam through the roads to reach home. Luckily, he is an international level swimmer and could do it. Lesser mortals would have drowned with the sheer force of the current. We neared a friend’s home, and I went up. She, sweetheart that she is, managed to make me a paratha and had some food sent down for the driver too. It was the finest meal I have ever had. I stayed the night there. The next morning I left at six. My son was home alone. I had to get home. We abandoned the car on the side of the road, and began walking. I had not realised when I left my friend’s home that I would have to walk through neck deep water. I had platform heels that I threw away and walked barefoot for almost 15 kilometers, through gravel and glass underfoot. The mobile was dead, battery over. No phones were working anywhere. The trains were at a complete standstill. There were people walking with me who had walked through the night from as far off as Colaba and New Bombay, and who were still walking to get home. In the spaces where the roads were not flooded, residents had put out plastic chairs and created rough canopies with plastic sheets and bamboos for the weary to rest their feet a while. Everyone was out on the streets helping, with steaming hot mugs of tea. Water bottles were handed out, as were glucose biscuits. One man, seeing my bleeding feet, ran up to his home and brought down a pair of rubber slippers. I had tears in my eyes. We walked further down past Andheri, past Jogeshwari, where the buffalo stables are, and carcasses of dead buffaloes littered the streets like so many boulders. The road was washed out. Only gravel remained. The rubber slippers gave way under the water and disappeared. I was back to barefoot. Some more good samaritans ran a van in a circular route from Jogeshwari to Goregaon, offering ladies a lift for the short distance. I was hesitant, but exhausted, and I climbed on. At Goregaon, a man manning a PCO, had put up a notice saying his PCO was functional and a horde was crowded around it. I pushed through and called home. And told the husband where I was, and he came and got me. I reached home having done more exercise in a single day than I had done in my entire life. The bones broke the next day. The feet had swollen because of the cuts and the water. But thankfully nothing serious. The water was drained out of the building compound the following day. We got electricity and water supply only after five days in our area. I went to my mother’s home with the brat. After all, he was only 20 months old.

On Sunday, the roads began swelling up again with water as the skies began pouring down. I felt my heart quicken and thud against my ribcage like a jungle drum. I didnt step out of the house.

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About Kiran Manral

Author of The Face At The Window, ( 2016), Karmic Kids, All Aboard (2015) , Once Upon A Crush (2014) and The Reluctant Detective (2011).
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6 Responses to The monsoons are here, be still my beating heart…

  1. Average Jane says:

    Read a lot about this in the papers but this first hand account was terrifying.Stay safe this monsoon, is all I can say.

    Like

  2. Big Zed says:

    Holy cow! I thought I was reading fiction… swear to god! Has it really been so bad in Bombay? 12 years ago when I was living there…it wasn’t that bad. I can’t believe that you walked like that. Unbelievable. And that poor college girl. I shudder to think what might have happened to her. I don’t even want to think. At the same time it gives me some faith in people when they go out of the way to help.

    Like

  3. childwoman says:

    Kiran!! kahan ho? aap to gayab hi ho gaye…. 😦

    Like

  4. namvor says:

    my BIL walked from nariman point to vashi. walked for 15 hours with hardly any breaks.

    hope it rains like 07/05 again.

    Like

  5. Travelbug says:

    Gosh, that sounds terrible, that people have to live in such deplorable conditions. Why dont the common people join forces and do something to improve the infrastructure, hassle your local politican, make a change. Proper drainage and stormwater management facilties.
    I was reading about the Commonwealth games fiasco in delhi too.
    What a shame.

    What happened that day in Mumbai was a freak cloudburst which could have caught the best cities in the world offguard. We got in four hours, the same amount of rainfull that we normally get spread across an entire monsoon season. Naturally, the city went under. What is commendable is that this is not happening again. Citizens have formed Area Locality Management teams working in tandem with the civic authorities, we have disaster management cells set up…
    As for the CWG games, what can I say, we’re all deeply hurt and embarassed. Political greed and corruption has ruined what was something we could have been proud of.

    Like

  6. Travelbug says:

    ah..I see, thanks for letting me know in water resources jargon we call that the either 100 year or 500 year storm event.
    you are right most cities drainage and Stormwater detention facilties are not designed for it, other than a few in the North east US.
    Nice insight into life in Mumbai.

    Like

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