My city fears rains now. Gone are the days when we looked forward to corn-on-the-cob being roasted over coals on carts and cups of ginger tea. In 2005, we were visited by a deluge that trapped people in cars for hours. Some suffocated and died. Homes got flooded, streets swept people off into nowhere till their unrecognisable bloated bodies had to be identified. There were no poor, no rich people. There were only dead people and those who survived.
When things got slightly better, I had gone out. People were holding on to each other, vehicles were stalled, rows of shops that I had always grumbled caused traffic snarls and stared at me with the latest fashion accessories were shut. Above one row, the windows had come off the hinges.
For the first time I think I looked at my school with affection! It looked lost – I could see the doors of the classrooms closed. How we would wait for the rains for a holiday to be declared and then make paddle-boats of our shoes before we reached home to the safe cocoon of hot chocolate, warm hugs before our hair was towel dried as every strand whipped our faces wet.
Was such innocence dead?
That day, I was surprised to see it still alive. Groups of young boys soaked to the skin were patrolling the areas to help; a young couple whizzed past on a motorbike till it whirred to a stop… the guy looked behind and she smiled and held him close; urchins waved at everyone as they bathed in the muddy water; as we made our way towards Bandstand, a cop in a yellow raincoat motioned us to turn away.
We went via Mount Mary’s church. The carts with candles were covered with sheets, but some were left open. Faith’s flame could not be doused.
I did not get any vicarious thrill clicking these photographs. Some little kids did in fact give me their practised ‘Canon’ised smiles, but I refrained. I just had the camera in my bag and these are the places where I have walked, driven through, prayed, shopped almost everyday of my life.
I did not want to see people “bounce back”. This is what makes others take us for granted. TV channels invite politicians, cops, bureaucrats, admen, citizen’s initiative types who are not in touch with the ground reality. They talk about how Mumbai pays Rs. 60,000 crore in taxes, but the appalling drainage system (said to be anywhere from 70 to 150 years old) is blamed on encroachments.
The pictures, the places I have mentioned are the so-called elite areas of Mumbai’s suburbs. A very fancy atrium structure has come up at the end of the lane where I live; it has caused complete havoc in this once-beautiful stretch. Its silly little waterfall mocks me when it ought to be mocking itself.
I cannot complain. I will not. I saw the municipal guys clearing the garbage, emptying our filth, in the trucks despite the downpour. That would have made for a great picture. But it would have taken away their dignity.
These faceless, nameless people may never ask for it. It is the least we can give them.
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Some pictures are here