Thursday, July 13, 2006

Floods, Riots, and Bombs…

Mumbai is the most resilient city I have ever been to. I spent 10 days there and through that time the residents of Mumbai have faced some extreme challenges. To say Mumbai is a huge city would be a vast understatement. During the first week of my visit I was staying at the Marriot Renaissance Resort in Powai, which is about 15 minutes away from the airport but miles away from the city center. It is an area of the city which I have never visited before and never even knew existed. The hotel was situated on the edge of a lake, on top of a small hill, and opened up to one hell of a view. My mates wedding took place here. I did not know such a beautiful place existed in Mumbai.

*Veiw from the suite at Renaissance Resort in Powai.

It rained for 3 days solid when I got there which made it pretty impossible for people to get in or out of the hotel. This made the logistics transporting guests in from the airport to the hotel pretty hectic. Also all the outdoor parties were rained out. But it was still an awesome monsoon wedding (more about that later). Other areas of the city were also flooded as we found out from numerous news reports. The same thing had happened last year that led to outbreaks of disease and many deaths. Fortunately this season was not as severe but it was a belt down.

*Gateway of India, Mumbai.

Towards the end of the 5 day wedding the rains finally let up and made way for crazy hot and humid days. I mean you could set foot out of the hotel and be drenched in sweat within minutes. The weather was as extreme as the division between the poor and rich in Mumbai. I have never seen such a social paradox any other place on this planet. So after the wedding I was planning on heading to South Mumbai to visit my folks. It just so happens however that on that particular morning some vandals had defaced a statue of Bal Thakre’s late wife which caused a full fledged riot to break out in the city. This happened to be in the only place one can cross over into the South side of Mumbai and vice versa. For the second time in one week, I was trapped. Busses were burned and shop windows broken as the Shiv Sainiks vented their anger and flexed their muscles to the opposition party, true democratic politics in action.

*Haji Ali Mosque, Mubai.

But as suddenly as the violence erupted it also subsided. By evening the roads were opened again and traffic was flowing. The next day it was work as usual. There were a lot of police patrolling the streets but the public in general did not seem stirred. I spent the next afternoon chilling at LEOPOLDS in Colaba, which is a pretty popular tourist hub and things were bustling. In fact I can not remember ever seeing so many tourists in the area. There were even a whole lot of young Indian kids hanging around and shopping. You could never guess there was unrest in the city just yesterday.

*The well known Leoplds Cafe in Colaba, Mubai.

The worst was yet to come when day before yesterday, on the 11th of July 2006, 8 separate bombs ripped through 8 different carriages on the Mumbai rail road system. These trains were utilized by working class Indians traveling home from work. I was supposed to catch a flight home that night but it turned out to be impossible with the traffic jams. Public busses and taxis were filled to the brim with people trying to make it home to see if their loved ones were okay. Unlike Jakarta, hustlers do not sell food and water on the roads but kids and adults from the apartment building near by all came down to the streets near their homes offering food and water to the commuters who were crammed into the busses. It was awesome to see these people come to aid of their fellow men and women. And even as we gave up and spun around heading home I saw numerous people from affluent homes standing on the side of the roads with cartons of water and biscuits handing them out to cars going by.

*Breaking News on 7/11

Today life was on track in the city. The trains that could run did and people went to work. Although people seemed aware of what happened the night before they were not shaken at all. It is hard to explain the strength of the Mumbites and how they have taken such challenges in stride. One might say it is because their hearts are hardened by the poverty and suffering they witness on a daily basis but yet they are out there lending a helping hand even when they have not been asked to. This is truly food for thought for me.

1 comment:

Shan said...

Hi Avi, wow what a trip! Glad to hear you made it back alright.