Lindsay Pereira: History condemned to repeat itself

Oct 07, 2017, 06:15 IST | Lindsay Pereira

This year's monsoon has done its usual damage and, as always, our government will have learnt nothing from its mistakes

I suppose it's finally safe to discuss the monsoon, now that it appears to be petering out. I was, like millions of my fellow residents, left stranded and helpless on more than one occasion over the past couple of weeks, when the rains compelled so many of us to cower in terror as we struggled with memories of July 2005. Any city governed by competent folk would have learned something from a tragedy of that magnitude and yet, 12 years later, it felt as if we were at Square One all over again.

There was no information available on when train services would resume, naturally, which meant some of them would have to stay out all night. File pic
There was no information available on when train services would resume, naturally, which meant some of them would have to stay out all night. File pic

I had a flight to take on August 29 when, by 4 pm that afternoon, everything I hoped wouldn't go wrong promptly started to. First to go were the streets, smothered by waves of water that had no business being there because, as we have been told every year, the BMC is more than equipped to handle water-logging. The BMC has been working on a drainage system longer than Salman and Aamir Khan have been playing college students on the big screen. I suspect the Khans will stop at some point though, while the BMC will continue to divert more funds for its mysterious projects that never seem to work.

A mere hour or two after high tide that evening, arterial roads were inundated, while smaller streets like the one I live on simply disappeared. Open manholes, sewers, potholes and missing paver blocks — the things that plague us relentlessly, and remind us daily of the corruption and incompetence that pervades every department of the BMC — all conspired to create a dangerous cocktail that put everyone on the street in harm's way. There were children on their way back from school, teenagers stuck in buses that weren't going anywhere, and thousands of poor, huddled, homeless masses who are uncared for even in good wea­ther, all at the mercy of a government organisation whose presence was never felt.

The lights went next, presumably to prevent short circuits or electrocutions. This was all conjecture, obviously, because none of the people in my locality were informed about why they had been plunged into darkness. There were no messages, no warnings, no concern for children or senior citizens stuck in dark hallways, lifts or homes. There was only gloom, which we were all expected to accept without question and then cope with.

My Internet and Wi-Fi connections failed, followed by my phone connection. What this meant, apart from the fact that I could no longer rely on much-publicised transportation apps to get me out, was that I had no way of receiving any messages from the government, the BMC or any agency supposedly created to make the lives of people living in this city easier. Luckily, I didn't worry too much about this at the time because I was aware that our government rarely bothers to issue messages of importance. It is usually left to citizens to fend for themselves; which is exactly what happened.

I convinced a local taxi driver to ferry me, and was stopped every 10 minutes by people on the street begging me to drop their wives, mothers or children at safer parts of the city. The trains hadn't worked for hours, they said, and they couldn't bear to see family members cold, hungry and far from home. There was no information available on when train services would resume, naturally, which meant some of them would have to stay out all night.

At least five people died that week. Millions of commuters were stran­d­ed, dozens of flights and train servic­es cancelled, roads clogged, offi­ce- goers forced to wade through knee-deep water or sit in stranded vehicles for hours. Hospitals were flooded, forcing doctors to evacuate patients while worrying about infections in the aftermath of the waters receding.

Flooding in 2005 claimed over 1,000 lives. It also swept away homes, disrupted water supply, snapped electricity lines and communication networks, and affected public transportation for days. We were promised something like that would never happen ever again, and those promises were repeated every year for the next decade.

I knew, like millions of my fellow citizens, that my government didn't care and had no intention of doing anything to help when I saw a tweet from the PM. 'Urge the people of Mu­mbai and surrounding areas to stay safe & take all essential precautions in the wake of the heavy rain [sic],' it read. The onus, clearly, was on us. We had no one to rely on but ourselves.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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