Archive for July, 2007

Monsoon Diary

It has been 5 days since water has been rising up intermittently from the drain in the bathroom of our first floor office/residence.  Generally, it happens when the rains are hard and incessant.  Other times, when there is a large amount of constant water usage.  Sometimes, when you flush the toilet.  “Gross!”

At times, there is a small overage, a relatively quick rise and fall.  At others, there is a half inch of water covering most of the floor.  That water usually has dish washing residue – the yellow of dal and tumeric; the red/brown globs of grease from Chinese food; flecks of tea leaves and coriander.  “Disgusting!”

All the drains in the entire flat are connected to one outlet, including the toilet.  Four flats share the same municipal sewage drain.   That drain is now completely clogged with garbage and food residue.  Our next door neighbor called a guy, who is not exactly a plumber.  (At first, our landlord sent a plumber, thinking that our internal drains were clogged, but he would not touch the municipal drain.)  The skinny guy who came and checked out the drain in the pouring rain, declared that each affected house would have to pay INR 300 (US$ 7.50) if he cleared the sewer line, and INR 200 (US$ 5) for his efforts even if he was not successful.

Three out of the 4 flats were willing to pay.  The fourth was not – this was too expensive – she would call the BMC (Brihanmumbai (formerly Bombay) Municipal Corporation).  “Yeah, like they are going to show up right away to fix this problem!”  Aarghhh!  What to do?  The skinny guy hung around for a while, washed himself off, fully clothed and shoed, with water roaring out of a downspout just outside our front door, waiting for some kind of decision to be made.  His pregnant wife/girlfriend hung around with him, looking amused as the two other neighbors struggled with the recalcitrant one.  I couldn’t contribute much to the Hindi discussion.  Finally, after much spitting (he of paan, she of spit), the two of them went off, saying:  “call me.”

Until this problem, we had considered ourselves very lucky not to have been flooded during the heavy rains that left much of Bombay paralyzed a couple of weekends ago.  Our lane slopes slightly downwards, and the water rushes past our door but does not accumulate as it does in other areas of Bandra and the rest of the city.  Now, we get to experience what many people live with in our own little microcosm.

Small Victories

We finally got broadband Internet connection at our temporary office/home today!  Hard to believe, but it’s taken us two and a half months for this small miracle.  When I first got here, we had a service called Spearhead, which worked for two days, then stopped.  John Silliphant, who got to Bombay ahead of me, had refused to pay for the service because it never worked.  Of course, I show up, and it works for me…  🙂  … for two days.  Then, nothing.  (This is the service whose cables leaked during the rains and left puddles of water under the wireless router.)

Four different groups of people have worked on getting service.  Nina and Devanshi, who set up the office, Kumar, who lives nearby and has You Telecom service at home, Rizwan, who joined the office team a month and a half ago, and John.

Riz called Reliance.  They told him they had no service here.  Then John called Reliance, and they said they would have service to us within 7 days.  They both called You Telecom, and were told there was no service.  A month later, while John and I are in Delhi, a You Telecom salesperson passed by the office offering Internet services.  John gets back to Bombay the day the salesperson is in the office to collect the check to install the service, finds out that it will take 4-5 days, and calls Reliance.  They promise him that they will have service to us the next day.  (This, after promising service in 7 days weeks before.)   The You Telecom salesperson challenges John – “Reliance will not come tomorrow”.  John prevails upon Riz and Nina to wait for Reliance.  Reliance never shows up.

“Should we go with You Telecom?” comes the question from Riz.  Hmmm… good question.  We have no idea how long we will be in Bombay.  By the time we get Internet, we could be in Delhi or Amritsar.  “Yes” I say, with no real hope of ever getting a high-speed connection.  Or any connection at all.  (This office is a dead space for Airtel signal.  I have to leave my phone by the door and window for it to receive calls, and I have to step outside to speak with people or the service cuts out.  And I cannot connect to the Internet at all using my datacard.)

Two days ago, some guys came by to connect the cable.  It comes off the roof of the building opposite the lane and down through the front window, which needs to be kept open to accommodate it.  All the neighbors want to know what the service is, because they might want it too.  (No one signs up.)  Another technician is supposed to come immediately following the cabling.  No one shows up that day.  Or the day after, despite repeated calls.  The salesperson switches off his phone.  Today, Riz went and camped out in the You Telecom office and left only after being told that the technician was headed our way directly from home.  John also places a call and is told another technician would be coming.

Rakesh showed up mid morning… and we have service!

The Bagel Shop (one of only two cafes that we know of with wifi in all of Bombay, and which happens to be about 2 blocks from our office) will miss us.  Actually, they probably won’t.  It serves as an office for too many people (this being Bollywood, mostly filmmakers) in search of wifi.

Home Delivery

Tomato Wallah

In almost any neighborhood in Bombay, you need not venture out of the house to get goods and services. Starting in the early morning (you can’t really sleep in), say about 6am, the various service providers come to your door, are at the bottom of your building, or steps away:

  • Milk
  • Garbage
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Fish
  • Basic groceries
  • Brooms & Rags
  • Bindis
  • Laundry and ironing

Most people have at least one servant that cleans the house. If you are lucky, that same person will cook. If not, someone else will come in just to make lunch. In larger private homes, there will be one or two live-in or at least full-time help. In smaller offices and apartments, the help comes in, does the work, and moves on to service one or two more homes or offices. In larger offices, there is at least one full-time “peon” to serve water, make tea, run out for cold drinks, etc.

Lunch? If you have a car and driver, the driver will bring warm food prepared by your cook from your home to the office. The peon will go downstairs to pick it up from the car and set it up for you.

Want a snack? Mobile vendors will ply their wares throughout the day, carrying their goods on their heads and/or over their shoulders (odd combinations of fruit – bananas and mangoes, tomatoes and sitafal (custard apples); roasted nuts, chick peas and puffed rice; bhel puri), or on carts (vegetables, corn roasted to order), shouting out their wares.

Dinner? One evening at the home of our friends Shivraj and Aparna in Bandra, we ordered and took delivery of beer, Chinese food, and ice cream, all from local stores and restaurants.

Monsoon Disasters

Our friend Anshu Gupta of Goonj oft repeats that every day thousands of people die in India and none of it makes headlines.

For those of you who do not follow the media reports in South Asia, floods in various parts of India and Pakistan have resulted in death and massive destruction.  A few examples:

  • At least eight people have been killed and about one million left homeless in over 1,500 villages in northern Orissa due to flash floods triggered by torrential rains over the last five days.
  • At least 22 people have died in rain-related incidents in Rajasthan, where over 6,000 people have been affected by flooding in villages near Bilara town for four days.
  • 7 people died last week in Kolkata when their huts collapsed due to heavy rains.
  • A total of 63 people have died in the state of Gujarat and over 6,600 people have been moved to safer ground.  The death toll of the endangered Black Buck near Velavadar National Park in Bhavnagar is up to 166.
  • Since the onset of the monsoon, 155 people have been killed in the state of Maharashtra, with over 5,000 people affected.
  • Over 250,000 people have been affected by the cyclone and rains in Balochistan, with over 100,000 left homeless and the death toll up to 160; over 150 people are still missing.

07/07/07

07/07/07
New Delhi

11:41pm

An auspicious day?  Somewhere on earth, there is a Live Earth concert going on and in Delhi, the last of the 35,000 weddings scheduled for today.

For me, another day, another crisis, and deals not-quite-completed.  “Let’s talk tomorrow.”  Tomorrow is Sunday, but I have a meeting, and a couple of scheduled phone calls.  Tomorrow is a big day.  Then again, so is Monday – a really big day.  And the day after that…

I open my browser and look at the weather, as listed in the cities that I track:

  • San Francisco – 59 degrees F, Humidity – 77%
  • Paris – 70 degrees F, Humidity – 49%
  • Vancouver – 64 degrees F, Humidity – 68%
  • Chennai – 88 degrees F, Humidity – 52%
  • Mumbai – 82 degrees F, Humidity – 79%
  • Delhi – 88 degrees F, Humidity – 75%

I sit under the fan and sweat.  It may be 88 degrees close to midnight, but the residual heat from the 95 degree high has not yet dissipated.  The myriad of insects, attracted by the light in the room, land everywhere.

I’m not supposed to be in India right now.  I should be in San Francisco or Vancouver.  For that matter, I hadn’t expected to be in Delhi for so long – I only brought a few changes of clothing when I left Bombay.  But the worst situation of all is that I haven’t had a single mango since I’ve been in Delhi.  Every day, I drive by carts and carts of them – different varieties that are in season now. (How should I know which ones?  I haven’t tried any of them!)  Never a chance to stop.  This is also the season for corn, roasted on sidewalks everywhere, and mounds of peaches from the North.  I haven’t had any corn or peaches either.

At least the monsoon, which started in earnest the day after I got to Delhi, is more reasonable here.  It rains hard for an hour or two, then clears up.  Not like in Bombay, where it rains nonstop for days at a time and the city comes to a virtual standstill.

It is now 07/08/07.  Today is going to be a big day.

 

Monsoon in Bombay

Saturday 30 June 2007
11am.

Kumar just called to tell me not to go out anywhere – “there are hardly any trains functioning.”  I had already heard that, since Devanshi called earlier in the morning to tell me that a film maker we were supposed to meet this morning could not make it because of flooding.  He lives in “town” – South Bombay – and the trains were not operating.  Devanshi’s college, Xaviers, also in “town” closed down, and her mom advised her to go to her aunt’s place in Breach Candy rather than try getting back home to Vile Parle, in the suburbs of “town.”

The film maker  is also very sick, with a viral fever that is going around.  Devanshi was laid up for a day as well, a few days ago.  The viral fever is attributed to the change in weather as the monsoons have started in earnest.

Yesterday, John received an SMS on his Reliance service LG phone:  “Heavy rains for the next 48 hours.” (I just get ads with my AirTel service:  “SIVAJI super Hit songs as HELLO TUNES. Call 678905 @ Rs 6/min, Rs15/song & Rs30PM.)  This morning, his phone was dead.  Fried due to a power surge?  Got wet from being carried around in the rain?  John ventured out, wearing wet clothes that had been hung out on a 4-foot line above the back door for three days, to try and get his phone fixed.  Without Internet – it is the only communication device he has.

John has been laundering clothes every day and hanging them out on the above-mentioned 4-foot line above the back door of our office/residence.  He has been wearing his clothes wet, and drying them with body heat.  Today, he had three layers to get through – boxer shorts, a t-shirt that came down below his hips, and a pair of pants, wet from waist to thigh.  When I first got here, he offered to string up another line above the back door.  I demurred.  I have been washing small, light things, like underwear, a blouse, a pair of nylon pants, and drying them in the office, under a fan.  It works.  I’m going to take dirty clothes to Delhi on Monday in the hopes that I can find a better system for Kurtas and other clothing that cannot be draped on the plastic arms of three office chairs.  I have not had time to look for the local ironing-wala or even a dhobi-wala.

11:30am

Nina just called from a cab using Devanshi’s phone (she’s misplaced her phone and will not be able to retrieve it until Monday) to say that she is turning around to go back home – all the roads are flooded.  If things calm down later in the day, she may try again to come to the office.  If not, then tomorrow – Sunday.  “It’s going to get worse right now – it’s getting darker.”  And sure enough, it’s been raining harder for the last hour.  Rain, non-stop since yesterday evening.

I am going into survival mode:  filling up all the available buckets and other vessels with water (who knows if the municipal water, which comes for about two –three hours in the morning, from about 9:30 to noon, and which we use to fill the tank above the toilet – our only other water source, will be operational tomorrow); boiling water to drink; and washing all the dishes with water from the municipal tap.

We have some bananas, a couple of mangoes, a few biscuits, a little bit of cheese, and some leftover rice and a cup of dal.  I guess we can always order in or go out in the neighborhood if the restaurants are open (depending on whether their staff/owners could get to work).  (Sunil, our office “peon” did not show up.  Nor did Rizwan, the office administrator – his grandfather passed away either last night or this morning.)

12:15pm

John just came in – no luck on his phone – all the stores and service centers were closed.  He said “Bombay is in trouble”.  Particularly for the next three hours.  It is high tide now, and all the sewers are erupting like geysers.  With no phone and no Internet, John went out again to the “corner” store to get some Hide & Seek (the “World’s best moulded chocolate chip cookies”) – he feels like he needs a treat right now.


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