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Give me Bombay every time

By Dilip D'Souza
July 28, 2005 13:32 IST
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One more time, I find reasons I am glad we don't have a television. Watched Star News coverage of the Bombay deluge at a friend's place on Wednesday evening. There was much footage of the disruption in the city, including from the flyovers in Bandra, not far from my home. There was also a deal of breathless eloquence about how Star TV was the network to watch, being best equipped for the rains, being the only one that possessed cameras that had... wipers.

Yes, it's the country's greatest-ever single-day downpour, people killed by mudslides, cars and buses and trains stranded all over the place, tens of thousands trudging for miles -- and you can switch on the television to see these wipers in action and hear about them again and again.

I wish I was making this up.

Yet that's only the minor partner in those reasons I mentioned. The real reason was that the programme I caught was a Hindi one titled Toota Sapna Shanghai Ka ("The Dream of Shanghai is Broken", and forgive me if I haven't got the title quite right, frankly I don't care). Thrust of it being, look at this city, how can it ever be a Shanghai if one bout of rain is all it takes to shut it down completely?

Rain claim 200 lives in Maharashtra

Aren't you sick of this Shanghai stuff? I am. I have been sick for a very long time of the constant refrain that we are going to be another Shanghai; before that, we were longing to be another Singapore. Why can't we just be Bombay? Whose Dream of Shanghai is Star TV talking about? Not mine!

But it gets worse. There's one more annoying thing about this Star News title. Yes, a downpour shut the city down, but this was no ordinary rain. We all know by now of the new single-day rainfall record. 37 inches would be considered a wet monsoon in many parts of this country; Bombay got that much in one day.

Mumbai will be back, with a bang!

Apart from that, many people in the city died. Many are still frantically trying to locate loved ones; thousands of parents were sick with worry for kids coming home from school. A tree fell on the slum home of a woman I know, destroying the roof and exposing her and her grandchildren to the driving rain: that story must have been repeated a hundred times.

On the flyovers that lead to the Western Express Highway on Wednesday evening, the traffic jam -- itself broadcast to the world by Star TV -- was so snarled and gigantic that it was hard to comprehend how it would even begin to ease. Or when. In that flyover jam, I met a bus driver who had been in his bus for 24 hours. Think of depressing the clutch of a bus over and over for that long. I met four Americans, one with gimpy knees, who had been sitting in a cab for 19 hours. I met a taxi-driver who had had nothing to eat since the water began rising.

All what the rain wrought.

'Mumbai will limp back'

This is a routine event? This is to be described as "all it takes" to shut down a city? This trauma for millions must be trivialised into another meaningless comparison with Shanghai?

I've never cared much for the talk of the "spirit" of this city. What does that mean? Nothing at all. Give me frank, honest appraisals of the state of my city any day, rather than airy-fairy cheerleading.

Yet even so, there's something about a calamity like this that says a lot about the humanity around us all: good and bad, warts and pretty faces, hell and high water.

So I found myself accosted on the flyover by a gang of drunk toughs, laughing but faintly threatening as they demanded I take a photograph of them. "You didn't take it", said one belligerently when I was done, "you just looked at us through your lens!" "Yeah yeah, go on," said another, with a hint of menace, "you're going to show the world how dirty Bombay is!"

I found little kids hawking packets of biscuits to the stalled vehicles. "Dus ka teen! Dus ka teen!" they shouted. Three for ten rupees. Sounded low to me. But anyway, credit to them for swiftly sniffing opportunity, and in many cases it was the only food people in the jam had had.

There were students helping the poor survive the water; there were thousands gawking in wonder at stranded train riders. Men breaking road dividers to make a U-turn here; even a wiper-fitted television camera there.

Searching for heroes? Look no further

Attempts to molest women commuters; attempts to rescue people in a stalled double-decker bus.

Give me Bombay every time. Not some misty-eyed dream of Shanghai.

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Dilip D'Souza