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Ten years ago, almost to this day, the Mumbai rains brought the city to a standstill. Here’s an account of one woman’s rendezvous with what she believes was a special presence.
People often question me as to how do I keep upbeat on most days. (Well, the other days, I just have my horns, devil teeth and claws out.)
The brighter side of me is largely to do with the people I share my intimate life with; my genetic disposition (read, my parents) and the person who has been a perennial influence in my life defying all certainties (read, my best half by all means). The experiences that I have encountered in the last four decades have also contributed to my ‘sunny disposition’ in some way or the other and of course, a special mention to the protagonist of this note who chose to be what she is today!
Here, I reminisce on one such experience, that till date sends a chill down my spine and gives me goose bumps. I run the risk of sounding incredibly trite when I say that I value life even more and that my stance towards life was forever and radically changed thereafter.
So here it goes.
Date: July 26th 2005, Tuesday. Location: Mumbai, India
For me, it will always be my eternally beloved ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ inspite of its innumerable scars and pitfalls. It is this enduring spirit of Mumbai that has taught me resilience and how to take everything on the chin and get on with life with a smile.
It is a usual weekday morning rush with people leaving for work at the earliest in order to beat the traffic woes.
It is a usual weekday morning rush with people leaving for work at the earliest in order to beat the traffic woes. The bumper-to-bumper traffic gets frustrating especially during the peak hours, so I decide not to take my car, and instead ask my husband to drop me on his way to work. I had a meeting at Vakola, ahead of my office and inspite of the snail speed traffic, managed to reach on time.
Got into the groove and lost track of time. It was way past 2 pm and I could hear the whistling sounds of the trees and the glass windows banging with winds gusting at them. It was cloudy and stormy outside but a heavy lashing of rains in July is normal, so nothing seemed unusual on the face of it.
In those days, I used to carry a rather dependable CDMA handset (nowhere in comparison to the swanky phones that you get these days); however it never fell short keeping me connected at the hour of need.
Left with no choice, I had to get down from the auto and be on the road in ankle deep water stranded and absolutely clueless on what to do next.
I got down trying to reach for an auto and managed to get one; however, due to heavy rains, water had started clogging the drains and overflowing on the roads crippling the traffic. The auto was wobbly with water getting in from both sides and it couldn’t move an inch. Left with no choice, I had to get down from the auto and be on the road in ankle deep water stranded and absolutely clueless on what to do next. I was completely drenched and shivering with strong gusty winds blowing against me.
My husband called anxiously, learning that the torrential rains have led to water logging and submergence of certain low-lying pockets. He suggested that I stay put wherever I was and that he would come to pick me up. By then, I had already started walking towards the highway junction and climbed up on a bus.
After almost 15-20 minutes of incessantly trying to reach my parents, I was lucky to get through and informed them that we were safe. I also told them that due to heavy rains, the mobile networks may get congested and that they shouldn’t worry in case they are unable to reach us.
My mobile network started behaving erratically and I was desperate to atleast send a message to my husband updating him on where I was stranded. Amidst chaos and the frenzy of hundreds of people, the traffic came to a complete halt and water started getting into the bus as if a floodgate had broken loose. That feeling was inexplicable to say the least. All the passengers including me hurriedly got down from the bus, which was floating in the water like a paper boat.
I got a frantic call from my husband, whom I could manage to hear faintly. He said that he couldn’t take his car out since his office parking was waterlogged, so he had started walking but the water levels were rising and he would not be able to reach me anytime soon. I told him to go back to the office and not wander on the roads since the situation here was getting worse to say the least. Even before I could complete the call, the line got disrupted abruptly.
It was already more than an hour and at a snail speed I could only reach the highway, which is barely a ten minutes distance. It was overwhelming to see people of all age groups, not known to each other come together in forming human chains in order to reach a safe destination and I gladly joined in too.
In nothing short of a miracle, I got a message from my husband mentioning that he had contacted my colleague staying at Goregaon to please accommodate me for the evening till he could reach me. I somehow did manage to acknowledge the message asking him not to worry and be safe indoors.
I walked endlessly for more than an hour; my legs were sore and my body felt heavier drenched in the murky waters. There was a point when the water almost touched my neck and the flow of water was so strong that it could take anyone swirling in any direction. Feeling helpless and tormented with the lashing of nature, I kept walking along with others; however the speed reduced as our bodies were exhausted and minds emotionally distressed.
There was water everywhere and a few cars, which were submerged, lay nose deep in the waters with only a portion of their roofs visible from a distance. It was tormenting to be walking and be brushed by the floating dead body of a dog; the sights of dead buffaloes and cows with bloated bodies in the dirty murky waters made me choke and I wanted to throw up; the feeling was incomprehensible.
There was a heavily pregnant lady who was gasping for breath after walking in deep waters for so long.
There was a heavily pregnant lady who was gasping for breath after walking in deep waters for so long. Somehow I managed to drag her alongside and walk through the high-level water area to reach the flyover bridge where water levels were much lower. I sat on the pavement; my feet cold and severely bruised. My palm felt numb and wrinkled. My body was shuddering and I had shallow gasps.
It started getting darker and people started to scatter; the roads seems endless and the passage daunting.
I realized that if I didn’t push myself to get up and move ahead, I may have to stay on the roads throughout the night and perhaps just by myself. Somehow I gathered the strength and pulled myself together to walk ahead. It was still a while before I could reach my colleague’s house; I knew her house but not the exact apartment number.
Her house was below the flyover and I had to cross a narrow stretch, which was heavily waterlogged due to a landslide and barely lit. There were 3-4 people manning the bylane, who hurriedly came towards me to offer help. I showed them my colleague’s flat from a distance and requested them to accompany me to cross the stretch. They told me that the water was very high – almost my height and that it would be unsafe to let me go there. They also warned me that two people had died of electrocution and entrapment in the nearby area a while back and that I shouldn’t take a chance.
I just stood there blank for a while feeling numb and distorted from within. I didn’t know what I was doing but I remember walking into the water with flipping motions followed by random grasping and struggling just to breathe. I could feel the water getting into my mouth and an excruciating pain in my chest/lungs as if I was almost choking trying to stay afloat.
At that point, I could see my life crack down like a pack of cards and I realized how helpless I was; how irrelevant and insignificant my ability to control things were.
These are my hazy recollections of the incident; I don’t remember what happened after that, it’s more like a blank, and there are these gaps that I couldn’t fill till date.
Much later in the evening, I realized that I had reached my colleague’s apartment, climbing up the stairs. There was no power and no elevator, it was dark and barely anything was visible from a distance. I knocked on her door and since my husband had already informed her, she was expecting me. She made me sit, offered me a glass of water and it took me a while to gather my senses and untangle the emotional whirl.
I have a lot of fondness and gratitude towards my colleague, now a dear friend, to have accommodated me for the next two days till I could reunite with my husband and go home.
The havoc caused by the torrential rains was way beyond comprehension; the entire city came to a halt, roads were cracked wide open, trees were uprooted, dead bodies of destitute animals were lying on the roads; shops, houses and establishments were ruined, people lost their dear ones, property, valuables and basic necessities, there was shortage of water, fodder and provisions. The cacophony of nature continued for the next two days before things started gradually getting back to normalcy.
What is worth mentioning is that after surviving the high water levels, while I was walking alone in the dark to reach my colleague’s apartment, I believed that I had someone physically next to me guiding me all the way upto her apartment.
What is worth mentioning is that after surviving the high water levels, while I was walking alone in the dark to reach my colleague’s apartment, I believed that I had someone physically next to me guiding me all the way upto her apartment. Many a times I have checked with my colleague, if someone was there with me and every time her answer was no, I was alone at the door, panting heavily and looking dazed.
Clichéd as it may sound; some questions are best left unanswered.
This experience has firmed my belief of ‘the undeniable presence’ beyond human lives and changed my perspective towards life. I have come to fathom that everything is momentary; either we capture the moment and let it be ours or let go of it. It was like a rebirth for me, a second chance to capture all the moments and make them mine forever.
Since then, everyday, every single day, I shower my deepest gratitude and reverence to that ‘power’ for my life, my existence, my intimate associations and the passion with which I live, love and laugh.
Flood image via Shutterstock
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