July 26, personally for me, still ranks among the 9/11, 26/11 etc. I thought I should share a recap of my memories of that day, 8 years ago. I don’t know why am I sharing this first personal experience on my blog, but possibly, the purpose is to let you readers re-live your experience of that day or similar ones experienced some other time.
It had been raining in Mumbai since July 25 noon and by July 26 noon, people started concluding that something unprecedented was happening. Most of us learnt the term “cloudburst” only a few days later. I was working for Airtel, heading a part of the Marketing function at Mumbai then. At around lunch time, we decided to ask employees to leave for home. A few of us Manager-types stuck around for some more time and started off at 4pm. From Mindspace in Malad West.
There was a bumper-to-bumper traffic from Inorbit junction to SV road junction, and we reached there after an hour of crawl, at 5pm. Just before hitting the Western Express Highway, we had to tackle a smallish road which was filled with water, and as we crossed this one in our car, water rushed in into the car (I think from the floor of the car or from the doors). About a foot deep.
The highway was better and there was no water. The water from the car got drained out, but the damp floor and bottom of seats would take a week to cure. But the moment we hit the highway, we joined a traffic jam under the Goregaon flyover, of vehicles turning right on the Highway, headed towards south Mumbai. We realised after 10 mins that it was not a jam, but a complete stop. My driver walked ahead and returned with the news that there was about 3-4 feet of water collected on the highway near Santacruz, and vehicles had stopped short of that water, and the queue had reached Goregaon. By the time we realised anything, we had a 100 cars behind us coming from Malad west behind us, and a km-long queue of cars on the western express highway till Kandivali. We were stuck, couldn’t move back or forward or anywhere. My driver walked down the junction and tried to check if we could go through the Aarey Milk Colony road, but as expected, it was also jammed.
I had given a ride to some colleagues in my car, and another car full of colleagues from my office was parked in the jam next to us. It started raining heavily at 6pm, but by some stroke of luck, we were exactly under the flyover and hence, in a dry zone – miraculously! Because this allowed us to get out of the car and stretch about and relax a bit.
I should mention that the mobile networks had collapsed because the antennas had run out of batteries & diesel after the electricity had got disconnected (by design, because there were news of lots of people getting electrocuted with loose wires strewn around). So, we were not in touch with anyone since 5pm. My wife was in her SEEPZ office (last that I spoke to her at 4pm) and our baby was in my in-law’s place – thankfully.
Then, the wait started. 6pm…7pm…8pm, and we thought that at some point of time, the water in Santacruz will recede. However, news coming from people around was that the high tide at 5pm had coincided with heavy rains and water was increasing instead of receding. My driver walked around the place and bought us some onion pakoras (lots of) to eat, along with some bottles of water. We later on heard that these had got over quickly after that in all shops nearby. By 9pm, it struck us that we were going to be there the entire night ! The onion pakoras (bless Ravi, my driver) had been a great dinner (while eating, we had called it “snacks”), and after chatting with colleagues, trying to sing songs, we retired in the car seat. I tried to work on my laptop but for some reason was unable to concentrate.
We slept in fits and starts, and saw with some gratefulness the rains stop pouring after midnight. By 5:30am, some cars started moving along the Arey Milk Colony road, and we started off behind them. The scene on the road was one of carnage – huge pieces of the road – 4m in diameter had been washed away and it was a challenge driving on the road. There were a few cars driven off the road in the night – people who had tried to attempt a getaway in the rains.
We made our way to SEEPZ, where I went to my wife’s office to check on her. The tough security of SEEPZ didn’t try to stop me when I said that my wife’s inside and I don’t want to make a gate pass now. I found out from some colleagues of her that she had managed to take the office bus at 5am out of the office. (Her driver and car had got stuck at home after getting our baby to the in-law’s place). I later on found out that she had walked the last 2km to home.
In the rest of our drive from SEEPZ to Chembur, we witnessed the most harrowing picture of my ultra-protected life in Mumbai. There were cars parked on both sides of the road, as people had dumped them in the long jams in the night and walked home. There were Mercedeses and Skodas, with doors open parked on the side. We hit another crawling jam around Ghatkopar, as we joined a line of cars, who had spent the night somewhere like us and had figured out that it was time to go home now. We were 2-3 km from my home. I exchanged my Florsheim shoes with my driver’s rubber shoes (thank god, we wear the same size of shoes), requested him to drive the car back slowly home and I set out on foot for home. I waded through knee-deep water close to home and reached home around 9am, looking like a ghost.
Since there had been no telephone contact, I was given a warm reception. My wife had reached a couple of hours before me and had moved from the denial phase to the acceptance phase by now. She had a blissful, grateful smile now, different from the tired frown that I had. It took 3 cups of tea and a baby to hug to get my face unwrinkled and relaxed.
For some reason, we found ourselves visiting the temple close by that afternoon, and after a warm shower, did not wake up till dinner that night. I let my driver keep the Florsheim shoes (thank god, we wear the same size of shoes).
We later on learnt that in the past 24 hours, in quite a few instances, some people had got suffocated in their cars overnight, having got locked in with water coming in their doors. Scores of people had drowned in open gutters. Poor people had got electrocuted. Walls of few homes had fallen. We slept in a Corolla under a flyover on a highway…God had been kind !