Yesterday I was out. I took my mother for her post-op check-up. This wasn’t the bhutta and garam chai kind of rain. It was frightening.
We had to change route four times to get to the hospital. I am not complaining. I cannot. The scenes I saw in the street wouldn’t let me. People were holding on to each other, vehicles were stalled, rows of shops that I 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?
Yesterday, 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.
This is a view of the waters before the greater deluge where once there was a street.
Here is Bandstand just before we were stopped.
Mount Mary’s Church with the plastic sheet-covered candle stalls.
These are the downed shutters of shops and in the far right corner a man who has found shelter.
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 I have shown you, the places I have mentioned are the so-called elite areas of the suburbs. The road where the cop stopped us from entering houses Shahrukh’s, Salman Khan’s and Rekha’s homes.
The encroachments are not only the slums but the illegal buildings. 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 your filth and mine 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.