driving

Driving And Deluge Away

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I had travelled to Mumbai on 28 August 2017, for a client meeting. The flight was delayed by an hour due to storm and rains in the city, which had led to a virtual shutdown of the Mumbai airport for its duration. My hotel was close to the airport, so I escaped the water-logging in the city. So far, so good.

On 29th August, I got ready and started for my client meeting. The meeting was in Lower Parel area. Locals would confirm to you that this is one of the low-lying areas of Mumbai and experiences severe water-logging issues even during routine rainfall. I had scanned the weather forecast before leaving—it had rained through the night and more rain was expected for the next two days. Mumbai Municipal Corporation had declared 29th and 30th as holidays and advised all the citizens to stay indoors. To make matters worse, on 29th August itself, a high tide warning was also issued at 4pm IST. High tide at sea implied that Mumbai had no outlet for the excessive water that was pouring into the city.

My meeting was to start at 2pm and I had left the hotel by 10am to factor in the traffic situation due to rains. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic on the roads, torrential rains and high wind speeds had reduced the visibility to a near zero. I made it to the client’s office by 1pm. At that time, the water level had already reached 30cm.

The meeting finished at 4pm and all the locals wished me luck for the way back. I checked my phone for updates on rain situation, incessant rains had moved up the water level to about 40cm. The taxi driver had been driving the roads of Mumbai for about 25 years, he told me stories of the 2006 deluge as we drove down water-logged roads. He had received many-a-call from the owner of the taxi company in between, and told me that if it gets any worse, he would park the car and wait for water to recede before moving further.

Two hours later, we reached the over bridge near Dadar station. Water was inching higher by the minute, but was not high enough to enter the taxi, at least not yet… The taxi driver parked the car at the bridge he had instructions to not move ahead. We waited at the bridge for over two hours. At 8pm, I started to panic. I had an early morning flight from Mumbai, for a connecting flight back to Europe. Two hours and after much discussion and debate, the taxi company owner allowed the driver to take me to my hotel, but threatened the driver that in case of damages to the car, he will deduct from his salary.

I heaved a sigh of relief, silently prayed for Guru’s grace and asked the driver to start. I assured him that we would reach safely, and no harm would come to him or the car. He obviously did not believe me, and again repeated that if the car stopped due to water-logging, he would simply leave the car and then I will be on my own.

It was 9.30pm and we had moved barely a kilometer ahead. We were now in some of the lowest lying areas of Mumbai. Some good Mumbai Samaritans advised us to keep our windows down and turn-off the AC (turns out this was a major cause of death in 2006 due to asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide, which was not able to get out from car exhaust). On the way, we also gave lift to few stranded souls who had no means to reach home as the local trains weren’t working.

At times it seemed we were in an amphibious vehicle, like the one you see in James bond movies, which was running on land and on water simultaneously. Floating at times and running at times.

By now water had reached the window glass and in no time, it entered the passenger compartment. I was drenched till my knees. Driver was scared and not a word came out of his mouth. The taxi was a low sedan and we saw even the taller SUVS collapsing in front of us. I closed my eyes and focused on Yogi ji. After 500 meters of navigating through deep waters we reached a tri-junction, existence of which was unknown to the taxi driver as well! The usual route was clogged and so we took an unknown road, not knowing where it went. 200 meters later, the level of land became higher, and water level was merely 20cm above the road.

Another 500m later, we stopped to throw out the water that had collected in passenger compartment. It was almost 2am when we reached the hotel. It took us 10hrs to cover a distance of 8km. I caught my morning flight comfortably and the connecting flight from Delhi.

It was an experience of a lifetime for me and for the driver, who did not utter a word till we reached the hotel. He couldn’t seem to get over the fact that how come, bigger stronger cars were collapsing whereas his modest taxi made it through! By the way 29th August 2017 is recorded as the second-most rainiest day in the history of Mumbai! How we made it through beats all logic. For the non-believers I can give the number of the taxi company and show my hotel booking and flight details.

Auhtor: Nishit Chandra

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