Its yet another dark rainy Tuesday afternoon, common during Mumbai monsoons and at 2pm just after the lunch break, students in a class in VJTI in Matunga are discussing whether to sit for the next lecture or not, one eye on the heavy rain that is pouring outside. No unanimous decision is reached and half the class bunks the lecture and leaves while I am in the other half that decides to sit for one more hour before leaving, hoping the rain would subside by then. By the time the lecture is over, the rain has shown no signs of subsiding. Rather it is pouring harder, nothing unusual about it, we see days like these every monsoon. Me and Sid are taking a cab to Dadar station when dad calls on my mobile- "Do you want me to come to Dadar to pick you up? The trains may not be running". I shrug off his offer- "No need. I'll go to station and see. If trains are not running, I'll let you know". We reach Dadar station and heave a sigh of relief to see the indicators still showing Borivali Slow and Virar Fast as usual. We get into the First Class coach of 3.20 Borivali Slow and it runs smoothly through pouring rain to the first stop- Matunga Road and then to Mahim. After the usual 30 second stop, it departs and slowly ambles along and comes to a stop in the mangrove-filled area between Mahim and Bandra.
Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour, the train shows no signs of moving. By now some passengers have jumped off the train and started walking on the tracks. Me and Sid discuss "How silly! Why can't they just wait inside rather than getting drenched like this." I call up dad and tell him the situation. He suggests coming to Dharavi overbridge by car and once he is there, I jump off the train and get on to the bridge and the car. We wait. An hour passes. And another. Dad says he is stuck somewhere in Chembur at the other end of town and suggests we do not wait for him and start moving ahead on our own. Now this is a bit worrying. We look around. Everyone has left the coach except us and one other man. We jump off the train onto the tracks, and not wanting to stay back alone, the Bihari man, we call him Gajodhar, also jumps with us. We walk along the length of the train towards Bandra and when we reach the driver's cabin, we realise the extraordinary situation at hand- the motorman has abandoned the train, locked the cabin and left! Now this is something I have never seen or heard happening in Mumbai rains. We walk along with hundreds of other passengers coming from various stranded trains until we reach the Mithi river bridge.
The railway bridge on Mithi river, though not very long, is treacherous. It has no walkway, no safety railings, in fact not even a firm base. There are metal sheets laid between the tracks, through which now we can see the usually quiet and stinky Mithi river now overflowing with water whose speed would put whitewater rafting locations to shame, and this just two feet below track level! There is no option, the river has to be crossed. Volunteers ask passengers to form a single human chain, holding each others hands, to carefully walk over the rickety metal sheets and cross the bridge. We somehow manage to do this, and think the ordeal is over since now we can safely perch ourselves at Bandra station, bot how wrong we are! The sight at Bandra station is one I have never seen before. All the tracks are filled with water upto platform levels and the entire station looks like Kumbh mela, overflowing with passengers occupying every single inch of available space. Now one thing is clear- there is no way trains are going to run anytime soon. We need to find alternate transport. We walk out of the station, hoping to walk to SV Road a few hundred meters away and take a bus from there, but wait! The entire road from station to SV Road is filled with knee deep water, and its dark. Impossible to walk through this. As if this is not enough, to add to our woes, Gajodhar has been following us all along and declares "I am new to this city. I don't know how to reach Borivali. I will come with you guys wherever you are going!"
Me and Sid look at each other and decide to go back to the station. On platform 2, there is one local train standing amidst deep water, powered down but filled with passengers. We tell Gajodhar to wait inside this train as it will go to Borivali while we go to use the washroom. Making sure he is well inside the train, we run away from that platform as fast as we can. Its around 8pm already when uncle finally manages to get through one call to my mobile through the congested network. He says he is travelling by car with his boss and should be crossing Bandra shortly, and ask me and Sid to manage reaching SV Road somehow. We walk out to the bus station. As we are discussing the possibilities, one BEST bus driver decides he will brave out the deep water on the road outside and take his bus to Bandstand! Immediately we hop onboard along with a hundred other passengers and ask him to drop us beyond the flooded street on to SV Road. As promised, he revs up the engines, turns on the headlights and pierces the bus through nearly three feet deep water and stops safely near SV Road where a majority of the passengers get off. We walk to the decided spot on SV Road and wait for uncle. We wait and wait. An hour passes. We see hordes and hordes of people walking and realise the situation doesn't seem good anywhere in the city. Around 9.30pm, uncle comes in his boss's car and we are overjoyed to find dry shelter and a ride home. Or so we think.
The driver decides to continue on SV Road since the highway is jam packed, but traffic cops divert us on to Linking Road citing water logging ahead. So far so good. There is traffic but its crawling at a decent pace. It takes an hour to reach Khar. From here, we are diverted into some small lanes where we get stuck and how. An hour passes but there are no signs of movement. Uncle's boss doesn't live far from here but we have a long way to go. So he suggests we rather get off and start walking like the others and after initial hesitation, we give in. Its around midnight now, the rain has stopped for a bit but some areas have power cut, so it is dark, wet and terribly crowded. By midnight we make our way to SV Road and start walking northwards with the huge crowd. Students, office goers, businessmen in expensive suits, celebrities, everyone is walking together, Mother Nature has brought everyone to one level. Upto Santacruz the walk goes fine but then its trouble. SV Road around Juhu airport is flooded with two feet of water but thankfully there is help at hand. hard working folks from Mumbai Fire Brigade have formed a human chain, have ropes set out for people to hold on to, and are guarding open manhole covers. In one single line, hundreds and hundreds of people slowly cross the long waterlogged stretch. We are hungry, dead tired but our survival instinct keeps us going and we reach Andheri station by 3am.
Once at Andheri, we hope the trains have started running again so we head straight to the station, but no luck. There are trains parked on every platform, packed with passengers, but with no signs of moving. Also, walking further is not possible since the cops have closed SV Road north of Andheri station due to excessive water logging. There is no option but to find shelter somewhere close by. Sid lives in Andheri but far from the station, so the ordeal is not over for him either. Luckily soon he finds a truck driver who is willing to take people onboard and drive towards where Sid lives, so he hops onboard. Me and uncle cross over to the east side and head to a building nearby where one of our relatives live. We walk into the colony, dead tired, in the dark owing to powercut, and find our way up the stairs and ring the doorbell. No answer. Ring again. No answer. Finally we ring the doorbell of their neighbours who wake up startled. We ask them to phone our relatives and wake them from sleep! They do it, and finally the door opens and we get a place to sleep for the night, or whatever was left of it, since it was already 4am. We wake up and head to Andheri station by 10am, and turns out, by then train services north of Andheri is just beginning to restart, although not as per timetable. After a half hour wait, the train we are onboard starts, and slowly but steadily drops us at Malad station, from where its a five minute walk to Home Sweet Home!
Thus ended the ordeal. The journey that took 20 hours to travel 20 kilometers. Thus ended the night the city suffered as one, came out in the dead hours to help each other and stand united. Thus ended the longest night Mumbai city has seen. The night of 26th July 2005.