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Sunday Special » Kaleidoscope

Posted at: Sep 10, 2017, 12:47 AM; last updated: Sep 10, 2017, 2:18 AM (IST)

When Mumbai sank, Mumbaikars stayed afloat

Shiv Kumar in Mumbai
When Mumbai sank, Mumbaikars stayed afloat
NOT AGAIN! People wade through a waterlogged road during heavy rain in Mumbai. PTI file

Shiv Kumar in Mumbai

NEWS photographers looking to draw parallels between Mumbai and Venice were left disappointed as the authorities did not bring out the inflatable dinghies to rescue Mumbaikars when the city was flooded on August 29. The water levels kept rising to seven feet in some parts of the city, but residents simply scampered to higher ground and waited for the rainwater to recede.

“We were prepared to requisition inflatable dinghies and fibre-glass boats from the Navy and the Coast Guard if the water levels had risen further,” says an official of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Heavy rains and floodings are an annual feature in Mumbai, formed by seven islands joined together by land reclaimed from the sea. Parts of the city lie below sea-level, and should heavy rains coincide with high tide, the pumps that drain the water in the Arabian Sea are shut down.

The smart office-goer and the slum dweller habiting Mumbai’s flood-prone areas simply pull up their trousers and wade through stagnant water to get home or their places of work. In a city where necessity foists instant comradeship, people reach out to their neighbours in distress. The rich Miss nonchalantly lets the maid stranded with her in the local train call home from her iPhone. 

The slumdweller thinks nothing of passing on packets of biscuits and bottles of water to motorists stuck in their Audis. Reacting to a BBC article ‘Houston floods: Night curfew bid to stop robbery and looting’, industrialist Anand Mahindra contrasted the American city with Mumbai. “And here in Mumbai, a friend stuck in a car to the airport for five hours told me that slumdwellers came out to serve stranded people tea & biscuits,” he tweeted.

Stuck on a flooded street and unable to find an app-cab, Shikha Chawla found solace in yellow top kaali peeli. The cabby who was on a personal errand for a job-hunting relative offered to take Shikha home. It took the taxi six hours to reach her destination. 

“Not once did this man, flip, complain or ask me to walk my way to the destination,” Shikha wrote of the taxi driver on Facebook. To return the favour, Shikha has shared the mobile number of the cabby’s relative so that people could help the young man find a job in Mumbai. Religious places too opened their doors to all. At many places, devotees simply curtailed the Ganesh festival and turned the pandals into places of refuge. WhatsApp and Google Maps helped guide stranded people to those offering them a dry spot and some food and water. Elsewhere gurdwaras and churches opened their assembly halls for people to rest their weary feet.

Parishioners of St Joseph’s Church in Vikhroli got the station manager to announce that two halls had been made available for commuters. The Navy set up community kitchens and provided food at Churchgate, Byculla, Parel, CST, Worli, Tardeo, Mumbai Central, Dadar, Mankhurd, Chembur, Malad and Ghatkopar. The railway employees told local newspapers of how slumdwellers living along the tracks provided them with water, biscuits and vada pav.

Mumbaikars said they managed a lot better than in July 26, 2005, when the city received more than 900 mm of rain in just a few hours. People in their offices were alerted on WhatsApp and other social media forums and chose to stay put. Many Mumbaikars take the precaution of keeping a spare change of clothes in their offices just for such contingencies. “It was just a matter of a single night. We cooked kichdi in the office canteen and waited for the rain water to recede by morning before returning home,” said Anuradha Metre, a railway employee.

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