It's a good thing though, that everyone here in the USA is extra vigilant and careful when it is raining, it avoids more accidents. But people going at 25 mph on the freeway did manage to get on to my nerves. It's not like there was a cloud burst. Or maybe it's easy for me to say because I have been through one.
8 YEARS AGO
"I have packed extra sandwiches for you."
"Mom, I'm going to be back by 5:00 pm. There is no need for that."
"But, just in case..."
"No mom I won't need it. Okay gotta run. Bye, love you!"
"All the best, love you."
10:30 am - And off I went to write my final exams for that semester in my Bachelor's course in Occupational Therapy. My college was at Nerul, Navi Mumbai, and I carpooled with a friend of mine. It would take us almost an hour to reach college, then write the paper for 3 hours, and an hour to get back (or maybe more, depending on the traffic). We would read in the car too, giving ourselves occasional headaches trying to cram whatever we could in the last minute. Our backpacks were stuffed with heavy hard bound books, some water, and a little snack to sustain us for that while.
3:00 pm - An hour into writing my paper, I heard the thundering. Since it was July, the rains were no surprise. But the darkness of the clouds flooded the classroom, and having all the lights on at 3:00 pm made it really eerie. I was concentrating on writing the answers, so I did not notice when the rain started pouring down in sheets and how it continued until the end of our session.
5:00 pm - When my friends and I got out, we were shocked to see that a part of the campus had already been flooded with ankle-deep waters! We attributed it to it being a low lying area and rushed to our cars. "How'd it go?" my friend asked me as she wiped the water off her bag. "Decent," was my standard reply to almost every paper, unless it went off bad! I felt as if I would jinx it if I said my paper had gone well.
5:30 pm -On our way back home, the chauffeur drove us while we discussed our study plan for the next paper which was the next day. The clouds had overtaken the sky and it was dark early into the evening which was very rare. The roads were beginning to show signs of flooding but we did not make much of it then. Traffic was slowly thickening and we were worried we would not reach home at a decent hour and finish our prep for the next day's paper. My friend tried to turn on the car lights and read her book but it was quite a wasted effort.
6:00 pm - Suddenly I saw a thin figure standing in front of our car a few meters away, waving frantically. It was a scrawny boy, roughly a few years older to us, without an umbrella, with his satchel over his head for protection and with his pants folded up to his knees. He looked like a student but we couldn't say that for sure. It's not uncommon for strangers to ask for rides when it's raining; my friend and I looked at each other and mutually decided its a bad idea so we did not even give it a second thought. Exactly 5 hours from now, we were going to regret our decision.
8:30 pm - Our car was now inching forward extremely slowly. It had taken us over 3 hours to cover a distance that would normally take 45 minutes, from Nerul to Ghatkopar. We were constantly texting friends and family, calling home to tell them we'll be late. Car chargers were not so common back then, and we were quickly running out of battery. We were stressed about how we would appear for the next day's examination if we did not get enough time to prepare. "We're not going to reach home before midnight," my friend commented, looking at the sea of cars lined up in front of us. We tuned into the radio and were trying to get live updates of traffic and the weather but it was hardly any help. Nobody had a clue when this relentless rain would lessen or stop.
9:30 pm - My phone battery died. My friend asked me not to panic because at least we had her phone with us. "Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts," I commented, especially since she was constantly getting calls from almost every person in her contact list. Even in the loud noise of the downpour, I heard my stomach rumble. I hadn't eaten anything since I left home. Mom's pretty face and her outstretched hand with the sandwiches flashed before my eyes. Stupid stupid me. Those sandwiches felt like Manna to me right now. But there was no way to get to them. Sigh. I looked out of the window to distract myself. All I could see from the highway through all the rain was distant lights in the buildings lining the streets. In the surrounding cars, people were either frantically trying to get their phones to connect by holding them at all weird angles possible, or had given up and were taking naps. We were slowly losing radio connection too, as I could make out from the static sounds.
9:00 pm (At home) - "This is the second time they have called. I don't know what to say to anyone. I myself don't know where she is!" my mother said helplessly to my father. Different family members from all over the country were calling to find out where I was and whether I had reached home safely. "She will be fine. I know her,' my dad reassured my mom. That was the best he could do.
10:00 pm - The radio goes off. It's silent. All the cars have stalled. We were stuck somewhere in Chembur. Even the rate at which we were moving before, which may have been about 5 miles per hour would have been some consolation. But there was no place to move forward even an inch. There was a sudden silence with all the car engines turned off along with no music from the radio. The chauffeur looked behind at us helplessly. We couldn't do anything. Suddenly we heard a knock on our car window. It was a thin, short figure, and he looked desperate. My friend and I let go of our insecurities and allowed the chauffeur to let him in the front passenger seat. "Hello, my name is Das. Can I take shelter in your car? I am on my way to Sion." "Sure," my friend and I seemed to welcome some company in misery. He did not make small talk, which was good. We really had nothing to say to a stranger right now. We were stuck together in this miserable situation, where we had no clue whether we were going to reach home even the next day, at this rate.
11:00 pm - "They have to cancel the paper. There is no way they can conduct an examination tomorrow," my friend confidently said. "How do you know that?" I was anxious and nervous at the same time. It made total sense, but there was no way to guarantee that. And there was no way in hell I was not writing an exam if there was one to appear for. "Look around you!" her voice went up an octave, but she still tried to keep calm. Unfortunately, we could not get in touch with any of our classmates now, to ask them where they had reached or if they had heard from anyone. The last time I had any contact with my parents was around 8:00 pm when I spoke to dad. "You'll be fine," he had assured me, "call me when you get closer". Dad, come get me! I wanted to wail. That's when I thought about the scrawny boy asking for a ride and I felt bad about not giving it a second thought. I hoped he was somewhere safe at least, if not home.
11:00 pm (At home) - "What if she is stuck somewhere alone?" "That's not possible, she is with her friend, so she has someone at least." That's when they heard the announcement on the news on TV "Thousands of poeple have been stranded on the roads. Cars are stuck, having nowhere to go. We still do not have any updates on how long this rain will continue for. It has been almost 9 hours now, and it shows no signs of stopping."
12:00 am - My body was so sore. I tried changing positions in the car multiple times to get comfortable. I looked over at my friend. She was nodding off to sleep but could not do so completely. We were exhausted and clueless. Not a good combination. I hoped the noise of the rain would lull me to sleep but it did not. It was loud, and sounded like giant steel balls being pelted at the roof of our car. The rain was growing heavier by the minute. I used to wear contact lenses back then, so finally accepting the fact that we were not going to be home that night, I carefully peeled them off my eyes and into their case they went. Now I also felt partially blind, great.
1:30 am - I heard shuffling sounds outside the car and I jumped up with a start. I thought I was dreaming for a moment, when I saw some dark figures walking outside. Against the faint illumination of the street lights, I could see that people had started getting out of their cars and were walking towards their destinations. Among these I saw small children, older adults with canes and walkers, pregnant women. It was a horrible feeling to see them all so helpless. There was nothing any of us could do or say that would make this situation any better. "Where are you guys heading?" Das turned around and asked me when he saw me awake. My friend had managed to fall asleep in some awkward angle which she was going to regret when she woke up. "South Bombay," I answered truthfully, yet not giving away too much information to this stranger. "Have you'll had any contact with....?" "Not since 8:30-9:00 pm," I interrupted, guessing the end of his sentence. "I have a friend who lives at King's Circle. If I can get to his place and if his phone lines are working, I can get in touch with your parents." Oh. Nice guy. My mind jumped directly into movie-mode and started wondering in what ways he could misuse my information. I looked outside at the rain again, and then at his face. Oh what the heck, I handed over our home numbers. Das looked outside once more, the rain seemed heavier. "Maybe I'll wait for a bit," he reasoned and I slid back into my seat to try to sleep again.
3:00 am - "I think I should leave now," Das said to our chauffeur, and he started putting on his jacket. My friend and I were stretching, twisting, trying to loosen out our muscles. The chauffeur could not sleep a wink because he thought it his responsibility to keep us safe and get us home somehow. I felt sorry for him, there was nothing really anyone could do about our situation. I was half asleep, I was too tired to react to what he said. My eyes involuntarily shut and I slid into deep sleep.
3:00 am (At home) - "Go look for her," my mother was wide awake. She hadn't slept a wink. "Okay," my father said, putting on his glasses "tell me where to go and I will." She sighed and lay down.
5:00 am - I was wide awake. I think I had tried all the different convoluted positions my body could possibly twist into, and now I was out of them. So I slid my lenses on blinked against the dryness. The sky was slowly getting lighter, the rain had lessened, but not stopped. Our chauffeur had finally managed to get some sleep, but as soon as he heard me moving in the back seat, he woke up with a start. "Sorry, I did not meant to wake you up!" I said apologetically, to which he just smiled.
6:30 am - We looked around us and we noticed that everybody had started to abandon their cars and start walking. Understanding that we had no choice but to join them, we gathered our belongings in our backpacks, rolled up our jeans and took to the road.
7:00 am - It felt as if the whole city was together in this. We walked among a swarm of people, some silent, some talking, some in tears, some laughing and making light of the situation. At a point, the water got waist-deep. We hauled our backpacks even higher on our backs, trying our best to shield our expensive medical books from the water. We used all the strength in our legs to fight against the water, which made our wading in jeans so extremely difficult. At some point we heard a scream. Wondering what could be worse than wading fully clothed in dirty waist-deep water with heavy bags on us, we turned around disinterested; we saw some people shoo-ing away a snake who had made his way into the water. We were too stunned to react. But the men's chivalry seemed to surface and they ganged in on it and made sure it was directed away from the crowd. It felt as if we were part of a clan, fighting against adversity together.
9:00 am - We finally reached King's circle, walking all the way over bridges, streets, and highways. The water level had reduced from waist to ankle-deep now. Everyone who was safely at home were at their windows, peering down at the streets and all those stuck. The spirit of the people of Bombay surfaced, and we saw so many good Samaritans handing out bottles of water and packets of biscuits/cookies and thankful smiles and words being exchanged. Our chauffeur ran to bring us something to eat, but my friend and I both let him have it. He had been up almost all night and had been guiding us all this way. Suddenly, he saw a phone booth at one of the general stores in a corner of the street and ran towards it, asking us to wait. He came back after a couple minutes with a triumphant smile on his face. "I called home and told them where we are," he told my friend, "they are coming to get us."
11:00 am - We were now walking on a street somewhere in Dadar, desperately looking for a familiar car or face. In the distance, we saw a white car slowly inching towards us and making a turn to reach us. A sight for sore eyes, our fathers were in it. I felt relief wash all over me, a kind of strength that I could now take on some more if I had to. But I did not want to. All I wanted to do was get into my father's arms and let him transport me to the safety of my home.
12:00 pm - AT HOME. Finally.
Grandmother - "Give her something to eat!"
Domestic help - "I will make her favorite dish for lunch!"
Mother - "Let me apply Vicks to her head and feet first!"
ME - "Mom, can I just go shower first, please?"
Fact seen on TV the next day - It rained for over 10 hours continuously. Major Cloud Burst. The city of Mumbai received 37 inches of rain that day.