Bombay’s Rainy Day (Updated)

bombay flood.jpg Bombay had 37.1 inches of rain on Tuesday, a national record. It’s led to lots of problems, including some deaths (as of this writing, 200 people in Bombay, 400+ people in the state of Maharashtra), as well as huge property damage.

Despite power outages, the Bombay bloggers have been whirring away. Dilip D’Souza, for instance, has been busy, with a column on Rediff and a series of posts on his blog. Amit Varma has a great piece called “Streets Like Rivers”, and a great number of links up here. Sonia Faleiro has an account of getting stuck at the airport, spending the night in the lobby of a hotel, and of the strange, almost inexplicable helpfulness of strangers in a catastrophe. Uma, of IndianWriting, has these pictures, and these links. Also see Gaurav Sabnis, here and here.

But the most interesting accounts of the flooding by far are not by bloggers (though I love the bloggers), but the first-person accounts that have been showing up on Rediff. Below the fold is an account that I found to be particularly moving, warts and all.

On that fateful Tuesday, my sister started for home in Dadar from her office in Andheri in the afternoon. In Pune, I got a call from her at around 4 PM saying that she was on the bus and it was stuck in traffic for long time, but nothing to worry. I just thought she was doing some timepass, as she got nothing else to do in the traffic jam. But then reports of heavy rain in Mumbai started pouring, and I came to know how dangerous situation was… Then I was continuously trying to call her but it was all in vain.. I got a call from my brother late night saying that she managed to get in a restaurent and was safe there. Finally on wed she called me that she reached at my Uncle’s place in Matunga at around 10 AM. And then she told me how fearful that whole time was.. When the Bus did not move for long time, she got off it and decided to walk till traffic jam was over or till all the way to Dadar with some other ppl on the bus. But before long she came to know it was impossible as the water on the road was neck dip… a women with her got into some pit and hold my sister for support.. It could have been the last moment for both of them.. But.. suddenly some ppl from a nearby restaurent saw them and pulled them out.. they made they stay there itself whole night and then let them go in the morning only.. My sister walked till Matunga as there was no other go..But finally at home!! I cannot express in words how i felt to hear from her.. I am really thankful to all those who helped my dearest sister.. And I think Mumbaikars are the one of the bravest and strongest in the world.. with all the odds in favor, with themselves knocked out with the rain, they did their best to save who all they could.. And there will be many to share the same feelings with me.. That day my cousines/uncles/friends in Mumbai too got similar nice experinces.. This I think makes Mumbai, Mumbai.. It’s the Spirit of Mumbai.. the MegaCity. It did not go down even too the mightest rainfall.. All I can say is Salam Bomaby!!! Amit (link)

(I hope that link stays good. Unfortunately, there are no permalinks to these individual voices on Rediff.)

Many of the other comments posted are politial ones, to the effect of “this is so embarrassing to India,” or “these damn politicians can’t do anything right,” or “see, India is still a hopeless third world country.” I disagree: 37.1 inches of rain in 24 hours is a certifiable catastrophe in any country. No drainage system could possibly handle it, no airports or trains would possibly stay open through it.

Since the western media generally only goes to cover South Asia when there is terrorism, war, or catastrophe, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s another way of framing the story: in a city of nearly 20 million people, many of them living on low ground in extremely ramshackle housing, there are only 200 deaths reported after an epochal flood (note: those numbers could rise, in which case this sentiment will become obsolete).

Moreover, it looks like things are very quickly returning to normal. Any loss of life is tragic — and I hope no one reading this was affected — but all in all, it could have been much, much worse.

UPDATE:

Some sites have been created to organize aid for people afflicted by these floods. You can read about them here.

The sites are:

http://mumbaihelp.blogspot.com/ http://cloudburstmumbai.blogspot.com/

There is also a Wikipedia page worth checking out: here

23 thoughts on “Bombay’s Rainy Day (Updated)

  1. truly tragic

    37 inches of rain in 24 hrs.. what the hell is going on in the weather world..

    here boy scouts passing out due to heat..

    huh?

  2. After all that rain, one has to worry about any Cholera, Typhoid, Hepatitis outbreaks now.

  3. Chick Pea(k),

    Yes, it’s undoubtedly tragic, but I guess what I wanted to do with this post is suggest there is impressive resiliency and courage there too. And there are plenty of people in Bombay for whom this event was mainly a huge traffic/commuting nightmare — not so much a life-threatening event or Tsunami-like natural disaster.

    I get annoyed by the coverage of things in India which goes “look, how sad,” and then stops there. One of the nice things about the blogging era is that it’s much easier to find all those other stories — not just the wailing mother, the orphaned child, etc. It gives you a richer picture of what an event reall means to people.

    Still, I liked the way you phrased it on your blog: “My friends, that is a crap-load of rain.” Yes, it might be two crap-loads, even!

  4. What’s the news coverage like of this stateside? I’m not hearing much on the box here, which irritates me. I learnt more from a phonecall made by a friend wading through neck-high water on their way home.

  5. virtually none…

    It’s on the front page of the NYT: “More Than 500 Reported Killed in Indian Floods.” But it’s not one of the main stories, it’s off to the side.

    Not sure about TV.

  6. minimal on tv, save the CNN ticker and an occasional 30 seconds here and there…

  7. To give another perspective, 1 inch of rain is approx. 8 inches of snow. So around 300 inches of snow in one day. Amazing stories of courage and help in rediff. I was pretty disgusted at some Tokyo guys bitching about their inconvinience of having to explain the situation to their Japanese collegues.

  8. Eye witness account (via AIM) from my buddy Prashant in Bombay:

    It has been quite easily the worst 24 hours of my life… you can’t imagine the scenes I saw yesterday coming back from work… people banging on my car doors begging to be let in, overflowing buses with people sitting on the roofs. 6 million commuters basically taking to the streets. Yesterday seemed like the end of the world… my house is in a low-lying suburb, so water was flowing down into it like mad… I turned into my street with my bag held over my head… the force of the water was so intense that I didn’t have to walk, I was just being swept along by the current… it was all I could do to stop close to my gate and not be swept away further down the street… My life flashed before my eyes yesterday dude. This has been a complete reality check. Entire colonies of slums are under water… still these people are pulling guys out of cars stranded and making sure they get to safety… the human spirit is alive and well in people who live under the most desperate of circumstances… now that’s an eye-opener if there ever is one… I have a picture which I took yesterday… the sheet of raindrops is so thick that the flash reflected off them and the camera could register nothing. I’ve been taking pictures for 15 years and have never seen anything like that…
  9. I disagree: 37.1 inches of rain in 24 hours is a certifiable catastrophe in any country. No drainage system could possibly handle it, no airports or trains would possibly stay open through it.

    The problem is that a drainage system doesnt help in times like these, due to the fact that much of the city is built below sea level on on reclaimed land, during a heavy monsoon, the sea level actually rises and floods the coast. (there is nowhere to drain the water to)

    My grandfather lives there and my parents are visiting, I heard indirectly, (telephone lines down) that his house was filled with three feet of water. And my grandfather actually lives in a nice area with a ‘good’ drainage system. Needless to say I am concerned, but on the other hand I am pretty sure they are alright.

    The only thing I can see working to prevent this type of flooding in the future is if they make like the Dutch, and start reclaiming more land from the sea.

  10. From Rediff

    My sister reached home safely at 11 am today after 19 hours. there was no police, no navy but around 200 locals who saved their lives.

    The story goes like this as told by my sister… people get stranded on buses, cars in kurla at around 4 pm, water reaches neck level in the single decker buses when locals rush to help them. they break some seats, get ropes so that people can hold it and float from the single decker bus to double decker bus in neck deep water. Passengers stay overnight in the bus, around 150 in the upper deck as the deck below is completely submerged in water. The locals keep a watch on them the whole night telling them not to get scared.

    They wait for help patiently. Luckily the rain also subsides and the water level comes down to around 9 feet. There were around 200 locals in the morning at 6 am. They carry ropes and 5 litre empty plastic dabbas. They conduct the rescue operation in a very organized manner. The ropes are used to tie the buses and people hold them while getting down the bus.

    One local helps one passenger cross the current and hands him over to another local who helps him swim using the empty plastic container as support and takes him to Kurla station. The women get scared at first but after persuasion by the volunteers they agree and they are also carried safely till Kurla station. The Kurla locals really took good care of all the passengers and saved the passengers on the bus.

    My sister and the other passengers are alive today because of the locals. You are the real heroes. thank you so much.

  11. My poor servant Neeta came to my door crying saying the hut in which she was a paying guest has crumbled. All she could save was some of her clothes. She asked me permission to wash them since they were full of gutter water. So she washed them and has hung them to dry. She had not slept all night. I gave her some food and told her to sleep on the diwan in the living room and I covered her with a sheet. She was very thankful.

    No one else she said would have shown her so much consideration. I told her to come back and sleep tonight if she couldn’t find a place in her slum area. She was really very appreciative.


    Not to pick on any blogger’s mom but from Comment 1′s link – I am not what to think about this account.

    Is this another account of how great the Mumbaikar’s are? To me it seems like just common human decency, things anyone would do without a second thought.

    Maybe again it is the words ‘permission’ etc. which rankled and yes I don’t think the woman had anywhere to go , so you can come back if you want is rather superflous…..

  12. The events of the past two days in Bombay have been nerve wracking.

    To elaborate on something “tilo” [#14] said, it is human decency and things anyone would do without a second thought.

    What is very different about Bombay, from other cities, is the tenacity and resilience of the city. Very few cities have it.

    92% of Bombay had reported to work on March 13, 1993, a day after the bomb blasts.

    Subways started running 12 hours after the 9/11 blasts in NYC.

    That’s the “fighting spirit” of the people who live in these cities, which makes them different.

    London was closed the day after 7/7. I am not discounting the fact that the bomb blasts there were not as tragic, or scary; but having been in both bombay in 1993 and NYC in 2001, i think i speak with some perspective on the topic.

    Thats what really is impressive about Bombay.

  13. At this instant, in Bombay about 18 people have died in a melee resulting from rumours that a tsunami was imminent. People have come out on the road. This is all over TV in India right now. TV reports also say that most of the people dead are all poor people living in slums.

  14. Not knowing anything about the floods, I dreamt last night that a friend of mine who’s in Bombay had come back to London, and we met up in a water amusement park. She e-mailed today to say she’d spent yesterday wading through chest-high water trying to get home. :)

  15. Do they have it real bad or what?

    First there are torrential rains in Maharashtra(now spreading to Gujarat)(800 dead), then there is a fire on ONGC’s off-shore rig(10 dead) and then a bomb blast on a train in UP(10 dead).

    Just another day in India?!

  16. Amardeep,

    Thank you for your tone at the end of this post. I had the typical wannabe-concerned attitude when I first read all the stories (and even sent off a frivolous tip to SM), but when I spoke to my dad about the situation, my attitude was pretty much rebuked. He kept reminding me how resilient the spirit is in India and B’bay, and though it is a great tragedy, it could likely be much worse elsewhere. He went on to say how he had seen some crazy times in India in the days before ubiquitous media, during which people just survived, helped each other out, and brushed their shoulders off. Basically some points similar to what you said in the post and comments. I’ve been reminded now that concern is not synonymous with understanding.

  17. “arzan sam wadia” – still not sure how the resilience of the city is indicated by this one lady helping out her domestic help a wee bit when a natural calamity struck.

    Or some blogger saying he was falling into some manhole/morass and someone pulled him back from the verge.

    This seems to suggest that in most other places even if they noticed that you were about to fall they couldn’t care less or worse still they might shove you into the hole themselves – which you know is asinine.

  18. Tilo… you are right. Mumbai is like every other city. At the risk of sounding trite, I like being reminded that there’s more to a city than working capital or concrete. Hey… you know what… let me share one from TO. Some six years back I was at a client in midtown Toronto which is poorly serviced by transit. I would take the cab in and out. Well… this day the snow was heavier than usual and there was a snow emergency of sorts. The cab companies couldnt field all the calls. I kept trying and trying… expected wait is 4 hrs, 6 hrs… etc. Yea, I was safe but I wanted to get home. Then these guys walk in around 11. cleaners… “Hey!” “Hi!” “Working late hunh?!!” “Ahh.. no. Got snowed in. No cabs.” “Oh.. yea… bad day man”. A little more chit chat. The guys do to wrap up work. Come in again. “Hey! where do you live” “Markham” “OK. Come on. This was our last building. We’re going home too. We’ll give you a ride”. “W-Why … thanks” So I got in with these 3 guys (there was another) and drove home. Creepy night. No traffic except for occasional plow. Skidded a couple of times. Turns out these guys took a major detour to get me back. A big thing when even driving at 40kph is risky. End of story… did you like that? Wait… I got another one. This one from Gary Indiana, another from Los Alamos NM, another from Bangalore. :-)

  19. My dad had to walk home from work – it took almost 6 hours as he was walking through what started off as knee-high water; by the time he got home it was chest-high. Cars were submerged and all the ground-floor apartments of the complex where my parents live were flooded (they’re not far from the sea). Electricity, phones and even water were cut off, though they said things are getting back to normal now. But, as others have said, the local people were very helpful, lighting the way with flashlights (since there were no streetlights), warning walkers away from manholes, and keeping spirits up by cracking jokes.