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'We are back to zero'

By Archana Masih
August 03, 2005 14:55 IST
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The deluge in Mumbai last week washed away human beings, homes and cattle. Slums were submerged and many middle class homes lost all their belongings when water invaded their homes.

While promises are being to slumdwellers who lost their homes, the loss of the middle class Mumbaikar is being ignored.

We bring you the devastation suffered by the forgotten Mumbaikar -- a strata of society which is neither 'rich' nor 'poor;' a people forced into rebuilding their lives all over again, all by themselves -- in a special series.

On Sunday Firoz Khan packed all that was left inside his home and moved to his sister's apartment. All that he carried in the tempo trailer were a television, refrigerator and some untensils -- the only belongings his family could salvage from their home of 11 years in Mira Road, a satellite town near Mumbai.

The television was bought on monthly installments. The computer was bought a few years ago. Before leaving Mira Road, Firoz opened it in the hope that it would dry.

"One spends a lifetime building it all. Now we have to start all over again, we are back to zero," says Firoz, who shared his home with his mother and young wife.

Firoz's life encapsulates the Mumbaikar's story. People who struggle hard from early on -- doing odd jobs as college students to chip in for the family's expenses, then slogging as young professionals -- to build a comfortable life, piece by piece, over a period of time.

It took 11 years for Firoz to build his, and less than five hours for it all to be washed away.

'God cannot be so cruel'

A day after the rains wrecked Mumbai, when he broke open the door to his house with the neighbour's help, what he saw inside was horrifying. The refrigerator was floating, the television was bobbing in the water, documents were soggy, the music system and computer were submerged.

"His wife's wedding clothes were destroyed. Some other clothes which were absolutely new -- with tags still on them had colour running through," says a friend who helped them clean the house and took some of their clothes to wash in her house.

Another pile of clothes was carted by friends to dry cleaners, while Firoz had to make do with borrowed clothes.

"I can't tell you how much the house was stinking. It was unbelievable," he said over his cellular phone from his sister's house.

Like a majority of people, his house and belongings were not insured. "Who could have ever thought this would happen? In my wildest of dreams I couldn't have imagined that my house would be covered under chest deep water one day."

In all previous monsoons, when it rained very heavily water would rise to ankle-level in their home. So when the downpour began, his mother picked up a few things and put them on the bed, little realising that the bed, mattress and everything else would be ruined.

Numbed by the loss, Firoz has not even begun to try and quantify their loss. "To tell you the truth, I don't even know what all I have lost and if there's anything left in there that can be salvaged."

Today, he returned to his house to see if anything else could be saved. The refrigerator he took to his sister's vacant flat, miraculously, had started working.

'Tell the world our story'

For the next eight months or so, he has planned to keep his home locked and hopes to sell it off to invest in another house. With enough incidents of ground floor flats being flooded, it is not going to be easy finding buyers but Firoz hope things will work out.

The struggler that he is, life hasn't been an easy ride for this highly intelligent 29 year old. The last two years, he and his wife have being pursuing an evening MBA degree which has put them through the grind. Leaving home every morning at 7.30 am, making it to class and tutorials after a hard day's work at office and catching up with projects and household chores on alternate weekends off.

They had hoped the degree will give a boost to their designations and salaries. But now -- as Firoz said -- things will have to begin from scratch.

Terrible Tuesday: Mumbai copes with a calamity

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Archana Masih