By Humera Ahmed, Mumbai, India
It was a bright day .Sunlight streamed in through the windows. This was the first dry day after a long spell of rain. Iqbal Anwar sighed with relief. Today he had been able to read the newspaper in the natural light, lying in his bed. Otherwise, he had to wheel himself to the table and read it with the aid of the bright light of the lamp.
He had marked two articles: one regarding some homemade remedies for improving digestion and another on heart health. Age and confinement to a wheel chair for 10 years had badly impacted his digestion and heart muscles .He was nearly seventy five and his heart was failing and he was dependent on diuretics The sedentary life style led to chronic constipation. Amena had made a mixture of grounded cumin seeds , coriander seeds and jaggery to help in the digestion and the article confirmed this remedy, adding to it a concoction of ginger and honey . Luckily for him he was not diabetic and was able to indulge his sweet tooth. The article on heart health laid emphasis on consumption of garlic and onions and also on ground onion seeds tea but the best remedy, it was stated, was to keep off stress. This was easier said than done.
Iqbal Anwar sighed as he folded the paper and placed it in the tray on the stool at his bedside. Stress, Anxiety, Helplessness and Loneliness had become a part of his life. And besides his own helplessness he worried about Amena, his widowed daughter. Though he had wanted her to remarry and have a life of her own, she had chosen to look after her parents as both his sons were in USA and reluctant to return. After Sultana’s death and his paralysis he was totally dependent on her.
“Sahab, the lunch is ready.” He heard the maid call out and realised with a start that it was nearly 2 pm. He wheeled himself slowly to the dining table. Lunch was the main meal of the day and Amena ensured that his favourite sweats and puddings were served along with salads and curries of his choice , for at night he only took soup with toast.
The lunch served was as per his liking and he settled down to partake it. As per routine, the maid left after ascertaining that he was satisfied. He ate leisurely, savouring the caramel custard pudding. The pudding recipe had been indigenised by Sultana, as had many other western sweets .She really had magic fingers as far as culinary skills was concerned .He let out another sigh – that’s what life was at this juncture – a caravan of memories. He was about to finish his lunch when a deafening roar of thunder, the like of which he had not heard before, pierced his ears. Then suddenly it was pitch dark and night suddenly descended in the dining room. Then a flash of lightening and another roar of deafening thunder.
Fear seized him: he realised the gravity of the situation and his inadequateness in coping with it. He had to reach his bedroom where his torch was kept and also the phone .Carefully and slowly, feeling the sides of the table he inched his way towards the bedroom. As he was moving he heard the clatter of rain on the window pane. Then it started pouring as if the sky’s belly was ripped apart disgorging all the water in it. His hands fumbled and shook nervously as he pulled at the knob of his bedroom door and entered.
He knew exactly where the torch was kept or for that matter all the items of his daily needs. He had never misplaced anything ,he had a place for each and every thing and keep it there only so that it could be located even in the dead of night ! He groped his way in the dark, reached the side table and picked up the torch. The flash of light illuminating familiar objects in his room returned his confidence to some extent.
But an hour and half later, with the fury of the rain unabated panic struck him; he knew Mumbai would get flooded and then it would be impossible for Amena to make her way home from her office which was nearly 20 km away. He decided to call her.
Amena took the line nervously, when the buzzer sounded in the middle of a meeting and her father came on line He sounded worried; it seems it was pouring there and the lights had gone off. It was strange since it was absolutely dry in South Mumbai. The sky was a nice clear blue .But since he sounded so worried she promised to leave early.
She had hardly put down the phone when a colleague’s wife rang to inform that North Mumbai, from Bandra onwards was flooded. News soon flashed that many low lying areas of Mumbai were submerged. It was nearly 4.30 pm and Amena concerned about her father’s condition wound up the meeting and started for home. When she left at ten minutes to 5 pm it had started raining there too.
At 5pm, the Police Commissioner's office gave an alert not to move out as large parts of Central and North Mumbai were flooded and traffic movement was impossible .But by that time, Amena’s car was caught in an enormous traffic jam of vehicles and people desperately trying to reach home. The cars were hardly moving. She didn’t want to get stuck. At about 7 pm when they had only inched a mile she called her father and informed him that she would be late. She got out of the car and joined the motley crowds walking grim- faced in the pouring rain desperate to reach home.
Sitting on his bed in his pitch dark room Iqbal Anwar heard the small round clock with its green fluorescent arms strike ten. Each strike of the clock increased his misery as the storm continued to rage outside. The phone was dead from 7 o' clock itself. Lying alone in the dark, unable to call for help he became fearful and apprehensive of Amena’s safety and prayed desperately for her safe return.
The incessant rain reminded him of the night Sultana had died. That too had happened in July when the Mumbai monsoon was at its heaviest. Rain, pouring rain, and floods seemed to be linked to the most momentous occasions in his life. His mother had never tired of talking of the night he was born. It was midnight in the month of August and it was pouring when the labour pains started. There was sheer panic: getting a midwife, getting the stuff ready for the delivery.
His marriage to Sultana was in July when the monsoon was in full swing and the wedding party had been stranded on the other side of a flooded river. Since they could not cross it, the marriage had to be postponed by a week. Amena too had been born during the monsoon but thankfully it had only drizzled that evening .But after his wife’s death he had been very apprehensive whenever it poured. Today all his latent rain fears surfaced.