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Wednesday, December 06, 2006


At last the night came, the night, Friday Night, when I decided to go to home to SURAT to visit my parents; the night was going to be the last night of my constant worries of five days about my parents. I was too anxious to think anything else other than the thoughts about my parents. All the five days I was keeping a watch on news about water level in SURAT, like a hungry animal keeping a watch on its prey and exchanging information with my friends through mobile and mail. News was the only medium which was updating people like me. All the communication lines were broken down: Surat had become disconnected from the world.

Surat city is developed on both side of the river TAPI. The one side has shopping malls, theatres and the railway station. We live on the other side, which has areas like ADAJAN and RANDER residence area. There are three bridges in the city and one outside the city, which connect the two parts of the city. The other side, where we live, is more prone to flood attack due to few geographical and technical reasons.

During the five days of flood in SURAT, the rising water level was also raising the level of anxiety in my mind. I was constantly thinking about the level of water in my house. The news of 15 feet water in ADAJAN (the name of area where we live) above the road level made me think that water sheet must have covered the legs of SAIBABA in the photos, which is around 5 feet high from the ground floor, which in turn is at a height of about 7 feet from the road. It had caused me to worry about TV set, fridge, and all the furniture on the ground floor, in case my parents had not taken them away to the first floor. We live in a row house. It has three bed rooms on the first floor and one drawing room and kitchen on the ground floor.

I bought some snacks, water bottles, milk bottles at Mumbai Central station and took a seat in the Golden Temple train, the train I always prefer, while going to SURAT. The train’s departure timing (9.25 p.m.) accommodates well with my office timings and moreover the only station it stops after BORIVLI is SURAT. It is a direct train from BORIVLI to SURAT. And S6 is the reservation coach for SURAT passengers. 99 out of 100 times my reservation always ends up in the S6 coach. The journey from MUMBAI CENTRAL to SURAT is about 3 hours and 45 minutes. During the journey my mind had totally sunk into the flood waters of SURAT. I got a call from my uncle around 10 p.m., advising me against going to SURAT. I assured my uncle that I was not going to go to SURAT. But the noise of train was audible to him through the mobile. He asked me where exactly I am. I lied with all my confidence that I am in a Mumbai local train and he was convinced with that. The guy seated in front of me gave me a puzzled look.

SURAT station came around 1:15 a.m. When the station came I jumped from the coach on to the platform and rushed towards the rickshaw. I came to know from the rickshaw drivers that rickshaw would be able to go up to CHOWK (half way to my home). And I agreed to pay 50 bucks to take me up to CHOWK without thinking what the water level on the remaining half would be like and how I would cover that distance.

The situation was horrible at SURAT station. The stench there made me feel I was in hell. The polythene bags hung on the shops outside the station, like tattered kites on trees after MAKAR SANKRATI – the kite flying festival in Gujarat. Mountains of mud rose on either side of the road after the waters had receded and SURAT municipality had cleared the roads. The height of the mountains made them feel proud about their magnificence and told me “See what we can do to your city!” The odor coming from mountains of mud penetrated my lungs. The barking of dogs and the stench made me feel very awkward.

The rickshaw driver left me to myself at the bridge near the CHOWK. He left the place like a parent leaves after walking her child, on his first day to school. It was 1:40 a.m. by then. I had no idea about the water level on the other side of the bridge and with all my courage I started to walk on the bridge. I could hear the voice of the water gushing under the bridge. Almost all the people from the slums near the bridge had moved their houses on top of the bridge, leaving a one meter space in the middle of the bridge for people to walk. I was carrying two bags full of snacks, a water bottle and some cash in my pockets and bags. I heard about the day light robberies that had been taking place after the floods. And the thought of being robbed by those slum people prompted me to go back to station and wait there until morning. I was dying to see my parents as soon as possible and that determination gave me the courage to deal with the robbers. I started to walk between the shanties on the bridge. Their eyes on my two bags were the eyes of a kid, who desperately wants his favorite toy. Rather than being afraid, I thought of giving them two water bottles out of the 5 that I had got. But I dropped the idea as I was aware of the dangers involved in opening my bag amongst those people; it could only invite more trouble. And I wanted to reach home and with all the foodstuffs and water bottles, that I had packed for my parents, intact.

On the other side of the bridge (“ADAJAN CHAR RASTA”) the water was about knee level. It was around 2.00 a.m. I started to walk into the water and the flow of water almost had me off balance. The sound of my steps in the water ‘CHHAPAK’ in the dark scary night generated unpleasant feelings. There were hardly about two to three people, who walked with me, trying as hard to reach their near and dear ones. The smell from flood water was terrible. I continued walking alone from ‘ADAJAN CHAR RASTA’ to ‘SARDAR BRIDGE’, another landmark, 2 km from my home. By this time I’d started to get used to the mountains of mud on the sides of the road; in fact I somewhat liked the sight. Apartments on the side of the road seemed empty. The whole city had gone into darkness. And the developed areas seemed like a patch of concrete in between the jungle. I walked on the road between those empty buildings; it was like walking between the concrete mountains. I could hear the cries of the dogs. Those shrill cries prompted me to leave the place immediately.

I reached ‘SARDAR BRIDGE’ around 2:20 a.m. There were two to three people there. I asked them if I may be able to reach my final destination. They advised me not to go at first. However, later they conceded that by walking, I could go anywhere. I started to walk towards my home, as per their second advice. On the way, near the school, where I did all my schooling (‘V. D. DESAI WADIWALA’), a dead cow rested on the side of the road. In the absolute darkness of the night, as I passed by the dead body, the odor escaped into my lungs and it gave me jitters.

Around 2.40 a.m., I saw myself walk into my apartment society. The roads were covered by muck. This time the ‘CHHAPAK’ sound of my steps splashing in the muck, sounded pleasant, may be because the king had reached his kingdom. I received a call from my cousin-sister, asking where I was, as she had known about my journey. I updated her with my whereabouts. She took a deep sigh of relief. It was 2.45 a.m., I was outside my home and I screamed loudly, “Mom, Dad, where are you?” and they appeared in the balcony, in complete surprise, as they had not expected me at this time. They were certain that I must have cancelled my train reservation. My mom and dad were equally happy and surprised to see me. Their happy faces in the balcony signaled the end of my five days of worry. At around 3 am in the night, we made calls to all our relatives, from my mobile, and apprised them of our safety. In stark contrast to what I’d thought, I learnt that my parents had enjoyed the five days of floods, as if they, along with the other people in the society, were on a picnic on a desolate island. They cooked food on the terrace for all the people in our block and to kill time, they played games, singing movie songs. Maybe, for the people of our society, the impact of the floods was not much after all! But that night I thought I had witnessed the real impact of the floods myself. The city was like the city at the end of the movie “VOLCANO”, totally in ruin. The flood had broken the backbone of city.