In the bustling Metropolitan of Mumbai, we have three seasons - hot-sweaty-dusty, wet-damp-cool, and hot-not-so-sweaty. What the Northern Hemisphere knows as the summer season, we know as the monsoons, or the wet-damp-cool season, between the months of June and September. Summer never really ends in this city, it just takes a break.
Given the incompetency of the city's Municipal Board and other powers-that-be, Mumbai is a nightmare during the monsoons. The only constant factor is the increase in the number of potholes, every year. Roads get worse, people get crankier, and traffic disasters get innovative. The irony here is that the population in the city, ever-increasing, longs for the monsoons. It waits eight months looking at the skies, missing the dark clouds, reminiscing about the joys of tea (yes, we drink more tea than the British), and oily pakodas (deep-fried gram flour batter with chillies and onions, mostly), that do not taste the same in any other season. Very rarely do the citizens of Mumbai remember the woes that befall them every monsoon. And there are more than just a handful.
The roads, to begin with. The skies piddle a teaser shower, and the roads become un-motorable. Cars break down, autorickshaws bang into cars, and buses become overcrowded. This affects traffic drastically, to put it mildly. Suddenly, it takes half an hour to cross half a kilometer. No concessions are made for latecomers, either at work, or at home, and definitely not at airports and railway stations. Too bad if you miss your flight. Since you are a Mumbaikar (resident of Mumbai), you should know that traffic gets this way, when there is a cloud and less than five minutes of light showers.
Public transport fares no better, especially the local train. Known as the 'lifeline of Mumbai', the local railway network connects the most far-flung suburb with the center of the city. Given the state of the roads, monsoons or no monsoons, and the distances to be covered, about 3/4 of the population prefers the local trains as a mode of transport to get anywhere. Despite bomb blasts, bomb scares and occasional strikes, the trains chug on. Except during the monsoons. The railway is still operational, but flooded tracks cause massive delays and cancellations, not to mention larger crowds that want to avoid the roads altogether.
Flooding or water-logging is yet another natural consequence. In all these years of Independence, the relevant authorities have not yet managed to figure out how to get rid of the water that catches a pedestrian by his ankles, literally, on a good day. The Mithi River overflows, and that is all there is to it. Funnily enough, the city grows by leaps and bounds, and, every year, it becomes more difficult to make amends to the existing tacky city planning.
Of course, since Mumbai is a part of India, a country that lives, breathes and sleeps politics (and cricket, but that is not relevant to this topic), the blame games begin with the onset of the monsoons. The Opposition blames the current ruling party, who, in turn, blames the Opposition for not doing anything when they were in power, and the other parties, depending on their individual agendas, come up with fresh criticism of one or the other, or both. Nobody seems to have a solution to the problem that the monsoons bring with them, but everybody definitely has a complaint. From buildings that collapse during heavy showers to the lack of lifesavers on beaches, during high tides - each unique problem is somehow politicised, with remedy in sight.
To truly enjoy the monsoons for what they bring - a respite from hot days, mostly, and the chance to wash away the past and begin life afresh - one needs to get out of the city, and visit the countryside. The greenery and the clean roads more than make up for the problems inside the city. Most countryside destinations are a few hours away, provided one can manoeuvre one's way out of the city. Of course, one also needs to keep in mind the fact that he will have to manoeuvre his way back into the city at the end of an idyllic trip.
A few years ago, Mumbai watched in helplessness as the fury of the monsoons almost destroyed the city. There was a deluge that destroyed lives, cars, livelihood and residents. The city was plunged in darkness that night of July 26, and it seemed like the end of the world, as we knew it, was finally here. It was a warning, from Nature, but who believes in such mambo-jambo? Lessons were learned, yes, but not too many, and now, every time the heavens thunder and lash out, people pray to be spared a repetition, and sit tight at home.
So yes, now people look forward to the end of the monsoons, or the Mumbai summer, and heave audible sighs of relief as the clouds disappear. Not that they look forward to the hot days ahead. It is the collective sigh of relief of having survived another year, and within a couple of months, the people of Mumbai get nostalgic about the tea and the pakodas.