Three days after record-breaking rains brought Bombay to a halt, I’m finally beginning to hear about my friends’ and colleagues’ unbelieveable journeys. South Bombay, as I’ve mentioned before, got hit with 7 inches of rain on Tuesday, but, save for the lack of bustle, it looked pretty normal on Wednesday. On the other hand, the suburbs saw a lot of death and destruction.
Street animals got carried away by the rains, some washing up into peoples’ homes. Many of the sidewalk goats that were slated for the dinner plate drowned instead. And, saddest of all, dozens of cart drivers left their water buffaloes, which are quite accustomed to high water, latched to hitching posts, so the animals weren’t able to swim to for their lives. Also, I read that some people who were wading through shoulder-deep water were bitten by poisonous snakes that were also caught in the muck. Yikes!
Dozens of people have told me about getting trapped in their cars. A friend of mine was caught in a traffic jam on an overpass (aka, flyover) as the rains began to rise. As the situation got worse, passengers in the surrounding cars began abandoning them, evoking a scene from 28 Days Later. Realizing that she wasn’t going to get anywhere by car, she finally got out and started hoofing it, arriving home about 24 hours after she started out.
Many Mumbaikars were stuck on buses, too. An account in the paper told of a group of passengers trapped on a double-decker bus. The floodwaters eventually began to submerge the upper deck of the bus, causing people to climb to safety on top of the bus and wait for help.
Several of my colleagues arrived home only yesterday – after having left work on Tuesday. They set out on trains, buses, and motorcycles, only to realize that all of those modes of transport would not get them anywhere. They would have to walk on foot. Some friends walked all night on Tuesday to reach their homes in Bandra, Malad, Andheri, Dadar, and Vikroli. The lucky ones arrived home approximately six hours after having left work or were able to camp out at a friend of relative’s home until morning when the rain had subsided. Others spent the entire night wading through waters waist – and shoulder-deep with thousands of others. Groups of stranded people held onto ropes or chains so that they didn’t get carried away by the murky water.
So much rain, but many people are now left without good drinking water. Not that the drinking water was particularly clean before. But now it has been contaminated by who knows what: human perspiration, animal corpses, sewer waste, disease. Locals are already quite squeamish about what to eat during monsoon season – no cauliflower or broccoli, for fear of bugs; no fish – so now, for a little while, it’ll be even harder for suburbanites to find fresh food at the market. And, I’m sure that we’ll start seeing epidemics – flu, typhoid, jaundice, malaria – spread throughout the outskirts in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, as Mumbai has suffered from too much rain, much of the rest of India has not seen nearly enough rain to keep their crops from dying out. I usually love irony, but this time it’s not all that funny.