The Mumbai monsoons do not have a reputation for nothing. They are every bit as relentless as they are made out to be, proving every once in a while their supremacy and our fragility and smallness in the face of Nature’s fury.
It was such a day in August a few monsoons ago — the day the Met department recorded twenty-one inches of rainfall in a short five-hour span. My three girls and I were spending the day with my sister in Parle.
We lived an hour away in Worli, but the rains meant that it would take us at least two. We’d been waiting for over an hour for the lashing rain to calm down so that we could leave, but it showed no signs of mellowing down. Finally, at five p.m., I called my husband and said perhaps it would be best if we stayed on and went back the next morning. Upset at being separated, he insisted we leave that very moment saying, “We should be together and at home.”
At that point his request did not seem unreasonable and in jest I said that if we got stuck he would have to come and rescue us. He said, “I promise, my dear wife. I will honour the vow I made while going around the fire, to protect you from all difficulties that befall you”. We laughed at the silliness of our conversation and I hung up to start from there at once. Since my kids had just finished their evening milk and snack, I did not carry any food for the ride, assuming that — worst-case scenario — we would be home by eight, well before dinnertime. Besides, I did not want to lose a single minute. Being “at home and together” was the only thing that I wanted at that point.
There was chaos on the roads as water had already started accumulating on the sides, but we made steady progress. However, as we reached the highway close to the airport, which is mid-way between my sister’s home and ours, we got stuck. Serpentine queues stretched endlessly on both sides of the divider, the ends of which were not visible to the eye.
The hands of the clocked ticked away…six, seven and then it said eight. Our car had not moved an inch in those hours! Back then, I did not own a cell phone, though my husband had one. In those three hours, I had stepped down every once in a while to check the traffic situation or speak to other stranded passengers.
We knew by then that it was one of the worst rains ever and most streets of the city were getting waterlogged at an alarming rate. I tried contacting my husband from a borrowed cell, but his phone was out of reach. I later found out that water had seeped in and it had stopped working.
Another hour passed — nine p.m. It had been four hours since I had started from my sister’s place. My youngest daughter, who was just nine months old then, was wailing at the top of her voice from hunger and discomfort; my other two, six and ten, were trying to help deal with the situation as best as they could. The scenarios in the other cars were no better; some had senior citizens, others young children, some lone ladies. We were trying to help each other with words and information. Most of us were praying feverishly for the traffic to move. It didn’t, not even an inch.
I cursed myself for my foolish impulse and my husband for his irresponsible insistence. I tried not to cry, seeing my three precious ones crying, screaming and asking me questions I didn’t have answers to. The only relief was that the youngest had finally fallen off to sleep, giving into exhaustion and hunger.
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The clock struck ten, then eleven. Komal woke up with another piercing wail and this time the other two joined in as well. I looked at them helplessly as tears ran down my cheeks. The rain continued unabated. The four of us sat hugging each other when I heard a knock on my window.
There he was, my hero, my saviour, my husband, drenched to the bone. A torch was sticking out of his mouth and huge packets containing chips, biscuits, chocolates and cold drinks, dangled from both his hands. Instantly the crying stopped as my kids hugged him in joy and relief. It is uncomfortable for five people to sit together in the back seat of a Contessa, but we were all on top of each other, hugging and crying, and no one complained, not even nine-month-old Komi.
I had never felt happier and more blessed in my life. At that moment nothing mattered more than the love I felt for him and the love that I knew he had for me, for us. I could have perished in that rain a happy woman; that is how complete and loved I felt then.
Eventually, when it sank in, that he really had chips, biscuits, chocolates and cold drinks there and would somehow find a way to take us to safety, we attacked the goodies, sharing with the other stranded passengers around us.
He told me that, after abandoning his car in Bandra, he had walked over seven kilometres in the pelting rain with a torch in his mouth and his hands full with our snacks, checking every car on the way. The highway we were stuck on had three rows of cars. He had checked every row till he found us.
After my husband managed to manoeuvre the car to get us out of that queue of vehicles, we drove into waterlogged by-lanes that he had looked at beforehand. At one point, the water came up half-way past the doors. He kept pressing the accelerator so that the engine would not die. Surely and steadily we crawled through the small lanes and water-jammed streets to finally reach my sister-in-law’s place in Bandra. It was two a.m.
After freshening up, the five of us cuddled up in her guest bedroom. We were ‘together’. No one minded not being in our ‘home’. He had kept his promise.
(As told to Raksha Bharadia)