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Rated: ASR · Monologue · Experience · #1007760
What happened on 26th July 2005: a real-life experience.
Incredible though it may seem, this is indeed a true story from my own life!

This happened just over a month ago. It illustrates what can happen should something want to go wrong: an almost unbelievable series of events that were assisted by my own foolishness, the sudden arrival of work and then, the heavy hand of God. It led to several small spin-offs, some of which are almost laughably ridiculous!

26th July 2005 dawned like any other day … dark, ominously gloomy and full of suspense. Dark because of the heavily monsoon-cloud laden sky, gloomy because of the same and full of suspense since I had three rather serious in-patients at one of the hospitals I visit. I woke up early to the persistent ringing of the mobile-phone alarm (who uses alarm clocks nowadays?) *Smile*

The first hour after waking up is like passing through the eye of a tornado. The children wake up at almost the same time; then they have to bathe, have a hurried breakfast, get ready and call out to me to take them to school. My wife and I were busy organising their tiffins (small boxes in which we pack their home-made lunches to carry to school) when my Dad (who lives a short distance away) called to ask about something or the other. (He has this habit of “testing” his son and daughter-in-law when they are at their busiest with some inane matter of discussion that will take up at least ten to fifteen of those crucial sixty and a half minutes.)

I cut him short and requested him (regretfully, rather brusquely) to call back after nine a.m., that is, when I would have returned home after my first (and rather most important) errand of the day. By three minutes to eight, the children were ready and stood, bags over their shoulder, dresses clean and prim, lunch boxes in hand and rain-coats over their forearms. I left hurriedly, took them to school and came back without any untoward event. I seriously wanted to leave home as soon as possible so that I could reach the hospital a little earlier than my usual daily time of fifteen to twenty minutes past nine, so I tucked my own breakfast in, got ready, and kissing my wife on her cheek, left my home at about 8:45 a.m.

First, the hospital visits: they took the better part of two hours. It was past eleven a.m. when I finished with those and drove to my morning consulting rooms. I had called a patient with all his previous papers. He has a rare genetic disorder and I had mentally decided to brush up on my knowledge before confronting the parents so that I did not make a fool of myself. Well, the thing is, I never did read up on this disease as I had forgotten to do so.

So, in walks this patient (let’s call her Farida), and here I sat, with a smug look, hoping she would just disappear since I had no idea how to proceed with her problems. I smiled sheepishly at the parents, who sat with a hu…ge file of past reports. I reached out for the file, donned the glasses that hang from my neck on a string and looked through the papers with a look of sheer deep involvement. While some of those reports made perfectly good sense (since they were normal), others looked like they were in Greek and Latin (I don’t know both languages, seriously!)

I stumbled through my work as well as was possible, asking the parents to leave their file behind for “more scrutiny” and ploughed through the remaining, rather routine, cases. At half past one, I looked forward to a nice, lazy afternoon. Just as I was getting up from my chair, Farida’s father was back with three rather sultry, frowning men.

“Yes?” I asked, a pit growing in my stomach.

“May we come in?” asked the father, edging his way inside already.

I looked shifty-eyed at the three gorillas who accompanied the rather puny father (whom I had taken a liking to as he was small and easily overpower-able!).

The first of the three goons looked at me with a benevolent eye and announced that he was the third cousin of Farida. I nodded as best as I could, not knowing what lurked around the next sentence.

He sat down in one of the two chairs laid out in front of my desk and placed his hairy forearms upon the polished teak surface.

“I just wanted to tell you,” he continued, unmindful of my heart beating loudly (couldn’t he hear it lub-dupping, the silly oaf?) within my chest cavity. I licked my dry lips and waited for him to go on. He shook his head to re-position an oily slick of hair that had fallen forward and said, “Sir, Farida’s family has been meeting doctors of all kinds for the past several months, but no one has, as yet, put a name to her disease.” He paused to look at his other colleagues who nodded sagely with him.

The second of the three visitors now bent forward and said as conspiratorially as possible, “I - I mean, we, that is - all of us - are extremely worried about Farida. We trust you and have come all the way from Madhya Pradesh - Galiyakot - and fully hope that you will help us.” He stood with his hands folded, in the most common supplicatory stance adopted by most Indians when they are looking to get favours from others.

My relief was almost palpable. They were here to seek help and not to beat me up! I reassured the lot that I would do my utmost to help them and bade them permission to leave.

As soon as they had left, I called my secretary and spoke to her for a bit; then it was time to leave. I have a two-wheeler and a car, and today, I had chosen the two-wheeler to commute. I gave it a kick and it roared to life. Sitting astride it, I raced towards home sweet home. About five hundred meters later, the scooter skidded as air went out of its rear tyre. I barely managed to stay in control, then, under the gaze of impatient car drivers who had braked just in time to avoid colliding into me, I got off the vehicle and gently eased it near the kerb. Bending to see what the problem was, I saw that the rear tyre had almost completely deflated. I let off a string of curses. Speaking to a policeman who was standing just five meters away, I requested that he permit me to leave the scooter where it was and walk away from there. I showed him my license. Once he knew I was a doctor, he became instantly “helpful”.

“Okay, you may go for now. I will see that the RTO inspectors don’t tow away your vehicle,” he said. I went up to him to thank him. He slowly put his palm forward and I understood that he wanted me to grease it with money. I pressed a Rs. 50 note in his palm. Instantly, his fingers closed around it and he pocketed it into his trouser pocket. I smiled at him and taking out my mobile phone, called the scooter maintenance engineer to tell him to attend to my scooter.

Hailing a cab, I went home, removed a few cooked items from the refrigerator and put them to heat. Rain had just begun to fall when I sat down to partake of a lunch that consisted of salad, okra, chapatis, cold lassi and vegetable pulao.

I then proceeded to switch on my computer. When I sit in front of it, I cannot see the windows or any other part of the house save the wall just behind. I began checking my mail and browsing my favourite websites, including WDC. Time passed as I immersed myself in my work. I could sense that the room had darkened and the intensity of the rain seemed to have increased. When I looked at the clock ticking in the system tray, I realised abruptly that it was almost 4:30 p.m. I got off my seat and walked to the windows to “see” the rain. The entire compound of my building (which is like an apartment block) was full of at least twelve inches of water.

How will my daughters reach home? I thought to myself as I ran back inside to switch on the television set. On one of the news channels, the announcer was just saying “and the heavy rains may continue through the evening and night …” I switched off the set and got ready to take my car out to where my daughters normally alighted from the public transport buses (known as B.E.S.T. buses in Mumbai).

There was slow traffic as I pulled near the kerb about 20-odd meters from the bus stand. The rain was torrential by now and people were dolefully walking down the roads, umbrellas clutched in both their hands if possible as the wind factor was also quite strong. Half an hour passed, and on a road that had at least ten different bus routes operating, not one bus came by! I was getting a bit nervous by now. I tried to call my wife, who runs a beauty salon, and found that I could not connect to her. Frantic by now, I rang up the school; one of the office staff answered the phone and recognised me by my voice. She told me that all the children had indeed left and that they were likely to get delayed as it was raining heavily. I thanked her and disconnected. Staying put in my car, I waited anxiously. A few minutes later, a bus did come by. Some nine or ten passengers alighted, but not my daughters. I poked my head out of the window and called out to one of them. Upon enquiring with him, I discovered that the bus that had reached there was the one that had started out an hour and a half ago ... from the starting point which was barely six kilometers away.

Oh my God! I muttered another oath and got into a panic. I was in two minds about whether to drive down to the kids' school (and risk being caught in a Mother-of-all-Traffic Jams, or trust in God and return home and await the children's return.

Just as I was about to decide, my cell-phone rang. The ID said "HOME". This meant that the children had somehow made it home by some other route. I thanked Allah and turned the car around.

Horror of horrors! In the time it had taken me to wait for the children, the return traffic had increased by leaps and bounds. The short trip that should have taken just 40-50 seconds now got stretched into a long one of over fifteen minutes as the traffic seemed not to budge at all. I cursed myself again for driving out of the house in panic and gnashed my teeth, but there was nothing to do but to wait for the gaps to open so that I could drive through.

Presently, I arrived home to the hugs and admonitions of both Inas and Hannah, who were drenched to the bone, but none the less unhappy for it. In fact, they were positively ecstatic at getting a chance to walk in the rain. I cheered up too and guided them to the bathroom for their evening bath. Later, I served them food and made them comfortable.

It was time to attend my evening consulting clinic. I left the house at 35 minutes past five. This time, I decided to use the car. A great mistake, as the traffic hemmed me in from all four sides as soon as I had reached the first traffic roundabout. There was no way to turn back or go forward. Inches by inches, the car crept slowly forward, until I decided that enough was enough. I had gone only 150 meters in the past one and a half hours! It was almost eight p.m. (my clinic timings are 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and the location is a bare six to eight minutes' drive from my residence).

Finding a gap between two cars on the oncoming side, I twisted my steering wheel and took a 180 degree unofficial turn to point the car back towards the direction from which I had come. I called up my daughters and shared the good news with them. By 8:15, I was home. Nishrin, my wife, came back within another 15 minutes. We had only just sat down with a cup of tea when the lights and the power went out. Calls to the supplier were unsuccessful and we discovered that many, many areas of our city were facing the same problem right then. I went out to a local grocery store and bought a dozen candles and a few match-boxes.

We had dinner by candle-light and went off to sleep early as there was no way to sit, study or entertain ourselves. I tossed and turned throughout the night as I need a fan that is turning at full speed to be able to sleep. The lights came back on at around 5:30 a.m.

A long, unfortunate day had ended and a new day was just beginning, dark, cold and dreary.

Author's Note: Mumbai received 940 mm of rainfall in those twenty-four hours, the highest rainfall anywhere in the country in over 100 years! While I was unfortunate, the rest of the city, especially the suburbs, was racked by huge catastrophies, with nearly 200 people losing their lives, scores of buildings collapsing, over 1000's of head of cattle perishing, and waters inundating houses and colonies completley. People who survived had to stay in stationary buses and cars where possible. Others stayed overnight on railway platforms, in their offices, and even hundreds of children had to spend full nights in their schools. Horrifying deaths in cars whose doors jammed and central locking systems remained locked with the occupants literally drowning inside them made the news over the next few days.

Mumbai city has still not fully recovered. In the wake of the floods, we saw a spate of infectious illnesses like malaria, hepatitis, dengue fever, typhoid and what not. The most dreaded killer, leptospirosis, that spreads by ingestion of urine of infected rats, took over 150 lives in the next fifteen days.

Although the acute problems have receded, the affected homeless and abused poor are still waiting for governmental relief to reach them. Their lives are destroyed for ever.


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