Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My brush with nature's fury!

From yesterday evening to half of last night, I spent most of my time in front of the television, trying to fathom how badly the east-coast of the US is getting affected by Hurricane Sandy. Locating friends and family scattered over NJ, NYC and DC, confirming they are fine and then calling it a day; it was hectic on the mind.

Today, Chennai and neighbouring areas are about to face Cyclone Nilim. On twitter, people living in affected/to-be-affected areas are recounting horror stories of now, and of the Tsunami. 

Somewhere it reminded me of the 2005 Mumbai deluge. It was the closest I have been to a natural disaster and it's still left me scared to the bones. Even imagining the psyche of the people affected by Sandy and Nilim, is unnerving for me.

I have moved to Bombay (yes please) a year before the deluge and was pretty comfortable with the city. My office was in Malad (Mindspace), I think that day I was in Prism Towers, on a 9-5 shift with Manish's team. Home was in Goregaon, but those days I would go to my cousin's place at Andheri.

Work kept me busy all day, and I remember, I hardly spoke to anyone, I was so swamped! Around 5, I saw some people come in to the floor with their mackintosh. I looked up to the glass walls of the window, and saw the view was hazed by water droplets. Oh ok, it's raining. I'll borrow an umbrella from someone.

Once I was done with work, I wrapped up, shut down the system and got up to go. All this while, I was monitoring calls, so had my head phones on. I had absolutely no clue about the conversations going on around me. As I was about to leave, J said, "Where do you think you are going?" with concern written all over his face. "Why, home!" I said. "You can't, there is water everywhere," he said and took me to stand by the nearest glass wall.

I looked down and I couldn't see any roads. There was water everywhere. A million thoughts went through my impulsive, impatient mind, which he read. 

"Networks are jamming up, call everyone you need to and tell them you will be in office until it's safe to go home," he said sternly, and walked off before I could revolt.

I looked around and tried to decipher the situation. There were more people on the floor than there should be. The call-taking sections were overcrowded, as they work in 24-hour shifts and people from the previous shifts were stuck while those from the next shift had reached work early, anticipating water-logging.

Yes, we were still talking about water-logging, no one could even dream there would be a deluge. I called Maa in Nagpur, told her, gave her a few other numbers she can reach in case she couldn't reach me. Called cousin. His office was 5 minutes by walk from his home, in Andheri (E), but he was stuck in traffic and couldn't yet abandon his car to walk home. He asked me to stay put and if things get better, he'l come pick me up from work.

I went back to my desk, my entire team had gathered around. They were all locals, and many of them couldn't trace their family members. The fear in their faces was scary, I remember saying a silent prayer that my family was safe and dry in another city, far away.

That night, I saw life face-to-face. And learnt a lot about humanity. And it's because of that night, I will have very high regards for Bombay and it's people.

Time went by real quick after that. The call taking teams were trying to cope. People from the day shifts were tired and hungry. Food and drink reserves from canteens in every floor were fast dwindling, water tanks were getting empty. All the towers were packed beyond normal capacity of work force. People who were on work-offs, but lived nearby, came over anticipating less workforce. And to make things worse, there was an outage in the UK, and more support staff was required. Managers started doubling as chai walas, people were fed and we, the non-call taking staffs gave up our systems. Pillows, cushions and blankets were brought in from the numerous relax-rooms, and given to whoever looked slightly tired. No one behaved selfishly, these articles were continuously passed over to everyone, to derive some comfort from. 

Food supply was dwindling, chai was shared, as was the food. Conference rooms were emptied. Those like us, the support staff, who had nothing to do, went to while away times there. Soon it was midnight. No one was sleepy. Many had not been able to contact family members, even then. One girl's mother was stuck at Andheri station, alone. 

By midnight, the rain had lessened and then stopped. But, there was no electricity. The towers were running on backup, and to ensure the backup ran well till the next morning, lights were dimmed. In an office where electricity was wasted in abundance, we were conserving. One meeting room which had 12 lights, would have only one light on. Central ACs would be switched off from time to time, to ensure we didn't run out of power back up. Look anywhere, there was a feeling of oneness. Not a single person was cribbing at the inconvenience. 

By 5 am, we could see the havoc outside. Animals, furniture, and things unimaginable were floating around. Water cleared by 7 am and we tried to venture out. It was decided that we'l go to the nearest house possible and freshen up and bit, assess the situation and then go home. We walked out of Mindspace and landed straight in ankle deep water. No warning, suddenly. Two Sumo(s) were passing by, we noticed they were our organisation's vehicles. We asked the drivers to drop us which they agreed to. 500 meters down, and about a kilometre from my colleague's house, we got stuck in tyre-height water with traffic everywhere. In front of us were cars that were abandoned at night. Behind us, were people trying to get home. We got down, and decided to walk home, it's just a kilometre away.

There was muddy water everywhere and we had no clue what our next step would be on. From ankle deep water, we had reached waist deep water. There were cars everywhere, most empty. A few had people inside - dead. Suffocated to death. We were holding hands and walking, lest one slips, the other can hold. Phones and wallets were also held in hands, high above our heads. We were in water till out busts by now, frustrated to the core. Dead cows, rodents, furniture, food --- floated by us. We kept hoping this is a dream. Only things positive were that it had stopped raining and it was day time.

This is exactly how we had to wade through water. Pic courtesy: Google

We reached the friend's house to see there was no electricity (of course) and we had to climb 13 floors. Starved, we sent the watchman to buy us bread, milk and eggs which he could get after roaming around for an hour. There was limited water, we somehow bathed and changed into her clothes. We put all our clothes, and our lingeries in a big packet, to be thrown away, and sat down to rest.

Just then we got a call from work, saying there was another outage in the UK, and they needed more support staff here, we needed to go. They sent us a car via another route and 30 minutes later, we were back to justifying out salaries. People who were stuck in trains and buses all night, had started coming in to office. No, they didn't go back home. Looking around I realised, why Bombay is the place for anyone who takes their career seriously. You simple cannot slack down, the vibe is so positive all the time. It's always, all for one and one for all. Seeing those earnest faces and their logic behind, "I am safe, and I am capable ... then when I am needed at work, why won't I help ...?" I was sure, even the laziest would have learnt to be sincere and dedicated. People who were coming from home, were bringing along water, hot drinks and food, some even brought pillows and towels!

We could go home that evening, and thankfully it was a long weekend after that. We all slept through the weekend, and reported to work on Monday, still with sore bodies and scarred minds. Some had lost family members, some still  weren't able to trace their friends. It took ages to recover and emotionally I guess people are still a little stunted since then. I, for one, start worrying every time it rains heavily for more than 3-4 hours.

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