Thursday, July 28, 2005

Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi...

So, the Ordeal is over and just about everyone has a Tale to tell. Mine isn't exciting or heroic or memorable. And I'm extremely grateful for that.

The skies were literally black and water had seeped into our ground floor office - for the first time ever. Something was horribly wrong, I realised, looking at huge, huge jam at Prabhadevi, going towards the suburbs. And the empty road going the other way beckoned instead.

It was an easy decision to make because I live in Vashi but also happen to have a home in south Bombay - the one I grew up in and where my parents still live.

But I'm sure many many of us have friends and relatives we could have chosen to stay with - had we known the situation was so bad. And many more would have stayed put in their offices - again if they had an inkling they would have to spend the night in cars and buses.

But information, which is so very plentiful today was just not there on Tuesday evening...

Whether bureau
And I agree that weather forecasting is not an exact science but our met department has such a bad record that had they actually announced "heavy rains expected" no one would even have believed them.

Still, just a simple early warning system that monitors the amount of rainfall by the hour and the flooding situation in about 10 key problem areas could easily be set up. Once the mm of rain and/ or water levels rise above a particular danger level the information could be broadcast over FM, cellular networks and TV.

Now the problem with this is there could be false alarms - logon ko ghar jaane ka bahaana mil gaya, some khadoos bosses might say. But the only other option is jaise chal raha hai - 'bhagwaan bharose' .

Excuses rain down
The most maddening part was Vilasrao Deshmukh coming on TV and laying all the blame on Nature. What about the garbage situation? The desilting of drainage pipes - which never takes place?? Not to forget - miserable suburban town planning.

It takes less than half an hour of medium rainfall to turn the road outside Andheri station into a river of mock amazonian proportion...

Travelling to and fro - even on 'normal' days - is often a nightmare. It really doesn't take much for the whole system to collapse!

The Eternal divide
Restaurants were packed but otherwise things were normal in south Bombay. How, and why? Midday asked the question on many people's minds: Why did city float while suburbs sank?.

On Tuesday, the rains erased all class and economic differences. But the difference between south Mumbai and the suburbs remained stark.

While people from the suburbs were stranded or had to walk for hours to get home, for the lucky south Mumbai lot, home was only a short cab ride away. Why?

Of the many explanations given, the one which was most disturbing but at least partially true: The real reason is that the BMC and other agencies cannot afford to have the ministers and high-profile people living in south Mumbai inconvenienced.

Update, Jul 29: Just learnt that south Bombay received only 73.4 mm of rain so maybe all this analysis is crap - townies were simply lucky!

As reports poured in...
Star News had the most dedicated coverage, I thought, while NDTV scored a coup by pressing Gautam Singhania's helicopter into service to give aerial shots of affected areas.

Makes your wonder, given the competition between news channels, will a fleet of helicopters become as integral to Indian TV stations as OB vans are currently? That is, after all, the American way...

But getting back to the coverage, more than TV, the FM stations provided vital information and connections between people trying to reach each other. Because they had more 'micro' and more frequently updated information about the situation in specific areas - not just the broad picture. As a local medium rightly should.

FM also ruled because there was no electricity in large parts of the city. And with the mobile networks down, about the only useful thing one could do with the handset was tune into the radio!

Wonder though how many cells suffered 'death' by drowning... Despite 'waterproof' covers : )

The Day After
Yes, we are 'bouncing back' - but what choice is there? Mass emigration to Canada??

The newspapers are full of the Mumbaikar's 'never say die' spirit but as Amitabhji once said in that famous song from Mr Natwarlal : "Yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai, lallu?"

There just may be some hope with younger politicians like Milind Deora at least having the guts to admit - on national television - that something is wrong.

But he is merely a Member of Parliament. Not a BMC worker...


  1. totally agree with uday, India is seen as a big market for ppl to invest in, but this rain really showed what poor infrastructure India has, and it definitly doesnt help when most of the govt efforts are either towards the military or towards the upper class. the middle class is growing and what india really needs right now, is not alotta ministers who say we will do this we will do that, but someone who will actually go out there and do it. something i've always wondered too, why are ministers always above 50?

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  3. Hi Rashmi,

    Finally you posted! I have been looking for yours comments since the night between July 26 and 27, when infact I posted my account at my blog and also posted the link in the comments of your earlier post.

    Anyway, candidly speaking, your post is a tad bit lower than expected. But then, expectation is like amoeba growing exponentially with time, and wait increases expectations. Anyway, glad to see your post.

    The biggest point of disagreement that I'd have is thing about the lack of a crisis situation in South Mumbai. Well, ignore the fact that I live in Colaba, work at Nariman Point and beer at Mondy's. But c'mon is it really the well maintained drainage system, Narayan's Rane's photographs that recently moved from Sena posters to Congress', Cuff Parade suede buildings or their sueder inhabitants, that it did not flood in South Bombay. Well, I don't think so. Why? Because I do believe that more rain means more damage/chaos/helplessness versus less rains, all things remaining the same. It rained only 73mm in South Bombay, and 994mm in the suburbs. That's like 13 TIMES less. Who would you blame, the BMC worker fed on South Bombay money?

    On an unrelated note, my deepest respect goes to people who helped others in the time of distress. And to those who survived to tell the tale:

    Welcome my son, welcome to the machine,
    Where have you been?
    It's alright we know where you've been.
    You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,
    You were stuck in your car, helpless for many an hour,
    You blamed the rain, You were in pain,
    Beside the fallen tree and blaming the bee emm cee,
    But in the town you couldn't be,
    And you didn't like the muddy pool,
    And you know you're nobody's fool,
    So welcome to the machine.

    Hope to see more on this from you.


  4. Very well said. But like one person commented in my blog: it might actually be we, the peopel, who are really to blame.

  5. Yes, well it could be that south Bombay recd very little rain... I just read abt that today. But even at Prabhadevi - where my office is - it rained cats and dogs and the water was not more than ankle deep. So kuch to gadbad hai.

    Honestly, since I did not experience the deluge first hand - I could not give a searing first hand account... Of course while I stayed dry in Colaba, my daughter was in Vashi with the neighbour ... and there was no electricity... and she had fever. But considering she was safe and not stuck in a schoolbus I still consider myself lucky!

  6. Divya - the Airtel comment was put up on Tue evening ... when all was chaos... But yes, Airtel was a little more functional than Orange and BPL so one should be grateful :) I'm stil not impressed by the 'free calls' though - that was PR more than public service. Like we care abt a couple of bucks on a day when cabs are charging 1500! Just make sure the service works!! And if it does, use it to broadcast some more useful msgs than locations of coffee shops :)

  7. Rashmi,

    I am a regular at your blog. I just don't say much.

    Most of your posts make for entertaining reading, and most are blessed with crystal clear reasoning. Kudos!

    This one doesn't strike the right note though, even going to the extent of leaving a bitterish taste in the mouth. I think you have to live up to a little more responsibility than stressing on the "town-suburb" divide. Maybe it's my interpretation that's the culprit here. I don't really know. My point being that the issue does not get the sensitivity it deserves.

  8. Rashmi

    no doubt, there should be early warning systems and there should be better forecasts. But cribbing about it is the easier way out, isn't it? Like most mumbaikars, i did my share of wading thru the rainwater. vileparle to Bandra and then dadar west to five gardens, to be exact. But what touched me was the impromptu help groups that were formed, out to help others. Yes, our Government is extremely reactive and it needs to change, but why harp on the obvious? my point: we need to highlight the great work done by the ordinary people. they are the ones who make Mumbai what it is. Most mainstream media and a few bloggers overlook the good news and highlight the bad, doing nothing to improve the situation. If there has to be bias (and I guess one can't remove it) I'd rather that it's on a positive side. (IMHO)
    and as for the systems, railways were up quickly, electricity was down to prevent electrocutions, FM was doing a wonderful job. So, there was method in the madness. Agree with you about the telephone communications though.
    Also, statements like "it does't take much for the systems to collapse" are not really true. if you want to see a systems collapse, please make your way to bangalore one of these days and have a lookie.

  9. Divya - point taken.

    Jaggernaut - I couldn't provide any chicken soup for the soul because - honestly - I did not even get wet. What should I do, make up heart-warming stories ? :)

    Nandan - I lived 24 years in south Bombay and then shifted to the suburbs and so can definitely say there is a vast difference between the level of 'civilisation' between the two sides of Bombay... Maybe Bangalore is worse but that does not offer much consolation!

  10. Hi Rashmi,

    Glad to hear that you:
    1. Did not get wet, I was in the same boat. Oops, thats a mean phrase to use these days!
    2. Agree that there's more science to the Town-Suburbs distribution of distress.

    Anyway, my Day 2 account, written by a townie, about colleagues from suburbs is at Bad Times, Good Spirits.

    I am sure glad to have been largely unaffected, but wonder what would it be like, "survive to tell the tale".

    Trying to compile stories, will post more.



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