The Day Our City Sank
I was in the tenth standard, as we call it here, obviously we didn't have the grading system then. It was my SSC year, the year one had to learn the entire textbook and not just the half part as we did until ninth standard. With facial hair and pimples and all that was happening, life wasn't so bad after all. A textbook and just one exam was manageable. And that day it started to rain just as I got out of the school gate. Walking in the rain has always been my favorite thing to do, especially when I know there isn't going to be an AC room waiting for me at the end of the walk. So I walked, holding my waterproof backpack to the rain, challenging the droplets to seep in. And within a few minutes I was home, the rain had not abated.
One never paid much attention to the rain, especially not during the month of July, things were quite different 7 years ago. Within 2 hours, by about 3'o clock, a small puddle of water started to form in a corner of our living room. It was ground water, clear with no murk, slowly forming a larger puddle, a neighbour rushed in to tell my mother that the school was shutting early so it was best to get my brother home. So off she went to fetch him while I stood there, wondering just how much damage this docile two litres of puddle could inflict. By the time, she returned, more than half of the room was covered in water. The Poinsur river, now known as Poinsur Naala had swelled enormously, it runs only a few meters from my house and was threatening to spill over onto our side.
Water level was fast rising and we started to move things to the next level, on the +1 floor of our house, where my uncle and his family lives. Without prioritizing much, we simply shifted a few valuables, our school bags and a few clothes, I am not sure what else. Oh yes, the new borns of the cat and the mother were also wrapped up in a cloth and transported in a vessel. We didn't anticipate the water to rise that much, it never had so we just left most of stuff as it were. And settled in, waiting to hear from our beloved ones who were out there, stuck in the rain and traffic and trains. Frantic calls to the BMC were made but they sounded helpless. The situation was the same everywhere, what could they do?
I went back down again to clear a few things only to find myself standing in water, which had now reached my knees. We switched off the lights and locked the door. I went out towards the main road, just to see if water had inundated that area. But apparently it had not, water had not reached the nearby Raghuleela Megamall, a big group of Gujarati idiots, gandas, yes, not even young folks, idiots, were playing Garba in the rain, in the foyer of the closed mall. It was a deplorable sight. I sincerely hoped that the entire group would be stranded in the rain on their way back home after a majja-filled session of Garba. I wonder what happened to them.
By the time I returned, the level had risen inexplicably. Upto my chest, almost. There was not much to be done, except help people move their essentials and babies to higher ground. Cook and provide some food to the cold and hungry. And that's all we did, until it was night, by 10 pm, the water level was receding remarkably, and it seemed like there was a sudden wave of optimism that was driving all the water away. People got down with their brooms and pans and started washing, cleaning away the sediments left by the murky water. It was a lot of work, but no one seemed to care right then in the moment of sudden josh. Everyone got busy trying to salvage as much as possible from the now wet slush that had formed in cabinets and cupboards. But it was too much work, and no one could've settled down for the night in the lower floors, so work was stopped and everyone just called it a day.
The worse, however, was yet to come. Sooner than the work stopped, lashing rain resumed. It rained even heavily than before, and within a few minutes, the drier areas were being flooded again, this time the waters entered rooms with a vengeance. With a vengeance, that spoke of the crimes humankind has inflicted upon the river bodies, upon the environment, upon nature, whom he calls Mother as per his poetic whims. And yes, it was a time to hang our heads in shame and bear the brunt of our misdeeds. Deep canals formed in gullies that were used to play cricket, corpses of rodents floated in them, Poinsur river carried dead bodies of cattle, tubelights and an occasional human being. It was a dark night, gloomy and cold but we were fortunate to have a shelter, my dad reached home, after walking from Bandra upto Kandivali through heavily flooded streets. The city was sinking in the night while I tried to sleep under the heavy drumming on the tin roof.
When morning dawned, the water had started to recede and it was our time to clean up. Something told us that the worst was over, and yes, it was. There was obviously a lot of cleaning up to do and rumors to deal with. But the saddening part was disposing off the damaged articles, my books took the worst hit, my heart broke, for all those books were purchased from my savings accrued over weeks together for one book at times, old family photographs, grains and the list could go on. News reports brought in horrifying accounts of low lying areas especially Kurla which were badly affected and were still inundated, we were still blessed with life, not all were fortunate. There were many who has lost their lives while saving others from drowning and how so many braved the flooded streets to help stranded citizens.
The resilient spirit of the city had been awoken, and we were coming back to life. A Gujarati Jain group, I do not recall their name, came to visit the area under the pretext of some nonsense charity work, they assembled us in an open space and said that they would be providing some grains and other essential things in the tone that made them look like messiahs sent by Lord Mahavir himself. Extremely poor quality material it was, but no one complained, some used it, some threw it away. It didn't matter, there was enough food so it wasn't a problem. Water was adequate too, enough for drinking and cooking anyway. Local politician were sending batches of freshly cooked, good quality pulao which helped a little.
BMC took a few stringent measures after that year, the Naala was widened, garbage cleared and I affixed wooden shelves on the walls, high above the ground to keep my books from getting wet in case we have a similar disaster to face. But since then, since 7 years, I do not recall a similar situation, there are some areas such as Kurla and Kalina which are an exception and year on year face a similar threat. However, continuous heavy rains still induce a modicum of fear in my heart, for the association of heavy rainfall with a paralysed city has already been made. And a monsoon like this year, might make me forget it, but then I am not so sure if it is a good thing.
I am sure each one has a 26th July story to tell, do think about it today. Be thankful to those who helped you. And the only way to repay that debt is by doing your bit for the city - avoid plastic, don't litter and clog the drainage, support the campaigns the BMC launches for your benefit. There are numerous things one can do, do at least a few.