India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Streets like rivers

It’s amazing how activity in a major city like Mumbai can be so suddenly disrupted, its people cut off from each other, within a matter of a couple of hours. Yesterday we planned to make a trip to our CA after lunch, but cancelled it after hearing thunderclaps. Nevertheless, I thought I’d go for a coffee to In Orbit after doing a little blogging. It started raining. I did my blogging, looked outside, and saw that the streets were flooded. Knee-deep water. The rain was coming down so hard that the buildings on the other side of the road were hazy, uncertain shapes. I could have been imagining them. Had I gone out anywhere, getting back would have been difficult.

By evening, the water outside was thigh-deep. We turned on the TV for news, all we got was static. It was a wonder that we still had power, and life isn’t wonderful for long, so the power went as well. We were stuck in darkness, trapped in our second-floor apartment, high enough to stop flood-water coming in, low enough to avoid the inevitable leaks from the roof of the building.

My mobile phone battery was running out, and the signal it received was intermittent. The news I got wasn’t encouraging. One blogger friend was stuck in an aeroplane at the airport, waiting to take off as the runway got more and more flooded. Another was travelling in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, where I heard things were so bad that food packets were being air-dropped. I couldn’t get through to him. Yet another one told me that these were the worst rains he had ever seen in Mumbai, a diagnosis confirmed today – this was India’s worst-ever rainfall. And it would last 48 hours, we were told. The electricity supply had been switched off because of the flooding, and would not resume till the water level got back to normal.

For a while in the evening it stopped raining. Young men and children came out to frolic in the water, which was muddy and filthy. Bits of garbage floated on it, and a few plastic bags. The afternoon air had been filled with the crying of street dogs,who ran from one corner of the street to another, trying to get to higher ground. The hour in the evening when the rain held up was filled by the noises of excited children. Some sat on the road divider, dangling bare legs into murky water, still at the age when they enjoyed the water and did not think of the dirt and disease it carried. Then the rains came down again.

The night seemed unreal because it was so dark outside. Even at night we are used to little bits of light here and there: streetlights in the distance; glimmers from windows of buildings; at least stars. The only light we saw, besides the candle inside and the sporadic lightning outside, was from the occasional car gliding through the water, one-third of it submerged, its headlights warning of its arrival in front of our window from a distance. The dark, still water would be disturbed by first ripples and then waves of light and dark, and then the car itself, resolving no doubt to never make fun of boats again. One car broke down in the middle of the road, and the driver abandoned it, leaving its indicator lights flickering all night, so people would know it was there.

Every year in Mumbai there are at least one or two days when life comes to a halt and streets are flooded. If you happen to be in office when it happens, you are invariably stuck there overnight. If are unlucky enough to be commuting, you could spend hours in whatever mode of transport you choose, though often walking makes more sense. Walking 30-40 kilometres in knee-deep water isn’t unusual. Once, when I lived in Chembur, my room-mates had to walk all the way from VT to Chembur through flooded streets. At King's Circle, they waded through chest-deep water. One of them needed to pee, and he did it in his pants. When I expressed surprise at this later he asked, “So how would you have done it?”

And yes, I also slipped into a manhole many years ago near Chembur station. Wading through thigh-deep water, I suddenly felt no ground beneath my feet, and found myself slipping. A couple of men immediately behind me caught me and pulled me. It could have been them slipping through instead of me. That’s one thing about Mumbai: people help each other, because they know that we’re all in it together. You look out for the guys around you, and they look out for you. It’s self-interest.

The rains had stopped by mid-morning today, though the lights took till evening to come. I read some, slept some. The streets were no longer flooded by afternoon, so we went out and had a coffee at a Café Coffee Day that was open nearby. The electricity was coming back to the city in phases, and that welcome clicky sound, and the whirr of the fan starting up, came in the evening, after more than 24 hours without power. We turned on the TV, and the pictures were pretty scary: streets like rivers; thousands of cars abandoned in the highway; and everyhere, brown muddy water. Our city had become its drainage system; soon, that would go underground again, and life would be normal. Until next year.

Note to readers: more rains are forecast, the power may go again, so my blogging may be irregular for a day or two. For further updates on the rains, check Rediff, Mid-Day and NDTV.

Update (July 28): I've been keeping track of things here.
amit varma, 8:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

I recommend: