Tuesday, August 02, 2005

1 liter (L) = 1000 milliliters (mL) = 1 kg water

As I have been trying to explain to my dyslexic mind over the past 4 days. Here in Oregon, my ability to assess volume seems to have further disintegrated.

I have been trying to comprehend the amount of water in and around mumbai. Everyone's been covering it, if you look hard enough.
And while this personal struggle with numbers carries on, I also find myself constantly asking myself two questions:

1) How are the people faring?

2)Why is so little being done towards containing the destruction by those responsible?

I then realize the problems associated with the phrase, "those responsible". Its mumbai, yaar. Who IS responsible?

I have a staunch belief in the power of the people. This belief was upheld by news I received of bloggers in mumbai and those concerned who had gotten together and set up help-blogs to share information, and tell people the stories that apparently aren't newsworthy enough to be printed so that aid can be redirected sooner. Cloudburst Mumbai is one of the blogs I refer to. The other can be found at Mumbai Help.

As I said, my staunch belief has been vindicated. And not just by these blogs, but by news of forwards and smses, and of people reaching out and helping each other in this city of dreams and dirt. The above article appeared in the BBC online edition and tells the tale of Anjali Krishnan, an advertising exec, who was caught in the rainstorm:

"... We crossed dark homes, and shops and police stations. We met a lot of friendly firemen trying to keep order, but not a single policeman on the way.Soon, it became a long, happy, wet trek as can only happen in Mumbai. Our fellow-travellers, boys and girls, men and women, young and old, chanted hymns, sang songs, cracked jokes...
Others cracked the night's best silly jokes - whenever they would come across a car floating in the middle of the road, they would shout: "No parking! No parking please! This is a traffic offence!"...
"Don't feel ashamed, madam. Hold my hand. Bindaas pakro (Hold me coolly)," said a young man in the queue lending a helping hand to a girl...I saw another man walking with a 70-year-old father perched on his shoulders. My rain girls sorority had now expanded to a few hundred people wading through the street.
In the middle, one of them actually met her husband wading through the night, and joined him happily... The trek was an eye-opener, a testimony to the indomitable spirit of the city's people.
Mumbaites have stopped expecting anything from the politicians who have never cared for them.
So when the city turned into a dangerous waterworld, they turned to each other and helped them out of the crisis..."

Read the full article here

Aye, am moved. Inspite of the death toll, inspite of the industry being hit, call-centres doused, Bollywood left unromantically rain-drenched and the fact that though the armed forces have finally been given the green signal to go in and start work on the clean-up, that go-ahead could've come sooner... inspite of all this-- I have hope.


Hope of what, that mumbai will pull through?

Hell yeah. This is after all, not the first time that rains have lashed the city and taken lives and belongings in its path down to the sea. In July 2000, 60 lives were lost in the city-- The report also states that thousands were evacuated. The area affected was a mumbai suburb along the Vakola and the Mithi rivers. Of course, it was a slum area. People dried their hands off on a towel, threw out the trash, and life resumed, as it always does.

But why, if Mumbai has a history of easily-filled water reservoirs and bad drainage systems, has nothing been done all this time to prevent such chaos from occuring?

UNICEF has pledged aid in the form of ORS and chlorine tablets to start the process of cleaning the drinking water. The WHO are helping out with the coordination of rehabillitation. As earlier mentioned, the armef forces have finally moved in. The mumbai police are holding a food and medical supply distribution camp tomorrow. The Red Cross and good old Aid Indiahave kicked in at high gear, doing what they do best: coordination and distribution.

Work has begun, but it looks like its going to take one god-almighty mother of a mop to clean this leak up.

Tiny Q though-- Where's the state government, the municipal authorities, the politicos?

I must admit-- I didn't know much about Vilasrao Deshmukh or his cronies. So I ran a little background check. Pretty portfolios, but he's being quoted on major news sites saying that there has been a "delay" in relief work.

In short, the poor bugger's been caught unprepared. Apparently he talked to the other day-

""Please understand this is a natural calamity," he said. "Who would have expected such rain?"

He's fighting off the hornets. And being faithfully quoted by the BBC:

"We will look into the urban development issue, but this is not the time to do it. Our priority now is rescue, relief and rehabilitation"

Those stiff upper-lipped boys, not content with that, go and find Mr. Prahlad Khakkar(oye bubbly!!) and give him the same treatment:

"We just about manage to keep our noses ahead of disaster every year because the authorities build just about the bare minimum infrastructure"

Touche, with an accent on the last e.

No one could've forseen the volume of water, Mr. Deshmukh says. Hmm. But Mr. CM, the piece of land you have been given responsibility over is...


how can I put this delicately? See, here are the issues people: Mumbai is a tiny island, with 100 year old storm water drains, in absentia mangrove forests [because someone decided to trim the hedges, just a bit] and landfills that only serve to weaken the soil, making land-slides even more dangerous. But don't base all of this on just my word: ask Debi Goenka & Chandrashekhar Prabhu, as the BBC did.

Got the picture? Okay then. If the situation is so grave, how come no one foresaw the risk that rain could bring? or did the state government assume that a few slum deaths every year didn't really matter, that mumbaikkers would pull together, as Deshmukh has been constantly chirping whenever there's a reporter listening?

Poor little bugger. Even his own party has been denouncing his gang's inability to take immediate action.

Someone tell politicians that apart from bribery and vote-garnering, they also need to take evening classes in disaster management.

No surprise though. Everyone knows how chicken-with-its-head-cut-off politicians can be. In fact, Kalpana Sharma even voiced a growing opinion, that maybe Mumbai should be self-governed. Her claim is that during the calamity of the past 4 days, there was no one to call, no one to ask help from.

Mr. Prime Minister, if I were you and reading this article, I would have my chaddis in a twist. Of course its a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic. Of course you will allay the people's fears, and scramble to make some structural changes that can be used to batter down murmurs of displeasure and insurrection.

But this is mumbai se aaye mera dost-- Its not a little village in Andhra Pradesh. Do something quick, before your sovereign republic falls apart, the tears of frustration washing away the rotting maze of bad civic planning that all our metropolitan cities have been built on.

There have been some strange reactions though, that have taken away some of the glitter from bombay's dreams. One has been the obsession with the well-being of the movie industry. The other has been Realist shaking of heads over the hubris of this shaky, water-logged city that seeks to rival other water-logged metropolitan cities of the world, like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Yet another has been to cry out for Reliance blood over the cutting of electricity.

My friend Anshu [may his tribe increase] pulled out another interesting aspect of the strange human sadness-- It had to do with the response of certain members of the media. Of one paper in particular, that "Grand Old Lady", the Times of India, and one article that appeared in it:

Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta wrote this, and I applaud her. Nice clean upper cut.

At least Rediff is doing the right thing by its readers, by giving them the space and place to speak their story.

The show must go on, ladies and gentlemen-- But can we cut the clowning bits out? It seems in incredibly bad taste.

My biggest concern at the moment? Not that the film city will lose the stuff that poets and sunday-morning journos sing about...

... I fear about the spread of disease. I fear about patch-work measures that wont hold against the next cloud burst. I fear for the homeless, for whom drifting has been given a whole new cruel meaning.

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