(Written Jointly with Hemant Suthar)
It was Tuesday morning. Of all the days on our calendar we had to pick THIS one to go shopping. JL was visiting Bombay from NY and had to visit new malls in the Mills. My heart was NOT in it. I kept thinking of rains and the possible inconveniences it can cause.
As we stepped out of the shop, we started having a feel for what was in store for us. The cab had a tough time getting out of the waterlogged compound. It got stalled on Parel Bridge and the cells were not working. I suddenly managed to get Hemant on cell, and barked out - "Get ready we gotta leave asap! The city is flooded."
Back in the office, all sane ones were gone. Insane ones like us were still there arguing "So what if the trains have stopped - But we have the car." We all have this weird notion that if we have a car, we will somehow manage it never realizing that there will be no road for that car to travel on.
We set out - the four of us. The road looked ok. No water so far. May be a little under Parel bridge, we said indulgently. ("My Honda can take a little water!" Hemant said fondly. He also calls his car 'Black magic Woman'!) We all sat with our noses glued to the window.
Fifteen feet down the road- water. And water. and then more water. Hemant accepted the gravity of the situation, "Just keep looking at the tires of small cars. If a Zen can go thru, we can too."
Soon it was clear to us that Zen was NOT going to make it thru this and neither was our Honda. That was the time I suddenly felt water in my shoes. We all kept quiet about it, hoping it will go away if we just pretended it's not there. Feeling the water climb up a half inch at a time was a nerve raking experience.
We concentrated on the disaster outside and felt a bit better about being inside. Water level was alarmingly high and rising higher. Children going home from school, old women negotiating the traffic, people every where, young men ready to help push a stalled car.
Even in this chaos there were few couples completely oblivious to their surrounding and enjoying a cozy walk huddled together in an umbrella.
I suddenly felt something icy cold creeping under my butt and the realization dawned!! Gits, JL and I looked at each other in wide eyed amazement. Now it was difficult to ignore the water anymore. JL decided it was time for action and started to bail out the water with an empty water bottle she found in the car. She urged us to do the same. Gits joined the action. I reminded them of the laws of physics and warned no amount of bailing was going to help. I am a great believer of conservation of energy, especially my own. I have noticed that in times of crisis, Action, how ever futile, gives us a feeling of being in control of the situation. JL and Gits feverishly poured the water out - till one man testily requested them not to add more water outside, as there was enough already.
Totally we had traveled about a hundred yards. Hemant decided to abandon the cherished car under the Parel bridge. We all felt that sooner we are done wading in the water the better and it was getting dark. We had been battling the elements for 2 hours already. When we stepped out in the water, it was almost waist high. Slowly we started walking back. It is difficult to describe this journey. We crossed roads, vehicles, people, side walks, holding on to each other, hoping with each step we
don't step in a man hole. A few time something long slithered and coiled around my ankles. Soon we were in knee high water and could walk without holding hands.
Rain was still coming down in buckets. Hemant remembered the camera in my bag. I agreed to click photos only if some one held the umbrella over my head. I refused to let the camera get wet. So there I was, standing in the middle of the road, in knee deep water, with an umbrella over my head- clicking away merrily, No wonder most of them thought I was the Press. There were requests to shoot their photos too, and people stopped and posed happily.
We walked down some more, boys in ragged clothes had formed a circle around an open manhole invisible under water and were warning pedestrians away from it. This is the Bombay I know and love.
Gits spotted a Bombay Dying showroom and decided we need towels. She and Hemant marched in while JL and I stood outside in the water and rain. 10 mins, 15 mins, 20 mins- they were still at it. JL asked loudly – what's the matter ? if they refuse to sell towels just drip all over their shop.' Hemant came out to inform us that Gits was looking for the right shade. The right shade to what I never quite found out. But in that surrealistic moment even this explanation made sense. We reached Hemant's office which we had left 3 hours ago. There was shelter for us, warm food, steaming coffee, telephones that worked, internet connection, clean toilets, even automatic hand driers which that evening dried much more than hands. It was Heaven.
Our stay there till next day and our return back to civilization - that's another story.