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This blog captures the life experiences of the Enigmatic India team in the beautiful and enigmatic country of India.We capture our experiences through our writings, photos and products that depict the very essence and fabric of India.Through this platform, we invite you to join us in our journey as we explore.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What If?...

One of my dear friends once asked me “So how is life treating you now? Is it being nice to you or do I need to escalate the issue with God?” And I smilingly replied…”Things couldn’t have been better”
This is not how I would have reacted a few months ago- July 26th to be precise, the day the deluge happened and Mumbai came to a standstill I still remember vividly details of the entire day and the night and how Elaine and I traveled for 17 hours to reach home.

It was one of the normal rainy days in Mumbai, when it feels like the Gods are crying and the same gloominess rubs on to you. We were conducting a workshop in one of our conference rooms and had no clue what was happening till we were interrupted by someone telling us that it was pouring outside and people are leaving early.

I remember not panicking then as I thought it was just another day. Normally Elaine and I leave together from Andheri. She stays in Bandra and me in Prabhadevi. Most of the days we would take a cab and I would drop her on the way and go.

When we came out of the conference room there was general chaos in office. We realized then that our mobiles had no network. The office lines were down and we were on backup with the generator. Normally our office which has around 1000 people is very lively with lots of light and people bustling around the place. We went down to the canteen to have a bite. On retrospect I realize how good that decision was because we were going to remain hungry for quite sometime after that. The entire office was in the canteen and all that people were talking was about how they would go home.

There were people who had tried walking to the station but had come back after seeing the water on the streets. I don’t know what went into our minds but Elaine and I decided to walk it out. We changed to our gym clothes as the probability of walking it out crossed our mind.

We set out in spite of the tales that we heard about the roads being flooded and the scolding that we got from our friends and boss. What happened in the next 17 hours is something that I had not even thought in my wildest dreams. We started walking out and saw that there was a lot of traffic jam but we went on. There were lots of people in the street all with different colours of umbrellas .As we inched ahead slowly the water started rising up to our ankles and soon we were in knee deep water It was still pouring cats and dogs and our umbrellas provided little respite. In the 5 min that we left office we were all drenched. All that I remember of the 1 hour that we walked from office to the highway is the difficulty with which we could move our feet, the dirty muddy water all over, scores of people with umbrellas sometimes holding hands.The human touch that we almost always abhor when we don’t know a person was not a big deal then…En route we met a few of our colleagues .I remember that there were times when the water was coming in very strong and even the level was rising, but neither Elaine and I thought about turning back..

We reached the highway in an hour and were kind of relieved that now things will be alright…found a rickshaw with great difficulty and slouched into the seat. Our hope was short-lived. The rickshaw barely moved a few meters in about an hour .Traffic seemed to have come to a standstill. It was already 8 in the evening. We had been out of office since 5:30.phones were dead .and the thought that crossed our mind was how do we inform our families. Thankfully Elaine’s phone started working. We called our folks and they were in similar states.

We started walking again till the airport where there was flooding. An idea struck us that we can stay over at a hotel and go home the next day. Elaine and I were actually laughing at our own sights and wondering whether they would even let us into the hotels. We were both looking like street urchins, clothes dripping wet, hair plastered to our heads. When we were crossing the highway to enter the airport area there were areas where the water level was extremely high and all of sudden as if by miracle there were volunteers who came and helped us cross the road. I don’t know who they were, what their names were or even how they looked. All that I remember is that they were like our guardian angels.

There were no rooms in the hotels around the airport .We waited and took a cabbie who asked for an astronomical amount and had a condition that if it was too flooded he would come back. That was a cool cab and after all these hours we felt relaxed sitting in the car. The car barely moved out of the airport by a few meters and that’s where we spent an entire night...

It wasn’t bad that way. We were comfortably inside a cab .The fact that we were all drenched, hungry and thirsty did not matter then. For the realization struck us that things could have been worse.
Imagine spending 8 hours in cab! We listened to FM radiocity for sometime, drew pictures in the moist glasses, I sang old song like “jungle main mor nacha” with Elaine laughing away and the cabbie telling us to go to sleep …It was so quiet that one could even hear their own hearts beat. There was one moment when both Elaine and the cabbie were asleep and there was so much silence that it was unbearable. It was dark and unbearable. I woke Elaine up a couple of times because I want to hear someone speak! It was then that I realized how a deaf person feels and how lucky we were that we were blessed with a healthy life.
Morning we decided that since we are not moving at all, we should walk. We started walking and I still feel that it was the longest journey of my life. There were people everywhere and water everywhere, .there were street urchins who were swimming and laughing. For me it was wonder and not horror…The khar over bridge which was my all time favourite turned out to be so painful that I can’t describe. It was like walking on and on and the road never ending. Reminded me of Robert Frost’s poem- “The woods are lovely dark and deep but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep” Once we crossed the bridge, all that I could see was water everywhere. Till the bandra bridge there was neck high water.

We started walking again. I don’t know what kind of a force that was that kept us moving. We had eaten nothing since 6 the last evening, we were still drenched, it was pouring, there was muddy water everywhere, and our leather bags were all spoilt. But there was a strange spirit of comradeship all around. As we made our way in the neck deep water I had Elaine who kept stepping on my shoes all the while. I don’t blame here. We had no clue what we were walking on. We crossed people from the other side and the same question was in everyone lips. “How deep is the water ahead?”

As I was walking I felt as if one of my feet was always falling on uneven ground and was wondering how that happened. To my utter horror the sole of my left Nike shoe came floating to the surface. Elaine the culprit who was walking behind me almost clapped her shoes and laughingly said “Jaya, look someone s sole” and I remember telling her “Baby that’s my shoe sole” We had laughed a lot. I had to remove my other shoe sole. A lopsided walk is not very comfortable.

I don’t know how we crossed that long stretch. There were times when Elaine had to walk on her toes. At one point my leg slipped and I almost fell inside the water not that there much of me left above the water. But from somewhere invisible hands appeared and helped me stand up again.

Finally we reached the Stretch where the highway ends. To our great relief we saw cans moving towards town. I got a cab home and Elaine walked back .I reached home tired, exhausted to an empty home and the feeling that finally it’s over. Its only when I saw the news in TV did I realize that there were so many deaths and that Elaine and I had missed become a tragedy for our families and friends and statistics for others. We never realized the seriousness of the entire thing till it ended. After that thoughts like “What if an electric wire had fallen inside the water”, “What if we had fallen inside a manhole”, “What if we didn’t get that cab to sleep in the night” have often crossed my mind

People even now tell me that it was such a foolhardy decision to have left office that day. I merely smile and let it pass because I can not explain how important that decision has been for me. How else would I have known what it is to escape from the jaws of death, to appreciate the value of life and people, what it is to have faith in people and to realize that courage has nothing to do with age , that Elaine who was years younger to me was probably far more courageous then me. How else would I have met all those wonderful people who though were perfect strangers helped us in the hour of need not caring for their own lives. That was my moment of truth and that is something that will remain with me all my life.

If given a chance I would brave such floods and weather and venture out again. I would remember this day as the day I found my soul.

(Contributed  by Jayashree Mishra)

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