THE DAY MUMBAI WENT UNDER WATER

Flooding is not new to Mumbai. Every year when the monsoon hits the shores of Mumbai there are at least a couple of days when things come to a standstill. All roads in the low lying areas like Gandhi Market, King Circle, Hind Mata are flooded and tracks are flooded so the trains either have completely stopped or are moving at snail’s pace. We the people of Mumbai (or Mumbaikars as we like to call ourselves) have learnt to take it (among other things) in our stride. If it’s raining very heavily The children will get a day or two off from school as a rainy day. Office goers will leave the office early so that they reach home safely. Or if they have an option they will work from home. That’s it! It’s life as usual!

That’s the reason maybe we were so unprepared for the day when almost the whole of Mumbai went under water. Here I tell you the story of what I faced during the Mumbai floods. I have tried to keep the mood a little light but that doesn’t mean I want to trivialise the devastating effects of the floods. I am just trying to show the disbelief that we had in accepting that it can happen to Mumbai.

It was the July of 2005, 26th July to be precise. The day started as usual. I and my husband both left for office. My mother in law and my 2-year-old son were at home. I was 7 months pregnant at that time. My friends used to tease me that I looked like a baby elephant because of my bloated looks and my funny walk. But I was working and continued to work till the end of the 9th month. I actually enjoyed all the pampering I used to get from my colleagues. Coming back to July 26th.

It was raining heavily and incessantly since morning. Nothing alarming about it. There was a warning of High Tide also. Till lunch time it was work as usual after that we started hearing murmurs of flooding. We still thought that our areas never get flooded. It’s a problem for only the people who stay in low lying areas. But suddenly by 3 pm, it was announced that the office buses are leaving. We were glad for an early day off and went in the sat in the buses. It was only when the bus left the campus and reached the highway that we realised something was seriously wrong. The road was like a flowing river. At one point under the flyover, our bus was caught in swirling waters. Water on the road was so high that it was covering almost all of its tyres. The bus swayed as it moved through the water. After a lot of struggle on part of the engine and the driver, we finally came out of it and on to the next flyover. But the poor government bus engine had only this much life in it and it conked off. Still, no issues the highway ahead of us didn’t have much waterlogging. And we thought we had left the worse behind thinking that we will keep walking towards Navi Mumbai and we will take the lift from the vehicles coming and reach home.

All the vehicles coming from Mumbai were completely full people were hanging from the doors and sitting on the roof. With no chance of getting any lift we kept walking, a group of 10-12 people we walked around 10 km on the highway that day. Yes me too with my big belly! The distance which looked so short when travelling by car felt endless to us. No mobile network too. Once when I got network on my mobile there were more than 30 missed calls from my husband. He was so worried about me. I could relay to him that I was safe but still far from home.

When we left the highway and turned into Navi Mumbai I stared at the road ahead of us in complete disbelief. Our myth that this part of the city never got flooded was shattered. The road was completely submerged.  Only the top of the divider was visible. We all formed human chains and walked on the divider. One glimmer of hope came when we saw that buses were still leaving from Vashi depot. But one bus and there are hundreds of passengers scrambling to get on it. At this point of time, I can only praise the ladies accompanying me. They shouted on the top of their voice that there is a pregnant woman (me!) with us and made through the throng of people. They managed to get me a seat also on the bus.

As the bus moved through the bylanes of Vashi we saw to our horror half-submerged cars they seemed like floating on water. The bus was actually creating waves in the road and tearing through the water. On reaching my lane I was alone walking in the middle of the road as the water was least there. At the end of the lane was a stormwater drain. The water flow was so high that I felt that if I slip and fall I will be dragged into the drain. I called out to the watchman of our building to come out and help me cross the road. He held my hand and we waded through the water and I finally entered my building.  

It was midnight by the time I reached home. I was dead tired and my two year old had cried himself to sleep before I reached. But I must say I was much better off.

My husband waded through waist-deep water for 2-3 km. And reached home only the next day. Some places were so badly flooded that the whole houses were submerged. There was a colleague whose house was filled with water till the ceiling fan. The clothes, electronics, furniture etc were all rendered completely useless as the water was very dirty and filthy. Another friend of mine told us how they walked on the roof of parked cars to directly enter the upper floors of their house. People told stories of how water started bubbling up from the drains in the bathroom and flooding the house.

At least we lived to tell our tales. The official death toll of that day is 1094. Some people got sucked into the stormwater drains. Some died trapped in their car. This is a particularly sad story. When the water level started rising on the roads many people thought that they were safer in the car. But when the water rose further the central locking system got submerged into the water and stopped working, they got locked inside the car. And then the pressure of water was so high outside that they couldn’t open the doors manually too and were trapped inside and lost their life. This shows how unprepared we Mumbaikars were, how we took it lightly at first. They must have thought that they will wait it out in the car for waters to recede. Never thought that it was a life-threatening situation.

Of course, there are many other stories of how Mumbaikars helped each other. And how the famous resilient spirit of Mumbaikars helped the city limp back to normalcy.

But what we saw that night was unbelievable. The whole city was submerged in water. And the first reaction of everyone was disbelief. How can it happen to our Mumbai? But it did and you know why? First and foremost is the combination of incessant rains and high tide. And secondly, the British era drainage systems which are taking a load of a city growing uncontrollably and destruction of mangroves that used to work as a barrier to stop water from coming in. The sea reversed the flow of the very same drains that threw sewage into the sea and brought the water on to our roads and inside our houses. It was natures warning to us.

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A ROOM IN MY HOUSE THAT I CALL MY OWN

There is no place like home. It’s our sanctuary, a safe haven, a place where we feel tranquil, away from the hustle bustle of the day to day life. It is a place where we can reflect on life. Have you noticed that in the house there is always a corner or a place or a room which becomes our favourite? We want to spend our free time there. My house is full of such corners. Each member of the family has a favourite place.

Let’s start with the youngest in the family. Most of his free time my younger son can be seen sitting on a chair next to the computer table in one corner of my room, eyes glued to the computer screen, a window by his side with cool the breeze coming in and he is immersed in the make-believe world of the computer games. His favourite songs playing on the computer. If he is allowed he will do his homework there, have his food also sitting there and spend all waking hours there. Of course, he is not allowed to do that but I can safely declare that as his favourite corner in the house.

For my elder son, it’s the couch in the living room. With his legs propped up on the divan and a book or at times mobile phone in his hand and earphones plugged in he looks like a crocodile relaxing in the sun. He loves this place so much that if you take a look at my sofa you will see the difference, this particular couch shows more signs of wear and tear as compared to the others in the same set. 

My hubby is either tapping away on the laptop at the table or relaxing on the divan in the living room. I wonder how he finds it so comfortable. He is taller than the divan’s length and his legs dangle out but that is his favourite place to relax. I keep telling him that we have bigger beds in the house to relax but all my talks fall on deaf ears. To each his own.

As for me, let me confess first I am a born TV addict. So my favourite place is my room one corner of my bed. Television switched on in the background filling in the room with the dialogues of the latest sitcom and me completing all my mundane chores. Folding the clothes, ironing, setting things in the cupboard, cutting and chopping veggies, kneading the flour, putting covers on my kids books, making their school project etc. anything which is routine and mundane you can see me perched on one corner of my bed watching TV and finishing up the work as well. I am sure this confession makes me sound very uncool. These days no one wants to watch the daily soaps that the Indian television dishes out. But for me, I have always loved stories like people love to hear songs I love to hear stories so these daily soaps turn my otherwise mundane and routine jobs into something interesting.

Otherwise, also my room is my sanctuary. If you have ever stayed in a joint family you will understand, your room is the only part of the house which you can truly call your own. This is the place which you can decorate as you like and where you can sit or relax as you like without anyone else judging you. It is truly me: this room has witnessed many happy moments in my life and the pillow on my bed has soaked in countless tears of sorrow.

Which is your favourite haunt in your house? Do share…

IT BRINGS AN EXTRA SPRING IN MY STEPS…

There is a flood of Reality Shows on TV. Dance competitions, singings battles, talent hunts, cooking competitions, etc. What makes people turn up in such huge numbers for this? One basic requirement – of being recognised, of being appreciated. Of course, there is the lure of the prize money also but for most of them it is the appreciation they get for the hard work they put in for each show, that is the biggest motivator.

I can say this from my own experience. While I was doing a job I used to thrive on appreciation. Of course, I did not get appreciated for every work of mine (I was not that good employee!!) but then whenever I got appreciated for a job well done there was a sense of achievement in me. Satisfaction of a job well done and being recognised for its worth. It could be a very small thing like a file submitted on time or a bigger thing like a huge presentation in front of the top bosses. A small word of appreciation also unknowingly brings an extra spring in my step. The other worries begin to seem a bit distant, at least for some time.

Basically, I am a very lazy person. Especially when it comes to the routine and mundane chores of life. I admit I am a huge procrastinator. I realised this about myself when I left my job and became a full-time homemaker (or as they say commonly ‘house-wife’). I am sure all my friends in a similar situation will agree with me when you do household chores the compliments and appreciations you get are few and far between. On the other hand, people start questioning “What do you do the whole day?” If you put in extra effort and make a tasty meal then there will be a shower of compliments but who will appreciate the daily ka Dal Chawl (Rice and Pulses). Life is not like the Surf Excel commercials where the husband is ecstatic and swooning when the wifey makes his dirty shirt white again. In this phase of my life what I missed the most was appreciation (and also my salary  😉 ). The whole day you work but the work had no meaning at all. Next day again the same routine.

Once I started writing for Candles online, initially I had very little confidence in my abilities. I used to be over the moon if I got a comment of appreciation on my article. It was like the work I was doing made sense again. You won’t believe for the first few articles I used to go online every fifteen minutes and check the number of likes and views. And the words of appreciation from the Boss Man himself gave me confidence and motivated me to write again and again.

Recently, I have started working again. The other day a friend of mine complimented me that you are looking good, or rather looking better than earlier. Her words made me wonder what has changed. Stepping out into the work world again, I realised that the very fact that I am going out and meeting others and the way I present myself would be noticed has made me take a bit extra care while dressing up. Earlier when I was going down to the bus stop to pick up my kids from school I was not bothered about how I looked. Who will notice anyway? That was my thought process.

I could be wrong. There is another school of thought on this point. Which says that we should not live our life by what others say about us. We should do what makes us happy even if the world thinks we are wrong. I agree to that completely. We cannot channel our life based on other people’s opinions. But a few words of appreciation do matter.

I can vouch for myself. A few words of appreciation or a tiny bit of recognition really do make my day. In that way, I am a true blue Leo.  I crave for appreciation, I thrive on appreciation.

Try it sometime. Try telling a lady that she has lost weight and she will be smiling away the whole day. Or compliment her on the dress she is wearing, you have boosted her confidence for the day. Appreciate your house help on a job well done and she will try to keep up that standard every day. Appreciate your child’s achievement, however small it may be and see how he gets motivated to do more.

People do crave for recognition, they do thrive on appreciation as we do.

LANGUAGE OF HEART

Mother tongue holds great importance in a country like India wherein every few kilometers the language changes. The Mother Tongue is usually the first language a child hears. This is the language in which our parents talk to us.

I stay in Maharashtra state in India. The mother tongue of the people here is Marathi. I have picked up a little of Marathi in the few years that I have stayed here. And it has been my personal experience that if I speak to a Maharashtrian in his native tongue that person’s smile is a bit wider, I get a little bit more warmth from them or if I use it selfishly the file moves quite a bit faster in the Government Offices.

If you are staying in a metro city or any other cosmopolitan city, one thing you must have noticed. Here we usually have a mixed crowd, people belonging to different states and hence having different mother tongues. In a party or get together if two or three Bengalis meet they automatically switch to the Bengali language oblivious of the fact that they have effectively cut everyone else out of the conversation as others can’t understand or speak Bengali. This is true for any other mother tongue be it Tamil, Gujarati or Punjabi etc. We have to usually point it out to them and bring the conversation back to Hindi or English which everyone can understand.

Why does it happen?

It is because the mother tongue is the language of the heart. If we meet someone having the same mother tongue as ours we feel a natural kinship with that person. There are a certain closeness and our mind without realising switches to talking in our mother tongue.

There is another side to the coin though. With inter-state, inter-religion or inter-caste marriages being very common in our country now, the kids of such marriages are now having dual mother tongues. I have seen children who are fluent in both the languages and I have also seen children who speak neither of the two and only speak in common languages like English and Hindi.

Another thing is that our children now mostly study in English medium schools. The young parents these days in a bid to make their kids excel in school and talk to their children solely in English. The child becomes very fluent in English but looses out on developing a close relationship with their mother tongue.

I am not judging any of the parenting styles, I just hope that the bond of the heart and the mother tongue remains strong and doesn’t die out.

WHAT IF THEY TAKE OVER THE WORLD?

To be very frank my exposure to robots is absolutely zero. Whatever knowledge I have is from the movies my husband and children are a huge fan of. After my marriage and kids I have been on a staple diet of movies like The Terminator series, The Transformer Series, The Star Wars Series, The Iron man series etc.

If you have seen any of these movies the robots are tall towering or having huge physical strength or having weapons to mass destruct the humans.

  • In the Terminator Series the robots decide to take over the world and the humans are the resistance fighting with the robots
  • In the Transformer Series the Autobots and Decepticons are two warring communities of Robots that can transform themselves into cars. The Autobots are friendly with humans but Decepticons are out to take over the Earth and destruct the humans.
  • The Star Wars Series has all sorts of aliens and robots some are friendly but most are not.
  • Iron man has an operating system JARVIS which is almost like human. The hero Tony Stark creates robots and other inventions which at times turn rogue and again are out to (Again) destroy humans.

So frankly speaking I am paranoid about something like the SkyNet (from terminator) taking over the world. We are creating robots that are faster than humans, have more abilities, are more powerful etc. What if they decide that they are superior to the humans and they don’t require the humans? Hope we don’t make a Frankenstein that starts considering the humans dispensable.

I don’t know if it is plain paranoia or is there a real chance of such a thing happening. Recently I read an article about the Facebook and Google using Artificial Intelligence and the AI producing more program code which the humans are having a tough time following / decoding. What if it keeps building on over it and reaches a stage where we don’t know what is being coded. Anyways I always feel irritated that the AI in FB decides whose comments will be seen on my FB wall.

There have been incidents in which Alexa has accidentally recorded some private conversations in the house and sent it to someone else. Ok this was an error but what if someone deliberately programs it to eavesdrop on us.

Given a choice I would prefer interacting with a human rather than a robot. I know humans have their own shortcomings but at least I know how to deal with them.

On the other hand, I am sure that many of you will be thinking that I am being too old fashioned or rigid in my thought process. Even my family thinks so. My eldest son wants to be a robotic engineer, and make a Iron Man Suit of his own. So I might as well make peace with them.

Robots are here to stay; they will definitely be a part of our future. Alexa and Siri are already being widely popular. Only thing is I hope the future engineers keep sufficient safeguards on their inventions.

I am not being a doomsday announcer I am just being skeptical about the robots.

A SNOWFLAKE’S TALE – PART VII

Renuka was still teasing Arijit about the morning’s incident. Arijit was also taking it sportingly.

He said, “You know, one good thing happened in this whole melee Sia smiled a bit for the first time since she came here.

That’s great!” said Mrs Shaw.

Looks like she is finally adjusting here. You know the kids had started calling her ‘The Weird One’. She used to sit in a corner and talk to her imaginary Mom.

She talks only to Aarav. Yesterday she asked Aarav whether he too is playing hide and seek with his Mom. A strange question don’t you think?

Give her some time dear. She will be fine. She has such a cute innocent face I feel an emotional connection with her already.” Reassured Arijt.

In the night, when Sia was lying on the bed she was talking to her mom and telling her about what happened with her the whole day. “Rohan is such a baby. He is scared of lizards. He turned the whole house topsy turvy today when he saw a lizard. Every body was running around and Mr Shaw was also running. Do you think Mr Shaw is also scared of lizards? Tell me Mom? Tell me, are grownups also scared?

Mumma is everyone here playing Hide and Seek? I don’t want to play this anymore. I want you back. I don’t want the gift. But please Mumma come and stay here with me. You will like Mrs. Shaw, she is a nice lady. You can help her in her work.” Sia was missing her mom terribly. She craved for the bed time stories, the games and the food her mom made for her. People here in the orphanage were very nice to her, there were toys to play and food to eat. But still it felt incomplete. She fell asleep as she was conversing to herself.

Meanwhile Meera was still trying to comprehend what was happening to her. Things were moving a bit too fast for her to cope. She was taken into a medical room and blood samples were taken and lot of tests were done. She didn’t have the energy to protest. She was given food and then sent to a room. The bed was comfortable. It was only after she lay down on the bed, that her mind started whirring with multiple questions. “Did they really want her to rent out her womb? But Why will I do that?” Panic was setting in. “What will happen to Sia? How can I stay here? No, I need to get to my daughter as quickly as I can.” She tried to run but the door was locked. She was a prisoner here. Horror stuck Meera as she realised that she had jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

KEEP LEARNING

Another year coming to an end. 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes or 31536000 seconds coming to an end. I am not the kind of person who will look back and try to introspect on the year gone by. I usually look ahead with excitement towards the coming year.

But this year has been different. There has been a lot which was different this year and it has taught me a lot of things. So today I feel qualified to write this article. There are two major lessons I learnt this year. Actually, it’s not some new age gyan I stumbled upon. We all know these things, we just tend to conveniently neglect it or forget it.  

Be Grateful: One lesson I learnt in the year gone by is not to take things for granted. Be happy and thankful for what you have. However boring or straightforward your life may seem, there are many blessings in your life. Value them and be grateful for them. You never know when they will go away and then we will realise their importance in our life.

Be ready to Evolve: Or in other words don’t be complacent. I made that mistake. After marriage, kids and family life happened I got myself so involved in these things that I didn’t work on myself.  Keep evolving. Keep learning. Try to improve your qualifications or maybe just learn a new skill or hone an old hobby. Basically, keep adding to your personality. You never know when these skills come in handy.

Life will always throw a googly at you at the most unexpected time it helps to be grateful for what you have and be prepared for what is going to come.