Left, Right…Romance Chowk
The car wiper was stuck. Mann lunged towards the front seat and grabbed the dusty garment to wipe the window sheet. The cab slowly ambled its way towards Churchgate but hit a dead-end to wage a battle against the water raging its might. Water seeped inside the car that soon replicated into miniature version of a swimming pool.
The two car occupants, Mann and the car driver impassively watched people stranded, kids doing a somersault and flowing on a container substituting for a boat that turned the road into a vast sea expanse. The driver was having a tough time, igniting the battered engine to life that screeched and timidly lurched ahead. Wrong signal. The water escalated like a rush of electrical wave and ran wild on the otherwise busy road at Eros Theater.
The black umbrellas mushroomed on the road past 2 a.m and flapped open, thrust forward and backward where people had a tough time holding on to. The car again battled the rush of water spurting under its wheel. The phone battery was almost done and Mann managed to make a call to Sejal’s Mom. “Aunty! I cannot speak much since my phone is dying. I have reached Churchgate but we are stuck. It seems like it will take me another hour to reach your house,” his voice wobbled with emotions.
The TV reporters clumsily walked inside the flood to report and stood on their naked feet with their pants rolled till the knee, battling the heavy rain and cloud outburst to report live on the state of the city. There was panic everywhere. It was may hem everywhere. The car engine conked. There was no way it would leap to life.
The police were trying their best to help stranded citizens who were lost and moving in various directions with difficulty to find shelter under the roof of nearby restaurants, hotels and the station. Together, Mann and the car driver held to each other’s arms to wriggle their way in the water and crossed the road for shelter.
As Mann trudged inside the water that ran deep till the knee, the cab driver called, “Sambhal ke Jaana.” They exchanged sympathetic glances and smiles, a rare luxury in Maximum City. A tale of two humans and strugglers in the city who understood each others’ emotions without uttering a single word despite coming from two extremely different background.
Mann tried to find his balance by walking slowly in the water, battling the fear of being carried away by the waves when a cop held his hand and escorted him towards Churchgate. Sejal’s Mom was waiting in front of the gate housing the line up of plush apartments and she hugged him. “Are you okay, Beta? Let’s get inside the car,” she was on the verge of tears.
The car slowly trudged inside the water that made a splash like a stormy river. “Where are we going to find her?” her voice choked with emotion. “Pray that nothing will happen to her,” tears welled on her face.
The vehicle slowly ambled. It was dark everywhere. Mann called the emergency number but no one was picking up. He tweeted and sent a message on Facebook with the picture of Sejal. It was 3 a.m in the morning. The status and tweets were shared zillion times.
“Where to find her?” she stammered. Mann scratched his hair and tilted his head towards the rooftop of the car. He urged the car driver, “Bhaiya, let’s move towards Churchgate station.” The driver nodded. The tide was growing at every second. It was a five minutes distance but the car was stuck for almost one hour and the wheels turning into a ship flowing in the water.
The deserted road resembled the cramped space in the city pocked with vehicles, from cars to black-and-yellow taxis and a Best Bus all flowing together in a chaotic manner like the serpentine queue. Car drivers honked blaringly in sheer desperation. The vehicles were zigzagging inside the water from left to right and entangled in a circle. They were stuck inside the car, sandwiched between vehicles across all sides that felt as if a wall has been built. It was impossible for the driver to thrust forward or pull back.
The car stood parallel to the platform facing gate and next to the yellow and brown local taxied on the railway track drenched into a vast pool of water. There was chaos inside the station packed with the seamless crowd mushrooming like eggs in a nest sprawled with tensed faces running amok and screaming for help. Battered faces, whispers and angry voices howled with palatable tension, wondering on how to get out of this mess.
Mann furtively looked around and his eyes cocked towards the road and railway station, silently longing for the sight of Sejal. He fixed his gaze towards the train that was filled with commuters who couldn’t get out on the platform that was filled to the brink with water. A face struck him. He looked again and was bewildered. Sejal was sitting on the seat and her head buried inside a book. She was sitting in a casual manner and unperturbed about the city drowning and rain water spurting like electric waves.
He gently touched the shoulder of Sejal’s Mom, “Aunty, look there,” he pointed out to the train. She was flabbergasted and speechless. “Look at her. I can’t believe it. We are so worried and she is casually reading a book inside,” she heaved.
“I wonder how we are going to walk past the water to save her. Sejal! Sejal!,” her Mom lunged out. The voice went unheard and lost to the noise. Mann yanked the door open, dithered at the water flowing till his inch and saw a long cardboard flowing in the water. He didn’t think twice and thrust his body that landed straight on the moving object. Mann held tightly to the cardboard and pushed it as if it’s the gear of a car, pressed hard planking his body on it to wriggle his way till the stairs of Churchgate station.
Mann stormed inside the station, battling the crowd of people and pushing his way between them to leap inside the train. She was oblivious to the voices and his presence. He pressed her arms and she almost yelped. “You! Almost scared me like that,” Sejal protested. Mann berated her, “You got the nerves to complain when the entire of Mumbai is sinking under the water and the whole world is stranded. Your Mom is in tears, sitting inside the car and I travelled on a dirty cupboard like a fish in water.”
“Oh! Yeah! That’s why you are completely wet. Dude! You are not wet. You look like a water man,” she appeared nonchalant. “Let’s go,” Mann dragged her out of the train. The tide was growing and spiralling like a tornado. Sejal and Mann clutched to each other, trying to get out through the main platform but the waves shook them as they took steps back and waded through the small door at platform No. 1.
The water was roiling like a steam bath on the road. Both of them were tensed and figuring out how to find their way inside the car that was stationed within a touching distance. They stood on the stairs and in the flick of seconds a flash of current waves knocked them off their perch that dragged Sejal inside the storm. She howled and shouted, ‘Help’. Mann flung his body inside the water and held to her fingers. The violent waves pushed him away from her and she was thrust to a faraway distance. His body spun in the water from right to left. He hollered, ‘Help! Help! Help!’
Battling the angry water that run above the knee, he struggled to stand on his feet in a stiff position to fight the angry waves. He lost control of his body that jerked backwards towards a hard object. A dash of hope surfaced. It was a motorcycle that lay abandoned against the wall. Mann removed the stand with force and held on the bike that stumbled inside the water and hit the pavement filled with water. He sat on the bike and pushed it with all his might.
Sejal was struggling inside the water and nearly tripped before getting up again. She was choking. Mann caught sight of her and was unsure what to do to save her since he didn’t want to lose the bike that would shield both of them. He twisted his back in a reclining position and tightly held to the handle as he fell along with the bike inside the water and struggled to hold the fingers of Sejal. The huge machine pressed his body. He was reeling in pain and stretched his hand to clutch her palm.
Sejal hands loosened away from him and he struggled to unfetter himself under the bike’s clutches. Mann limped his way towards Sejal and almost swam in the water covering the road. She was moving further away from him and was carried by the tide. He pressed his hand to the ground to find his balance, wading through leaves and mud, battling his way and being hit by objects on the body.
It was a battle against the storm. Sejal’s body twisted and recoiled like a snake. Mann saw a wheel flowing and flung it towards Sejal who held to it by using the feeble force inside her. He finally held one side of a wheel flowing in the water and pressed her hands tightly. Mann shouted, “Don’t worry about me. Fucking put your head inside the wheel.”
He pushed the wheel and pressed Sejal’s back towards the wall, covered her with his body. She was choking. Both were tightly holding to each other. He kissed and hard pressed her back. The water has reached their necks and they exuded relief to see the rescue team of police and citizens taking a dive into the water. They were ushered towards a safe spot on the pavement coated with red bricks.
Their lips sat passionately tight on each other and curled together in the monsoon drip. They stopped in their track and smooched again. Sejal and Mann embraced each other and oblivious to Sejal’s Mom standing silently behind them. They smiled sheepishly. Sejal held on to her mother like a child guilty of a crime. Mother and daughter wiped each other’s tears with their hands.