It was a Tuesday like any other and I left from home at Andheri, on my regular visit to the Siddhi Vinayak Temple at Prabhadevi in the afternoon after completing my household chores. As expected there was a serpentine queue and by the time I finished my darshan and came out of the temple, it was 3.00 pm. It was raining heavily and I rushed towards the bus stop. A bus came along and I got into it thanking my stars for not having to wait for long. The force of the rain was increasing minute by minute. There was a huge traffic jam at the signal. The bus groaned to a halt at around 3.30 pm. Along with all the other commuters I was patiently waiting for the bus to move. An hour passed, but we were still stuck at the same place.
“Just look at the line of vehicles in front of our bus,” said an old man who was standing in front of me.
I peeped ahead to see the queue of vehicles extending as far as my vision could behold.
“I am getting down now,” I informed the bus conductor. He gave a wry smile.
He knew I was getting tired of the futile wait. I think at least a dozen people left the bus after me. By now, the downpour had increased and had become a deluge. My umbrella flew away from my hands and the force of the wind made me fall down in the water. Three or four college girls were walking in front. One of them helpfully caught my umbrella and another lifted me up.
“ Aunty, take care,” she said. “Walk along with us. Don’t go alone.”
“Okay,” I nodded thankful to have some company.
As we walked, we saw more commuters getting down from stranded vehicles. Soon there was a sea of humanity on the roads.
“The trains have also stopped running,” shouted a passerby.
“That is bad news,” exclaimed my new friend.
By then we had reached Bandra. The water level had risen shoulder high.
“I think we should get into one of the vehicles and inform our parents,” said one of the girls.
“Yes. They may be really worried about you,” I insisted, knowing fully well the perils of parental anxiety.
We got into a stranded bus and all of us were desperately trying to call our homes but the mobile networks had got jammed.
“No use trying, let us move ahead!”
The futility of the situation was visible.
“Can you walk Aunty?” asked the girls in concern.
“Oh, don’t worry about me. I can walk, no problem,” I replied.
The waters were swirling around and somehow we managed to reach Milan subway by around 7.00 pm. All of a sudden, the lights went off. The illumination from the shops lining the road, the street lights, everything went off. It was almost pitch dark. Just then, like a messenger from heaven, the headlights of a fire engine shone lighting the way. Milan subway is known for flooding even on ordinary rainy days. So, one can well imagine how it was at that time. My slippers were washed away, and my sari was sticking to my legs making walking ever harder.
“Want to get into one of the halted cars Aunty?” asked one of my new found friends.
“No.” I flatly refused to give up at this point.
“Walk in the centre,” urged the helpful firemen, who were holding ropes on either side.
“The manholes have opened due to the water pressure. Walk in groups of three or four. Please don’t go to the sides, or you will be sucked in,” they instructed the hapless pedestrians.
The girls were so sweet. They made me walk on top of the divider in the middle of the road, while holding my hands on either side. Somehow we crossed this hurdle.
We had reached Vile Parle. This place was slightly at a higher level. Good Samaritans from the nearby buildings were standing on the road serving the people with biscuits and water. It was already 10.30 pm. The water was slightly at a more manageable waist height.
We walked straight ahead in pitch darkness not knowing where we were even. I knew that the next crossroad junction would be Andheri. My colony being on the main S.V. Road, I was straining my eyes, hoping to find the welcome silhouette of our colony gate.
And for this I had to leave the girls in the middle and go to the side.
“Why don’t you come home with me?” I pleaded with the girls, not feeling happy about leaving them to walk ahead. “You can spend the night at my home and go in the morning.”
“Thanks Aunty. But, no. We will proceed. Our parents will be waiting for us,” they exclaimed in unison, obviously keen to go ahead.
I reached my home at around midnight.
My neighbours were waiting anxiously for me as my aged mother in law, who was alone at home, was almost headed for a nervous breakdown. When she saw me she just flopped down in relief and burst into tears. I was shivering from head to toe. I could not speak.
I glanced at my neighbour. She knew exactly what was going through my mind.
“Both your sons and husband are safe,” she said. “Uncle and your elder son son are in his office at Matunga. We have told them to stay put. And your younger son is Goregaon with his friend. His friend’s mother rang up to say that she is not allowing your son to return till the situation normalizes.”
Only one landline in the colony was working. My neighbour informed my husband and sons that I had reached safely. Fagged out and with my shivers refusing to subside, my Mother in law and myself sat on the sofa in the front room. Sleep eluded us. We just held each other’s hands and waited for dawn. There was still no electricity. But I mustered the courage to open the doors of the other rooms which had been shut by my helpful neighbours. I discovered that everything was under water. But I consoled myself that at least all of us were safe.
In the midst of all this, my thoughts wandered to my four new found friends. I don’t know whether I will ever get to meet them again. It has been fourteen years, but to this day, I still remember them with immense gratitude for the ray of hope they instilled in me and their selfless help to a stranger. They symbolized the attitude of the true Mumbaikar.