Parents of students in our school had started streaming in to pick up their dear kids. Not all of them could make to school though, and at 7 p.m (one hour after closing time) we were marooned with around 100 children along with 25- 30 staff members (teachers as well as helpers)
The phone lines were dead! There was no way we could have contacted the parents of these children. Mobile networks were down too and we were completely shut out from the outside world! Teachers were frantically trying to call up their families to ensure their safety and to assure them of their own.
Outside, the rains were poring down mercilessly showing no signs of relenting. There was an unspoken pact among the teachers that they wouldn’t leave until all the students had left safely with their parents. We worked together tirelessly to ensure that children were handed over to their parents as and when they came in. The water levels were rising in alarming proportions. Our school library was partially filled up with water and anxiety writ all over our faces.
Very soon we were left with around 30-35 children, some of whose parents who had been able to make it to the school but didn’t want to risk their lives by venturing out into the rains again. The teachers did their best to keep the mood light. The children were oblivious to the fact that something was wrong. They were busy drawing pictures, playing games and chatting away gaily with their friends. Only a few glum faces were noticed, but teachers took them under their loving care and made sure to wipe out any traces of gloom. Luckily, our school had stocked up well on biscuits and soft drinks. We got these distributed to the children who were more than happy to get their hands on their favourite biscuits and soft drinks.
Somehow, our Principal managed to establish contact with a local caterer who was also a parent. Within hours she managed to send us rice, dal, pickle and papads. It was a welcome relief for us. Dal and rice had never felt so tasty before this.
Hours went by and we resigned to the fact that we were destined to spend the night at school. A few classrooms were cleared and mats were laid out for children and their parents to retire for the day… and what a day it had been!
Most of the teachers had already heard from their spouses and checked up on the kids who were in the safe custody of their in-laws or caring neighbours. Another classroom was converted into a makeshift dorm for the teachers. But sleep eluded us and we decided to make the most of the God-sent opportunity by chatting up each other. Most of us were still numb with disbelief. ‘Is this really happening to us?’ was written all over our tired faces. Our sense of humour was at an unusual high and we spent all night cracking jokes and laughing till our sides ached. We simply had a ball of a time.
We didn’t realise it was already dawn. We wished each other a good morning and wondered aloud what time would we sign out in the staff muster. A teacher’s family who stayed near the school managed to send us chai and breakfast. Soon worried parents started streaming in to pick up their kids and soon we were left with just 4-5 kids. The rains had subsided so our Principal suggested we leave soon too and she would wait until the kids dispersed. Outside there was a traffic jam and we could see people wading through waist-deep water. We split up and started off for home. I embarked upon the journey-all by myself :-( I kept telling myself to be brave and … I put my feet in the water. It was cold and mucky and I felt all my resolutions breaking down.
Somehow I managed to take the next few steps and very soon I was in waist-deep water. It was a very risky thing to do, because this road was full of potholes, and there was also the fear of getting electrocuted or worse still, drowned. Strangers offered their advice- ‘Behenji aap is taraf se chaliye (pointing towards the divider) idhar safe hai.
The water was muddy and I could see plastic bags, fruits, onions, pieces of broken furniture, footwear etc. floating and occasionally entwining around my feet. I couldn’t believe this! I, who have always been particular about cleanliness, would wash my hands with disinfectant soaps after reaching home was actually wading through sludge and grime. I shook my head in disbelief. I was still among the luckier ones who stayed very close to my workplace, now if only I reached home on time.
On the way I saw many damaged vehicles, school buses with children in them, public transport buses with passengers trapped inside, autorickshaws, and fallen motorcycles. I looked around and vaguely remembered seeing something like this on TV and here I was in the middle of all this! This couldn’t really be happening to us! What normally would have taken me 20 minutes, took me almost and hour and a half and I finally reached my locality.
It seemed like our locality had faced the brunt of the fury. I rubbed my eyes in shock when I saw that water levels had risen till the first floors (though it had ebbed by morning) Harried looking neighbours and Amma who had been waiting for me looked relieved when they saw me wading through knee-deep muck.
Water water everywhere…not a drop to drink!
If you think that my nightmare ended there…think again! I was in for a few more shocks…no power, no water… and worse still…I had to climb up five storeys:(( As hours went by, tales of horror started streaming in… everyone around was talking about carcasses of cattle, dead bodies floating in the water, people asphyxiated in their own cars…
Each of us has a story to recount… of horror…of survival… and I do so hope that things will get back to normal and Mumbai spirit will stay afloat...
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