Saturday, July 19, 2008

Seema and Preet

It rained continuously on July 27, 2005. Seema left the office at 4 p.m. as her friends warned her that trains wouldn’t be running on the harbour railway line alongside which her flat was situated. She lived in Sanpada, New Bombay. At 4 p.m. she finished her work at the telephones office where she worked and descended the stairs to MG Road, near VT station.

As she walked, sari hitched up, to VT station, she could see buses and cars piled up, clogging MG Road into an immovable glacier of metal. It was still raining heavily. Her mind was on Preet, her two-year old son, given to the care of Himanshu’s mother, Aai. She phoned Himanshu and told him she would be late. May be he could leave office early as he worked in New Bombay where Sanpada is situated. “Go early, so that Preet and Aai would have somebody with them. Aai can’t manage on her own” Himanshu went home early and reached around 6.30 p.m., when it was still raining.

When Seema reached VT she saw to her horror that the station was full of people, standing restlessly, worry written all over their faces. So she decided to board a bus, which was crawling outside in the evening traffic. It was still pouring. It was a 1 limited bus to Dadar. At least, it would reach her to Dadar and from there she could board a bus to New Bombay. She already started missing Preet. How couldn’t she?

Preet… my Preet… what are you doing, son? Don’t worry, mummy will come home soon.

The bus hardly moved. She could have overtaken it had she decided to walk. She decided to sit in it and read a magazine. Time flew. She didn’t know when she had crossed Crawford Market, Masjid and Byculla. Soon it was in Dadar, and the bus wouldn’t move any further. It was 8 p.m. and the roads were full of people, drenched, walking in the cascading rain.

At Dadar she boarded a 504 Limited bus to New Bombay. It came to Sion circle and lay there for around half an hour. The rain poured in buckets. She looked at the watch. 12 p.m. She and a woman she had befriended on the bus decided to get down and walk. They walked on the Eastern Express Highway bridge to Chembur. Her feet were aching, but she kept thinking of Preet, now firmly ensconced in the lap of Himanshu. How can it rain so much? Was there so much water in the clouds?

Preet, my preet, mera beta, mera raja… my king!

They crossed the Thane Creek bridge in the rain coming down in torrents. The watch showed 5 a.m. in the morning. She had been walking most of the night. Her feet were swollen, her hands holding her handbag felt tired and numb. There was a long line of people with her, all wet, cracking jokes and trying to forget their ordeal. She kept thinking of Preet. She called Himanshu on the cellphone.

Himanshu said, Preet was okay, don’t worry.

Preet, my son, my king, hope you aren’t crying and missing your mummy. How I miss cuddling you to me.

Preet was crying, Mummy, mummy, mummy…

Nothing Himanshu or Aai did would shut him up.

At Vashi Seema’s friend said goodbye and told her to take care of the potholes and manholes. She would be safe if she stuck towards the centre of the road. She carried on the highway full of people walking. A car offered a ride till Sanpada. At the station she crossed over to the East of Sanpada, under the railway bridge. From the distance she could see the tower of Sai Deep Society her apartment complex. She called Himanshu on the cellphone and told him that she will be home in fifteen minutes.

She quickened her steps, breathing heavily, her eyes misted with tears as she thought of Preet, Himanshu and Aaai.

Himanshu, thanks, re, for coming early… Aai thank you for being so nice and looking after Preet, my son.

She was closer to the building now. She was walking rapidly, almost running. Breath was issuing from her mouth like steam from a locomotive engine. She was also crying. Tears and snot streamed down her face. She closed the door of the lift and pressed the button to the fifth floor. The door of the flat was open as she opened the lift’s gate on the fifth floor. She could dimly see Himanushu, Aai and Preet at the door.

“Preet my son. Did you miss me? Come here, re, baba….”

And then her world blanked out.

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(Probably apocryphal, this story is one of the several tragedies that are still being narrated as having happened during the deluge of July 27, 2005 in Bombay.)