Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Curse of July

It’s been exactly one year since the famed 26/7 cloudburst and subsequent flooding of Mumbai. Yesterday, Johny Joseph, the BMC Chief, was narrating his pain over the Media hype of the incidents. It is not fair to put the entire blame on him, he said. And he was emphasizing the point that this year BMC is better prepared and within three [3] years, there will be no floods in the city.
God Bless him, but how is it going to happen? As I wrote earlier, a mere 250 MM rain caused wide spread panic, totally flooded streets and the lifeline, the railways, had shut down it’s services. Now who is responsible for that? The irony of the fact is that, the Emergency / Disaster management Cell set up by BMC was flooded in the first day of rain! Isn’t it a little too poetic to say that they are prepared? There are five more days to go before July comes to an end. Anything could happen within these days. Mr. Joseph, I sincerely hope that you don’t have to eat your words. Not for your sake, but for the poor Mumbaikar;s sake. We have had enough for a lifetime. Flooding, Riots, Bomb Blasts and epidemics.
The apathy of people towards this is appalling. In Vasai West, a housing colony, named Brij Bhuvan, has at least 8 cases of Jaundice. And it is spreading to others. Some tenants went to the Secretary and asked him to get the Water tank cleaned. He said that there is nothing wrong with the water tank and no need to clean it. Some of the residents don’t even remember when it was last cleaned!!

Is there a curse on July? Every year July brings disasters and maladies. There are reports that Malaria and Dengue is wreaking havoc in the suburbs. Jaundice is already making it’s presence felt. An old annual guest, the viral fever, is fast approaching the city. Other strains are already came and having a ball. Leptospirosis has already claimed many lives. Yet our BMC chief says that we are prepared. What are they prepared for? Mass Funerals? Or mass suppression of facts? BMC claiming that only 2 deaths occurred due to Leptospirosis in Private hospitals but the original figure is much more than that.
How long we continue to live like dogs? The lethargic, stoic nature, famously dubbed as Spirit of Mumbai, is the bane of an average mumbaikar. Get up from the slumber. Or our beloved city will be a mass grave.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Spirit of Mumbai - or is it denial of reality?

The spirit of Mumbai

Naun : resilience ; [ri’zilyuns]
The physical property of a material that can return to its original shape or position after deformation that does not exceed its elastic limit

The words are worn at edges from constant usage. Like an old typewriter keyboard. It is clichéd. The media, politicians, and religious leaders everyone exhorts Mumbai to keep it high. They call it resilience of Mumbai.
This phrase was used frequently when Mumbai is under siege. Be it monsoon, flood, bomb blasts, communal riots, police firing, or strike. They use it as if it is some kind of a cover for their failure to keep the city in shape or at least warn the city about the impending danger. It has become a common practice, so much common that the shoe shine boys on the railway Platforms start talking about the spirit.
What is this spirit?
As per our political fraternity (includes the PM & CM), it is not showing our fear or anger and report to work the next day. For the Media, it is to bounce back tragedy after tragedy and move on as if nothing has happened. For religious leaders, it is not indulging in retaliatory measures and not investigating their interests. For the common man, it is pure and simple. It’s his Life. If he doesn’t report to work next day, he stands to loose one day salary, or a leave which he can’t afford. SO put on a brave face, march on.

But what is exactly happening to this famed spirit? The soaring indexes of Sensex? After every bomb blast in the city, the Sensex gain a few points. The next day media holler “no one can defeat the spirit”. After seeing all the bloodshed, violence and natural calamities, are we immune to these sentiments? Or is it just a mechanism to escape all these, shutting down all the emotions deep within? Why we are so short on memory, that we still don’t have a memorial of those who died in the 1993 blasts? In Us or London or Thailand they remember their dead on every anniversary and shed a tear. Why we can’t do that?

According to me, it is just a mode of denial; denying of what happened to survive. It’s not bravado, but a mean selfishness. That “Oh I am Ok. I am not hurt” kind of thinking. It’s a mechanism developed by the subconscious mind after being constantly exposed to tragedies. For the Mumbaikar, not a single pass without seeing a tragedy. Be it train run over, road accident, flood, epidemics, or building collapse. Every day, he sees dead bodies and blood. So the numbed mind automatically develops this mechanism to escape a nervous break down.

And survival. Mumbai is the most benevolent city; at the same time, it’s the most unforgiving too. 65% of the population lives in slums and most of us can’t afford to take a vacation. A day off means less salary or a leave being deducted. And there is dead lines to meet, commitments to fulfill….
An average Mumbaikar is a hardened soul. Only the Local train traveling in peak hours is enough to make him harder than a battle hardened veteran. He literally had to fight his way in and fight his way out. Meanwhile, a few people fell off and died but he is obsessed with reaching in time.
Finally a bit of selfishness; If I am not hurt, why should I bother?
Despite all these the true compassion was at display on these blast sites. I am not forgetting that. I was referring to the general perception of spirit of Mumbai. It is nothing but a myth. It is time to shed that stoic image and be angry. Be very angry. And show that we are scared. Don’t let the authorities run away from their failure, just by making us false heroes. The city has reached the elastic limit. Not a millimeter can be stretched now.
Show the anger and fear.

Few photos - Exclusive of Mumbai Blasts - Matunga

Images are the property of Jagran TV Pvt Ltd.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My prediction about the blasts came true!!

I don't like to tell you "I told you". But in May 17 I have made a startling prediction Here. How prophetic it was!! But our Intelligent agencies were nowhere near with their thousands of informants and fancy gadgets. May be in India, The Indian meteorological DEpartment (IMD - Indian Wheather bureau) and our Intelligence agencies are on same wavelength. None of their predictions came true!!

Mumbai Blasts – a First Hand Account II

Day 2 after the devastating Blasts. Mumbai returned to normalcy. Almost. The trains were running on schedule, The same passengers, though they are little ruffled, still joking and laughing, over-crowded trains etc. Everything as usual as if these blasts were nothing but just a routine affair. But only one thing has changed. The faces that regularly met at First Class compartment. Some families will never be again the same. They lost everything in a moment.
Where is the help?
Right after the blast, within 2 minutes of it, I reached the spot. By then, fellow commuters who were in the next bogies started the rescue mission. They pulled out the injured from under the dead bodies, put them into the waiting hands and eased them to the grass and tracks. But where is the transportation? I saw an official; probably the Matunga station master, came to the site after 10-15 minutes the blast, took one look, and was on his phone. His exact words were “Idhar Bahut bada blast ho gaya hai! Mamla bahut bekhar hai. Jaldi gaadi aur police bhej do” (A big blast occurred here and the situation is worse. Send help and police immediately! Then it took another 30 minutes for the first ambulance to reach the spot. Talk about disaster management!!
Police version
It rained soon after the explosion, making rescue mission more difficult. I spoke to a policeman at the site, who was drenched in his Khaki uniform from the rains. He, a hardened policeman, too was shaking his head.
I - “Sir, How is the situation?”
Cop ; “total 7 blasts occurred and it’s total mayhem. Bloody bodies keep arriving from the trains. I have never seen something like this”
I : Why Police took so long to reach the site?
Cop; What do you think? We were sitting idle in our office and dozing off? Arre, (a popular way of addressing here in Mumbai) there were total 7 blasts and we were busy at other sites;
Point taken sir. Only at that time I was aware about the other blasts
It was once again on display; the famed resilience of Mumbai, the so called spirit of Mumbai. Total strangers were consoling the relatives of injured, People set up tables in front of their housing society distributing water and snacks. Local youths were trying to stop vehicles to put the stranded people on them so that they can go at least little closer to home. The slum dwellers rose to the occasion, first providing bed sheets as stretchers and helping in the rescue, then providing water and snacks in front of their shanties. Local Telephone booths, PCOs, let people to make calls without any charge. Just write the number on their log;
Some one called my city as the rudest in the world a couple of weeks back. Do you still dare to call it? The compassion at display was overwhelming. People lined up to donate blood in major hospitals. Is that what you call rudeness? Or may be taking a total stranger to your home and sheltering him, like those locals did!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mumbai Serial Blast 7/11 - A first hand account from Matunga

The train left Churchgate station at 5:57 PM precise. Me and my friend were little late leaving office so we opted to get in to the second last bogey instead of our normal 4th coach. I was engrossed in my reading and soon the train was entering the Matunga Platform. Since it was a Fast local it doesn’t stop at Matunga. Suddenly a loud explosion occurred. First I thought someone set off a cracker in some celebration. Then there was this sound similar to pelting stones on a sheet metal. (It was the strutting out sheet of metal scraping on the sleepers) My first thought was, “Oh Sh*t, some protests are going on and they are stoning. But by then the overhead wire, carrying 1500 Volt DC, fell to the other side of the train. People started jumping from the moving train. It happened so fast, that I now wonder whether it has happened at all. I shouted “Don’t Panic” to fellow commuters. By then my friend came along and grabbed me towards him and told me to jump. He too felt that the wire fell down and there is a chance of electrocution. By then most of the people got off, jumped to the tracks. In the process, someone broke a leg, some landed on the other etc.
Once got down, I could see the 4th Coach was totally destroyed. I grabbed my camera, ran towards the scene, and once there, regretted my decision.
It was one of the worst scene I ever witnessed. Dead bodies were lying on top of other. I started shooting. But I was so trembling, I got only 5-6 frames right. The rest was spoiled. The scene was horrifying. One man, under two dead bodies, raised his head, looked at my lens then died. Another was sitting on the ground, side of his face totally punched inwards, teeth protruding outwards awkwardly and bleeding. He was so emotionless. Totally shocked. Another lay on the tracks, his innards came out through a big cut in his stomach and was just rolling his head. In despair? Or in Pain? I may never know.
After shooting for some time, I felt dizzy. The smell of blood and the smell of death were all around. It was intoxicating. In fact I read about the smell of death. But came to know only yesterday. Raw flesh, severed limbs and a head, bodies scattered around the tracks… I couldn’t stand it any more.
The courage and Spirit of Mumbai was once again in full swing. By the time Police and Help arrived, a good 45 minute later, most of the injured were transferred to available transport and to hospital. Ripping the train’s seats they made makeshift stretchers and carried the people on it. No one thought about the possible danger. Whether there is another bomb etc.
I made it out of the station to see the spirit once again. Nearby residents and Local Shiv Sena activists came out with snacks, water and some youngsters forcibly stopped the passing by vehicles. Whether it’s a good’s carrier or it’s a Merc. They put the stranded people into the vehicles. At least they can get a little closer to home.
I’ll be continuing this series . Right now I feel stressed out. Seeing all the blood and gore, I wasn’t able to sleep. It’s sheer luck that I am still alive and I thank god for that. And my heart goes out to those families who lost their dear ones. I can’t get one image from my mind. One guy, was in the same position as he was from the beginning of the journey. Sitting, hands supporting head and sleeping. He died in his sleep.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mumbai deluge - An annual ritual

Another deluge hit the city. It was almost like 26/7. Well, almost. The major difference is while 26/7 witnessed an unprecedented 900 plus mm of rainfall, the last few days saw only 250mm at maximum. But the effect was near total. Water-logged roads & railway tracks, lost productivity, attendance of office dropped to a mere 50% on Wednesday. So what had changed since 26/7? Mumbai is famous for its undying spirit, the resilience, and its vibrant nature. But how long it can survive just on reputation? The infrastructure is creaking under the burden. A collapse in inevitable. Did we witness a trial run of that collapse? Was this a precursor of what is to come?
A couple of years back, on a rainy day, I set out for my office. From Vasai to Bandra the local train ran without any incident, though slower than normal. At Bandra it stopped and the Public address system was announcing the submerging of tracks and how trains can’t move ahead. Me & my friends caught a cab from there and reached my office 1 hour 30 minutes late. In the meantime, we never thought of going back home and we knew we will go back in the evening when the water level subsides. But this time around, we were glued to the office TV, watching news channels and anxiously looking skywards. But by 3:30 the urge to leave took over and the next day no one turned up.
So the deluge and water logging is not a new phenomenon for the embattled Mumbaikar. But the fear of getting strangled on a local train amidst submerged tracks, spending the whole night in awkward position without food or water, has prompted him / her to take the excessive precautionary measures. 26/7 left an indelible mark on Mumbaikars psyche. It surfaces whenever he sees a dark cloud on the sky, and gradually buildup along with the rains. They don’t want to take a chance. At the slightest suggestion of a heavy rain, he packs up and leaves for the safety of his home. Otherwise what explains the exodus I witnessed on Monday evening? Every road, every subway & every train was packed, by 4:30! And Tuesday & Wednesday, empty train, empty roads and empty office.
The main reason is the fear, but the authorities are not helping either. By seeing the pathetic conditions of Roads (that too laid recently) and how the drains are clogged at the mere suggestion of rain, and how their homes are getting flooded year by year, how can they not get scared? BMC & MMRDA has made a lot of promises before the monsoon but they can’t prevent the flooding. The reasons are just as ridiculous. Mumbai is a coastal city, and a low lying one so flooding is inevitable! So didn’t they consider this fact before making statements like, “This time we are fully prepared” and “if there is any flooding, you can dunk the ward officer”.
Now this is going to be an annual ritual, one that’ll be included in the government calendar. Just like How the U.S.A declare holidays when it’s snowing heavily. Mumbai has reached the saturation point. Be prepared for the next episode of flooding. May be this will be one that lasts for the entire monsoon.

Post Script:

Some people went ahead with their anti-Mumbai rhetoric, suggesting Mumbai-ites have become a whining lot. They blame the authorities (read Central govt) for every mishap etc. Let me remind you guy’s one thing. Mumbai has every right to complain. We are the highest tax paying city in India, and therefore we demand the best of infrastructure and facilities. We feed the countries economic growth, then why can’t we expect the country to payback when it’s time? We are the economic capital but what do we have in terms of infrastructure? We have a 100 year old infrastructure, mainly the drainage system and since its inception, the population of this city has grown manifold. So why, why Mumbai can’t ask for favors? Or complain? After all Mumbai rightfully deserve it. And if you meant our officials, yes the public have every right to be angry. Those armchair pundits, who writes lengthy articles sitting on their comfy armchairs don’t know what an average Mumbaikar has to suffer on a rainy day. Flooded streets, submerged tracks both means he can’t get home on time. Ground floor residents have to dash before their valuable possessions got submerged. Traders has to shift the grains and other perishable stuff to higher points. So why, why can’t they ask for their lazy Babu’s to do their duty? Can’t they learn from mistakes? How many incidents do they need to do proper job?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mumbai Deluge Update 2:53 PM

More bad news for western Railway Commuters!
Trains stopped plying between Dadar & Bandra.
Rains wreaked havoc through out the city.
SV road closed. Airports (both) closed.
As I write this, it is pouring down outside.
No respite anytime soon, as it seems!

Mumbai Rain 2006

It's pouring down in Churchgate & Fort area right now. Most of the offices gave permission to leave. But Central Railway is already stopped functioning.
Western Railway is still running albeit 30-40 min late.
Advice to all who haven't ventured out of their office.
Stay in the office. High tide timing 2:30-3:00. Coupled with this incessant rain, it's gonna be a lot more than what it is now. If you get stuck in between, only god knows when it will move again. In Office you are safe, you can freely roam around and most important, you could get water, use restroom etc.
And beware about overflowing, open manholes. So don't wade through the water.
And if you have any cuts, or bruises on your leg, please avoid getting into the water. You could well get infected with Leptostirosis.
So stya where you are and venture out only after the rains stopped.
Good luck!!