Mumbai Rains: How we survived the day

“Go live on Facebook from wherever you are and cover the Mumbai rains”, my boss said as he wrote Versova against my name. Mumbai was experiencing heaviest rain since 2005’s crazy flooding. We were in office on the fateful day of August 29, 2017. Despite the warning signs, I left home in the morning to get to work. Ironically, this happened to be my last week in office.

I take my job seriously, even if I am not fond of it.

So when my boss asked me to leave the office at 1 PM and go home, so that I can cover heavy rains in Versova, I didn’t think twice. I said okay and in another 10 minutes I was packing up to leave. My colleague lived nearby so we decided to go together. I made Tea pack up and leave with us as well. Tea is probably the closest person I have in Mumbai, I couldn’t leave without her. As it is we come to the office together and leave together every day. Perks of living close by.

The bus outside Elphinstone Station

Together the three of us stepped out of the building. “The local trains aren’t running due to rain”, a voice came from somewhere. “No no, they are just delayed, don’t worry”, another one shouted. We took the elevator to the ground floor and left the cozy comfort of the office. At gate 2, our regular exit, the guard didn’t let us go out. The water levels were waist high. We took the longer route to Elphinstone station from gate 1.

As we walked out of gate 1, Tea asked if we should go back to the office instead of risking the trip home. We didn’t pay much heed to her warning and kept walking. Soon we found ourselves in knee deep water. Tea asked again if we can go back to the office. I denied. So did my colleague. Tea was adamant to go back to the office. I didn’t want to go back. I had a job to do. Cover Mumbai rains, I could hear the echo of my boss. Together, we pushed Tea to come along. This was our biggest mistake.

The infant was wrapped up in clothes and held by the father.

At 1:50 PM we were in knee deep water walking towards Elphinstone station in the middle of the street. We passed by a family of 3, the infant was wrapped up in clothes and held by the father, protected from rain. Are they crazy? This was my first thought I should have shot that for the channel, was my second one. I should have. I forgot. At this point, the panic was settling in. I was no longer a journalist. I was a common man trying to get home.

After 20 minutes of navigating through the water logged streets, we made it to the Elphinstone station only to find out the trains have indeed been canceled. There was no way we were going back now. Tea gave me a disapproving look and I knew I had made my first mistake. Luckily we noticed that the fast locals were running. These are trains that only halt at major stations and not at smaller ones like Elphinstone. As we waited at the station, a slow train towards Churchgate arrived. That is the opposite direction.

We boarded the train, hoping to get down at Mumbai central and catch a fast train from there to Andheri. It was logical. 2 stations later we were stranded at Mahalaxmi. The announcement said the trains will not go any further. We had to make a choice between getting off the train and leaving the station or staying and waiting. Meanwhile, Tea was already calling her friends and relatives to see if we can find a place to crash at night. We had hope.

I shot a video of commuters walking on the tracks as trains had been halted. The trio then got off the train. Tea recommended we go to Mumbai central and check in at the YMCA hotel. My colleague and I didn’t argue against it. We went against her once and it didn’t end well for us. We left the station and started walking towards Mumbai central. We had made our second mistake.

As a journalist, I was supposed to cover the plight of Mumbaikars as they were stuck in the rain.

To shoot videos of the wrath of the clouds showering over this lovely city. I didn’t do it. I was too scared. We needed shelter. It was almost 3 PM and we were stranded on one of the low lying areas of Mumbai.

We followed Tea towards YMCA hotel but had to stop. The water levels on the street were scary. We took a break at a high rise posh residence building’s security office. The security won’t let us in the building. The winds got furious. It threw me off my feet and broke my umbrella. Tea lost her mind. I lost my mind. We were stranded in the middle of Mumbai with no idea what to do. I wanted everyone to be safe.

My first action was going on Airbnb. I searched if there is a place available in the same residential complex, there was none. Disappointed I started looking for hotels nearby. I called the first one, “I’d like to book a room, but please send a taxi to pick us up here”. The response was simple, “We can’t”. I called about 7 hotels, from a cheap hotel to a 5-star hotel.

None of the hotels were willing to send a taxi.

Meanwhile, Tea and my colleague were calling their friends and cousins to check if someone lived nearby. As much as I wanted someone to find something, it was hurting that I was not able to handle the situation. Nevertheless, I buckled up and went out to check if we can get a taxi to take us to Mumbai Central. The answer is No.

Eventually, we walked a bit back and stopped at a tiny restaurant for shelter. The ladies began charging their phones. I went in hunt for a taxi to take us somewhere, anywhere we can spend the night. Tea’s brother had soon suggested we go to Four seasons hotel in Mahalaxmi, a 5-star hotel with over 300 rooms. After a lot of drenching and pleading to taxi drivers, one agreed to take us to four seasons. The relief on Tea’s face was priceless. The relief, however, was short-lived.

The Four Seasons hotel in Mumbai was fully booked. So was St Regis which was close by. There were no other hotels in the vicinity and the taxi driver wasn’t willing to take us further. Rightly so, as the roads were closed down everywhere else. We decided to go to Four seasons and try our luck nonetheless. After a cab ride of over an hour, what on a normal day would be 10 minutes tops we were 300 meters from Four seasons. I forced Tea to get out and walk. That was my 3rd mistake.

Before we started walking, my colleague had managed to get in touch with a friend who lived nearby. He had willingly offered us to stay at his place. However, we wanted to check if we can get a room at Four seasons so we don’t have to bother anyone. As we walked to Four seasons, once again pushing against the wind in ankle deep water, we were spent. Tired, exhausted and hopeless it seemed like the end. Shouldn’t have gotten out of the cab,  I thought. We, however, managed to get there.

We met Anurag, my colleague’s friend outside the hotel. He asked to follow him but we wanted to check if we can get a room so we went to the hotel instead.

The ladies used the rest room while I tried my hardest to woo the receptionist to give me a room. He eventually agreed but the only room available was the Deluxe Suite for about 45000 INR per night and 28% taxes extra. Obviously, we had to say no to it. I mean it’s not like we couldn’t pay for it, but it would really be foolish. We weren’t dying and Anurag had generously offered his place to us. In hindsight, I really think I shouldn’t have quit my job at Deloitte. Had I not, I wouldn’t worry about any amount of money.

Our savior, Arjun Pandey

Four seasons staff was so accommodating, they provided us with dry towels as we entered. Leaving the premises was a bit of a disappointment. However, we did make a move. At this point, I didn’t care that I couldn’t take any videos for my firm. I really wanted the girls to get to a safe place asap. After 10 minutes of walking, we found ourselves smiling at each other inside a one room kitchen apartment that Anurag calls home. Home, it felt like. Anurag loaned us his clean clothes and at about 6:30 PM we were sitting in his apartment eating out of the tiffin boxes we carried from home for lunch.

If it weren’t for Anurag, I am not sure what we would have done. I owe a big apology to Tea. I do. I should have never left office or at least ran back inside when I had the chance. I took the risk to do a job I was assigned. I didn’t do my job, at all. I ain’t cut out for it.

I am at a loss of words for the brave journalists who go that extra mile to cover stories risking their own lives. Kudos to all of you out there. Despite the negativity, I know for a fact that there are journalists out there doing their jobs with integrity and courage that sadly I don’t think I can ever muster.

We are lucky to have found place and food to survive the ordeal. I worry about those who are still out there stranded. I hope they have found a place. I really do. We are calling it a night at Anurag’s right now. Hopefully, we can get back home tomorrow. If we can’t, there is always the hospitality of Anurag and the lovely Mumbaikars who opened their hearts and homes to strangers in need during the tough times.

-Naimish Sanghvi

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