June 6, 2008, IBNLive
“Rain, rain go away,
Come again another day,
Little Johnnie wants to play,
Rain, rain go away.”
This was a rhyme I had never understood as a child. Who the deuce would want rains to go away? Having been brought up in the arid Saurashtra region of Gujarat, most of us used to replace little Johnnie’s whining song with a Gujarati rhyme ‘Aav re varsaad’ (meaning rains please do come). Rains were always welcome where I came from. The exuberance shown in the Lagaan song couldn’t even begin to match the exuberance of people in my sleepy little home town when the first drops touched the earth. After that everywhere you would find people quoting poems, teenagers gazing out their windows; mooning over their latest crush or writing some silly poems, moms busy preparing pakodas and chai, papas having their fill of the delicacies and kids splashing about. It was an unspoken rule not to wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella during the first showers.
Cut to Aamchi Mumbai. Here’s where I understood why little Johnnie hated the rains. It doesn’t rain cats and dogs, but probably dinosaurs here. And the already bursting city finds it difficult to contain the new migrant – the rain water. There is no place on the roads or anywhere near them because there are too many vehicles already. The rivers and streams have too much muck in them to hold anymore water. So the water finds its way into your house, your garden and wherever else it can stream into.
There is nothing poetic about rains in Mumbai because even the poets here have ‘no time to stand and stare.’ The moment one spots a drop of rain one starts worrying. When will it stop? Will there be a traffic jam? Will the railway tracks get flooded? Will I reach home safe? Is there high tide today? Oh god, the potholes will be back. Oh god, 2-3 months more of this. I hope 26th July doesn’t happen again.
RJs in my home town would start playing rain songs and would start talking of romance. RJs in Mumbai also play rain songs but along with it a commentary of what places to avoid, sound bites of BMC officials saying they have done all they could and grumpy citizens complaining about the messy rain drenched city. There are no croaking frogs here, only groaning men and women. There are no puddles filled with children’s boats here, only crater like potholes. There are no rainwater ponds, only streets flooded with mucky, slushy water. And somewhere between all this there is the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Rain is more like a necessary evil in Mumbai. And the authorities don’t want to deal with it. Crores of rupees have been spent on various drainage projects; but every year the situation is the same. The government officials took some of us journalists on a trip to the Mithi to show the progress on its desilting and widening, but despite a reported 80 crores spent on it, the river looked just as it had two years ago when I first saw it. The encroachments along the banks are still there, the river still is filled with muck. The roads are as crowded as they always were. And this year, with metros, skywalks and flyovers under construction, the traffic situation is going to be worse during the rains.
As I look out of my window and see the swarm of people and vehicles trying to commute in the pouring rain, I realize that I can empathise with Johnnie today, after all even I have to get to work in this rain!