26th July 2005. It was the day Mumbai came to an abrupt halt. One that most thought could have been their last. It started out just like any other day in the summer monsoons with unstoppable showers beating down on the city of dreams.
The summer monsoons in India are often taken from two different perspectives. Some see it as a great relief from the scorching sun; others see it as a dreadful curse put upon them by a superior force as a punishment for their sins, particularly to those who are often unsure of their survival by the end of it. Having disliked the heat from a very young age, I was one of the former. In fact, there was nothing I disliked about the particular season.
Bound by old habit, all the neighbourhood kids went out to play in the rain, unaware of the fact that just on the other side of Mumbai, buildings were being demolished, people were becoming homeless and there was virtually nothing anyone could do to fight against the forces of Mother Nature.
I was one of the unfortunate victims of that dreadful storm. I saw crying children who had lost the grip of their mother’s hand, entrepreneurs forced to leave there expensive cars in the effort to get home safely, and fathers holding onto their newborns for dear life while women looked for something to hold for fear of drowning into the mirky waters of the flood. My brother and I had found shelter under the roof of a small store nearby which we both knew wasn’t going to stay firm for very long. We scanned the area in search of a more secure cover. Nothing. Rooftops had been blown away by the strong wind and the mist made it difficult to see anything further than a few feet ahead of us. We managed to find a small café several metres to our left and started walking towards it, making sure we didn’t let go of the other’s hand. Despite the constant sibling rivalry and bickering we shared, I knew I was in the safe hands of my brother as we pushed our way through the risin g flood towards the café.
We breathed a sigh of relief upon arriving at the shelter and decided to stay there until the rain stopped. We took comfort at the sight of everyone else there: old, young, rich, poor, men, women and children, knowing that we were all there for the same purpose—to make it out alive. We knew we’d never see these people again, especially in a city like Mumbai. But somehow, as clichéd as it sounds, we could’ve never felt closer. We didn’t know each others’ names or backgrounds. For the next few hours, we had only one thing in common: our fate.
In the time it took for me to ponder over how and where my loved ones were, I didn’t even realise my brother wasn’t sitting next to me. A sudden state of panic overcame me while I frantically searched for him all over the café. My fear only escalated when I found him outside our safe shelter, in the water, knee-high, trying to carry a little girl, of not more than five years old, crying uncontrollably, into the café. The rain had gotten heavier, and the wind, stronger. However, that fear was momentary. I couldn’t believe this was the same person I had spent all my life arguing with, never thinking for one second that he, of all people, could actually have a heart of gold. For the first time in my life, I was proud of my brother.
I was even more stunned when a young man in his mid-20s, whose name I later learnt was Rajiv, fearlessly exited the tiny bistro, to help him. Soon after, everyone gathered to make room for as many people the space could possibly accommodate. Tables and chairs were stacked on top of one another while the manager poured everyone cups of coffee and tea…all, on the house. I had never seen so many people; strangers even, come to each others’ aid, especially in a time like this, when all one could selfishly be worried about, was their own safety. It was on this day that I learnt that there was only one place where a phenomenon like this could occur, where people put their own lives at stake only to rescue another’s—Mumbai…Aamchi Mumbai. And it only began with one step: my brother’s. He was my hero.
Dedicated to all the victims of the Mumbai floods on the 26th of July, 2005. This is also dedicated to all the brothers and sisters who have changed the lives of their siblings, knowingly or unknowingly. Mine are no exception.
- By Dimple Motwani