The Mumbai monsoon story has remained the same year after year. And no matter what anyone says or does, it’s hardly likely to change. People will wait anxiously for the rains as the heat and humidity get worse. They will dance with joy when the first shower happens. They will pooh-pooh the claims of the Met department which will say that shower was not the monsoon, this spell of rain is not the monsoon and once the roads are suitably flooded and the trains have stopped, the arrival of the monsoon will be confirmed.
A boy plays in waterlogged Parel after a renewed spell of rain on Tuesday. Pic/Tushar Satam
Soon the euphoria will turn to despair as people huddle under plastic sheets, drains overflow, muck and slush cover the streets and no one can get to work, out of the house or anywhere at all. However, anyone who lives in Mumbai knows that extreme episodes like these (barring the experiences of 2005) happen at least five times a year during Mumbai’s most fabulous season. It is not monsoon if you do not get stranded somewhere at some time.
The municipal corporation has almost never been ready. Every citizen watches sludge being removed from the gutters and carefully placed right next to the gutters for easy flow-back during the first shower of rain. This is an art that has been perfectly honed by Mumbai’s massive and rich municipal corporation. Soon to be on display is the other much-sought-after skill: chucking rocks and stones of all sizes and dimensions into the potholes which mysteriously appear on the city’s perfectly-made roads.
Over the years we have seen technologies imported from all over the universe to surface Mumbai’s roads (after long and fruitful visits to everywhere by our politicians and bureaucrats). None have worked because not a single contractor knows or wants to know how to use those technologies. And besides, if you use those, we will lose that fine art of potholing and there goes a chance at gold at the soon-to-be-invented civic Olympics.
There is also the carefully worked out schedule of repairing all roads about a month before the monsoon is due to arrive. It is pointless to start road works in October, say, because the extreme heat would make everything far too easy. Life is meant to be difficult and this toughens you up for further surprises like being prepared when Godzilla visits and so on. Half-made roads and heavy rainfall are staples of a Mumbai monsoon and the municipal commission knows it.
The significance of trees in the Mumbai monsoon must not be underestimated. For nine months we must grumble about how the city is losing tree cover and how we need more trees. We will also complain about developers who cut down trees, trees that are covered by hoardings and trees that are damaged to make way for hoardings. But let one tree fall down in the rains and there we are, baying for blood or sap if you will. The trees must go.
We must admit that the train services are marginally better. They stop and start, it is true, but they start more than they stop. Trains that stop also provide an opportunity to taxis and autos to charge outrageous sums of money from commuters. This is their annual saving racket and they really look forward to it. How can you grudge them that?
However, there is no moral to this. I am a rain romanticist. I waited as a five year old for school to be cancelled so I could splash about in puddles in my gumboots and raincoat. As a working person who travelled by train, I bought an umbrella every year which was useless against the rain but useful for whacking people who got too close on railway platforms. I anxiously checked the lake levels every day for the whole monsoon. I ate bhutta on Marine Drive and pakoras if they were offered to me although I rarely touched them the rest of the year. I went to Mahabaleshwar instead of Goa to enjoy the Western Ghats at their best and ate corn and
Now I live in the foothills of the Himalayas, above Dehradun, and it does rain here, a lot. But nothing compares to walls of water walking across the bay into Mumbai. You guys don’t know what you have. Stop complaining.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona