Having been accustomed to changing seasons for major part of my life, I found the absence of winters particularly annoying when I moved to Bombay. The sweltering heat was equally annoying. The most distressing aspect though was that of the unrelenting monsoons that ruthlessly lashed the city, for a full one-third of a year, bringing everything to a screeching halt.
I still cannot forget the entire night spent inside a car barely a few kilometers away from BKC, with the Rain Gods refusing to stop unleashing the watery terror on the helplessly crippled city... this was one of the longest nights of my life. I should say our lives - Deepa, Vinodha and I - three of us huddled in the car. The unimaginable traffic jam on the expressway, hundreds, perhaps thousands of vehicles lying abandoned and people walking for hours in the pouring rain and the darkness of the night to get home. We decided to stay in the car.
Exhausted, I had dozed off for a couple of hours - only to be shocked into a state of fearful awareness of a cold watery feeling around my feet around 3-30 in the morning. Water had seeped inside the car and was up to the ankle level. At 4 in the morning, we decided to walk back to office. Wishful thinking - the moment we stepped out of the car, the force and fury of the cold water gushing in from outside made it impossible for us to even stand steadily in the knee deep water. Rain still hadn't subsided. Back to the car. Oh...that endless wait. Eventually, we walked for about four hours to get home. What an experience it was!
A year later, come July again - and this was by far the most terrifying and brutal incidents I've been a witness to in my entire life. Again, a very very long night. It was the night that followed the evening when terrorism targeted the lifeblood of Bombay - the strongest local public transport system in India - the Mumbai local trains. Ineffable fear, paralyzing terror and incessant prayers - that is my memory of the day. I got home around 2 am.
Terror-stricken, worried faces all around me. Faces worrying about their spouses, siblings, parents and children. Helplessly, I saw some of those worried faces turn inconsolably grief-stricken in course of another day. Lives mercilessly cut short. Unwarned. So many unsaid goodbyes. Unresolved misunderstandings, perhaps inconsequential, but which would now haunt the survivors for the rest of their lives.
These two days, incidentally both in July, but spaced by a year, remain etched in my memory. Whenever I miss Bombay, the memories of these two days in the month of July float back to cloud my mind. The rains no longer haunt me. But the bombing does. It makes me feel angry. People here immediately recognize the terror mingled with anger that still echoes in my voice when I talk about the incident. In the same way that I recognize that indescribable emotion in their voices - when they talk about 9/11. They also invariably remark that something in the way I speak about Bombay gives them the feeling that I am really fond of the city.
Images of those carefree weekends always bring a smile. Its like playing a movie in my mind...
Stepping into an auto-rickshaw at noon on a Saturday, to get to Fame Adlabs or Fun Republic to catch the matinée show of some hyped new release... spending countless afternoons in the neighborhood Shoppers Stop... walking for over half an hour in the evening to be face to face with the endearing neighborhood waterfront - the Juhu beach... walking down those familiarly crowded streets and lanes, avoiding stepping on the piles of garbage, not to mention the ubiquitous potholes overflowing with brownish black water (and I-don't-know-what-else... ugh ugh..) scattered all along the route from my home to the beach... walking for hours and hours and hours on the wet sand, shoes in my hands, the breeze from the sea infusing me with a mysterious energy, as if carrying the blessings some anonymous well-wisher from far across lands, perhaps even far across worlds - who knows.... and the forgotten music of some old song soothing my nerves - that was Bombay.