As I write this column, nature is establishing her authority. Enough of authoritarian world leaders, enough of extremist groups, enough of terrorism, she is showing us who is really in control. First it was Texas pummeled by Hurricane Harvey and then Houston drowning under flood waters. While my head was still processing that disaster and trying to ensure my friends and family in Houston are safe, comes news that Mumbai is under attack. An onslaught from the skies. It’s like a flashback to July 26th 2005.
My whats app feed pinged all night bombarding me with hundreds of messages by morning. Yet again, rain had brought Mumbai to a standstill; kids in schools, motorists, pedestrians. Someone was stuck in her car for over four hours. An artist friend busy with her latest installation in an art gallery was oblivious to the outside world until she was well and truly stuck. Train stations became waterfalls. The airport was an ocean. Tweetstorms and social media jokes hurtled through the cloud.
Real time pictures from Houston, from Mumbai flooded social media. In fact, much of South Asia like Bihar, Bangladesh and Nepal have suffered the worst ever monsoon imaginable. Shanghai and the coast of Eastern China suffered Typhoon Haikui. Like a Japanese fan, bit by bit, disaster unfolded for our crazy, voyeuristic world to absorb. The images of Texans wading through waist high water, carrying their life possessions on their head, made me think of monsoon in India. Unprecedented in Houston but Bombay suffers every year, some years worse than others. Why the authorities cannot prepare in advance is beyond my understanding! They get at least seven rain-free months.
For once Trump did not behave like an incogitant and thoughtlessly rush off to the hurricane affected areas. He was circumspect and behaved responsibly, not wanting his actions to affect rescue operations. White House staffers and his advisors must have heaved copious sighs of relief. On the other hand, the Indian PM did not immediately react to Mumbai’s flooding. Rumours are he tweeted about it. Can’t blame him. He has more important things on his mind like the sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan.
Talking about natural disasters, the ‘guru’ is a human catastrophe. Twenty years is not enough to keep people like him off the streets. In the midst of chaos and calamity, the Indian judiciary system needs to be applauded for some landmark judgements. First it was the declaration of triple talaq as unconstitutional. Then a woman was granted a divorce because her husband refused to build a toilet. In fact, a Bollywood film addresses this issue. The historic sentencing of Ram Rahim was followed immediately by the High Court ordering the losses due to the violence be recovered.
And talking about courts, privacy as a fundamental right for Indian citizens, is another significant milestone ruling. This can have far reaching effects on LGBT rights and challenging the disastrous Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Some rules being enforced by lynch mobs can also be challenged, such as the right to eat beef or drink alcohol. Schools I know, had rules deciding dress codes for girls and women. Will this ruling alleviate the fear of secularists who had begun to despair of a less tolerant India? Or will fundamentalists push to change the very constitution of India? There is no way to tell but as of now, it is heartening to see how the courts are upholding the values that this country was built on.
However, regardless of country, some values are still in place. Disaster relief effort has put the human back into humanity. Whether Houston or Mumbai, help and support is being offered in abundance. People have flown to disaster areas with relief material. Stories abound on how people opened up home and heart to flood affected people. An internet picture shows two women on the streets of Mumbai helping a dog navigate flooded streets.
People from slums waded onto flooded streets to offer biscuits and other forms of sustenance to stranded travelers. Three days in and with no respite, a furniture store in Houston offered shelter to people who had to abandon their homes.
With good Samaritans and guardians of the law still cognizant of the right and the wrong, there is hope in this world.
In the meantime, here is a light-hearted message that did the rounds of social media while rains lashed Mumbai:
“When it rains in India, it is the duty of potatoes and onions to cover themselves with besan and jump into boiling oil.”
In these times of disturbing images, this one at least is comforting.