The Day After a Stormy Night - Contd
by Humera Ahmed
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In the chaos of stranded cars, in the honking din of the unending traffic jam and in pouring rain, Amena sick with worry, walked resolutely through whatever space she could find between the cars and the people trudging along. The thought of him alone and helpless, in the flat with flood waters swirling around the building drove her crazy. She was apprehensive of his heart condition – he was prone to attacks of breathlessness which sometimes necessitated a ventilator. Supposing he had an attack—he would be gone before she reached home just like her mother had when she had been stuck in a traffic jam. She tried contacting him from wayside booths and shops but the phones were dead. It was already 11 pm and she was near Byculla: still very far from home. Tear welled in her eyes at her helpless condition. But thankfully, there was no flooding in Byculla and the traffic had cleared. She was able to get a bus up to Mahim depot. **
Iqbal Anwar had never imagined such a night: it was an unending nightmare. He flashed the light on the window pane. There was pitch darkness everywhere. Except for the steady sound of the rain, all was silent. He wondered if his neighbours were aware of his plight? Did they know Amena had not yet returned?
The clock continued to strike the hours in the darkness. It was past midnight and he had not taken his medicine. It could be fatal if he delayed any longer. He flashed the torch light on the side table where his medicines were kept. The light fell on a photograph of Sultana taken when she was expecting Amena. Her fresh glowing beauty in the photograph was in stark contrast to the emaciated woman she had become before her death because of a prolonged illness. He sighed despondently as he tried to flash the light on the side table to locate his life saving drug. It was in its usual place and he took a pill, sipped some water and waited for the diuretic to work.
After an hour he would have to use the urinal pot and the next problem would be how to empty it. Life was indeed difficult: death was so much easier. Yet we all wanted to live. There was a verse: what was it? Maut kitni bi Haseen ho; Zindigi tera jawab nahin.
No matter how beautiful death may be, there is no recompense to life.
Who was the poet who had said it? He could not remember. It definitely was not Mohammed IQBAL, the poet he ardently admired and whose poetry he found inspiring and a therapeutic. But tonight he tried to draw comfort from the Quran by reciting a Sura- for Amena. Without her his life would have become meaningless. Despite old age, despite his crippled condition and his dependency on drugs to clear his bladder and bowels, he still wanted to live.
His senses were suddenly alerted hearing the screams of their neighbour Shiela. He couldn’t understand what she was saying but there seemed considerable commotion outside. He flashed his torch and to his horror he saw that rain waters had entered the house and were swirling around the bed! He sat up bolt upright. Terrified. His mouth dry, his hands shivering. He closed his eyes, certain that the end was near and prayed... **
While Iqbal Anwar sat horrified, fearful of the waters enveloping and drowning him , Amena was struggling to reach home. Though she managed to reach Mahim no buses were plying beyond it. Bandra was flooded in knee deep waters and it was not safe to wade through the waters in the pitch darkness. Fortunately there was a BEST bus standing there and she got into it though it also could not move due to the flooding. It was already 4 am in the night and though it had stopped raining a strong wind had started blowing. By now the roads were deserted as most of the people had left their stranded cars and got into buses or found shelter in wayside buildings. It was strange
that Mumbaikers who rarely interacted with their neighbours could open their houses to rank strangers. But this was the much celebrated spirit of Mumbai.
The Bus was packed with men, women, boys and girls. Many of them soaked to the skin but no one seemed to notice. They were all caught up in their own anxiety – worrying about the safety of their near and dear ones and anxious to reach home.
She sat there feeling a kinship with the passengers. They all were in the same boat, experiencing a shared distress. Most of them may have had aging, ailing parents or spouses or small children at home. There was silence around: there was no sound of wind or rain.
But soon the sky lightened and there was a sudden flurry of activity. People rushed out of the bus and started wading through the waist high waters after making a human chain to avoid manholes or being swept away. On the way they passed several cars submerged in the water, abandoned by their occupants. But when they passed the local school where children had been cooped whole night, it was wonderful to see their delighted faces as they burst out shouting and cheering into the arms of their anxious parents.
At the junction, they broke the chain, as various groups had to take different routes. Amena alone moved towards the Juhu road which led to her home. Though frantically worried about her father’s condition and the flooded roads, she moved doggedly against the flow of water, passing the Telephone Exchange and the Post Office, encircled by waist high waters. Water seemed to gush from the sea at Juhu and the whole locality including the wide 90 feet road which passed in front of the housing societies where she lived was a large river reflecting the buildings; another river flowed behind the buildings where the shanties and shops from where she purchased provisions were located. As she moved anxiously through the waters along the Juhu road, a long procession of fisher folks was coming towards her with all their belongings including dogs, cats and poultry piled up in make shift carts or bicycles as their shanties had been washed away. Fear gripped her: was her house also flooded and what had happened to her father? A shiver of horror went down her spine. Surely the neighbours would not let him get drowned. After all, Shiela aunty had a spare key of the house to help in any emergency. No one could be so callous, inhuman. But then in panic, when one’s life is in danger do people think? Do they feel compassion? She could only hope for the best and mustering courage pushed ahead. **
It was nearly 7 a.m and the sky outside was clear. Day light streamed in the stench of urine filled the room but the water had not touched him: it just hovered up to the bed. But there was no sign of Amena. Where was she? He tried to call out to Shiela, but feeling weak, sapped of all energy, he collapsed on the bed.
At last, Amena reached the building surrounded by waist deep waters. Water had entered the flat but thankfully it was contained at knee level. She nervously opened the lock of the flat assailed by fearful doubts. Would her father be alive? Conscious? Would she have to rush him to the ICU? She walked in hesitatingly,fearfully. Was she too late? And then she saw him: For years she remembered the joy, the relief when she saw him lying in the bed, drained and gray but ALIVE. Yes alive... Oh it was such a relief. Tears streamed from her eyes. And Iqbal Anwar could never forget that moment when through a bleary haze he saw her standing in the doorway. She was safe home. He wept. They both wept for joy at finding each other safe after such a horrifying night, acutely realising that it was these moments in life, when after hours of despair and apprehension of losing a loved one, it is a bliss at finding them alive. One becomes aware of God’s miracles, and the world appear wonderful. ***