I woke up with a smile on my face because I knew that today was going to be a good day. The sun shone brightly and the sparrows tweeted a melodious tune.
The ‘Pageant of Poems’ competition was scheduled to take place in the school hall and I was to take part in it. As I walked the corridors of the school, all the teachers greeted me and wished me good luck for the competition.
The rising excitement in me was due to the fact that I had a big role to play in the competition. I was to play the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s classic, ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’. The hour of the competition was upon us and my team was ready to give it our best shot. Weeks of training bore fruit. No one was surprised when we came first.
The thing I hadn’t realised was that while the results were being called out, it had started to rain. I thought it would be a passing shower. I was yet to realise the dark and gloomy weather would lead to one of the scariest days in the city of Mumbai.
The date was July 26, 2005.
The showers kept increasing by the minute and there was water logging all around the school building. In a few minutes, water entered the school building. At about 3:15 pm, an announcement was made on the P.A. system. Our Principal rarely sounded like she was panicking, but this time everyone could hear the panic in her voice.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
I looked out of the window to see children wading chest-deep through the water. In the few minutes that I had turned around, half my class had left for home. Their parents and servants had picked them up. Very soon, I was in my school bus. I thought that because of all the water, it would be an hour before I reached home; but there was a small voice in my head telling me that it would be a long time before I got home.
The bus roamed around JVPD scheme for what seemed like two hours. Eventually we ended up back where we started: at the school. We waited a while there. Then the bus driver got a phone call that we should be taken to a place where we could wait till the mayhem had subsided.
All the sweet words of the competition poem were forgotten and the only thing that prevailed in my head was a terrible, terrible thought: What if I never saw my parents again? My heart skipped a few beats.
When we arrived at the safe house, we were carried from person to person — just like pieces of luggage. The locals were afraid that we would drown and so they had put this foolproof plan into action. Aptly, the building was called ‘Aashray’. All of the residents came with food for the stranded young ones.
Food — my favourite topic of daydreaming at those days — suddenly didn’t matter. Fear had engulfed my emotions just like everyone else’s. Everyone had tears in their eyes, even the ‘big kids’.
There was nothing dry in sight. I saw a person floating in the water. I thought that it was a madman having fun in the rain. It was only later that I found out that people can’t float in water. At least not live people.
I looked around. I realised that I was in a familiar neighbourhood.
My grandparents’ house was close by and I hoped that I could be taken there. I asked an old man who appeared to be in charge. To my surprise he did not agree to let me go even though I knew my way there.
Nobody cared about me in this place and I thought that I should run away.
Finally, a youngster, probably in his early twenties asked if he could do anything to help me. He had seen the fear on my face. I was elated to find someone who cared.
He took me there on one condition: I would leave my bags behind. He said that he did not want me to wet my books any more they already were.
I reached my grandparents’ ninth floor house. There was no electricity. We climbed up the stairs. It was a memorable climb.
As soon as my grandmother saw me, she picked up the phone. She spoke to my mother excitedly, “Don’t worry anymore. He is safe.”