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A floody time in Gujerat

– Mission was to secure political support from Gujarat CM
– Meetings cancelled due to floods. No business work done
– Trains & buses to Mumbai cancelled. Stranded in Ahmedabad for 3 days
– People spent days on railway and bus station
– Water everywhere, crops, homes and lives ruined
– Enterprising human beings profited from tragedy
– Western Railways did a commendable job, State Govt fails pathetically
– Journey back home was an adventure in itself
– Sitting in our AC offices, we are indifferent and insensitive to the human suffering
– Media is partisan, insensitive and dramatizes the situation
– Love overcomes all obstacles

Journey Beckons!
Life is calling! Where are you? The Smirnoff ad was in front of me as I boarded Bhavnagar Express from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. I was accompanied by my colleague, Ankur. We said business opportunities are calling us!

Time to pack bags again! I had this important meeting with none other than the CM Narendra Modi. If the meeting promised to progress as per the agenda, this would be a big breakthrough for our company’s software product in terms of sale as well as our reputation.

Alas, the start was far from perfect! I had gained fever and cold the previous night. Rendezvous with rain and extra dosage Nandu’s Dosa can be costly sometimes! Considering the importance of the meeting, I decided to go. I convince and promised parents that I will take care of myself. As usual we were busy till the last minute. To add to the mazaa of last minute preparations, we had our auditor at office for finalization of accounts. Anyway, Ankur & me reached Borivali station on time to catch the train.

Train In Rain
The start of nature’s wrath! All day it was raining cats and dogs and dinosaurs. All trains were late by hours and some were even cancelled. Luckily our train started on time. We were dead tired due to hectic preparations. I took my medicine and dozed off to sleep. I woke up at 6am. We were at Baroda. Not bad. We were just late by just 2 hours. Good downpour, green belt, beautiful morning, slow moving train – a great spectacle! But then things started worsening. We reached Anand (Amul’s capital) at 9 am. It took us 3 hours to reach Anand as against normal 30 minutes. Downpur also thickened. We worked on our laptop for translating our presentation in Gujarati (old habits die hard!) Ankur completed about 50% of the presentation on the way. We reached Maninagar, outskirts of Ahmedabad at 10:30 am. We jumped from the moving train as it slowed down. We had to make one delivery at Maninagar. Then we checked in at our hotel near railway station. Hotel Excel is now our regular joint. Its on reaching here that we realized that the rain situation was very bad and we were really lucky to have reached within reasonable delay. After getting fresh, we had quick brunch  and were ready for action.

Meeting Postponed
The drama starts! Unfortunately Modi’s flight from Delhi to Ahmedabad was cancelled due to bad weather and heavy rains. Time to open the backup plan. I called up and fixed up other appointments. We met ICECD Director, a businessman and one self-confessed piracy king. Since it was raining and these apponintments were at different ends, we took more than double the normal time. We came back, worked on presentation till late in the night and then retired for the day. The rain was still on. It was not stopping at all. Baroda was worst affected. Our room and hotel seemed suffocating now. We spent maximum time outside the room.

Next day we finished our morning appointment. Modi had arrived but due to emergency situation he had rushed to Surat to review the flood situation. So our meeting got cancelled again and was postponed till further notice. Not only was our time wasted, it delayed our journey back home.

We inquired about trains and buses. All trains to Mumbai were cancelled. So were the buses. Ahmedabad – Surat corridor was the worst affected one. All trains from Mumbai were terminated at Surat or Baroda. All trains from interior Gujarat were terminated at Ahmedabad. Everything in Baroda was under water. Government offically announced that Gujarat is affected by floods. Army told to be on alert. Meanwhile downpour continues. We were stuck! We were wondering what to do next?

Enjoying Forced Vacation!
I decided to go to a temple nearby in the morning. I hoped it would not be affected by rains. I started at 4 am and returned at 2pm. The roads were totally flooded. This was the first time I actually experienced floods. One could not see any land at all. It was as if I am in a boat in middle of the sea. I was wondering how the crops and life were affected. At many places the bridges on the river were also flooded as water level had rose phenomenally. Buses waited for the level to reduce so that they could proceed. Our bus also waited for half an hour. Then the conductor asked us whether we wanted the bus to cross the bridge? He said, “Do not blame us, if anything happens”. We thought that the bus is huge and water is only knee deep on bridge – kuch nahin hoga! Lets go! Bus driver accelerated and zoomed ahead at the top speed. It was only when we were on the bridge, we realized our folly. Water was rushing in at a unimaginable speed and if the bus had stopped we also would have been washed away by the current. It was really dangerous! I recalled scenes from Hindi movies and felt really stupid to say yes to cross the brigde. Luckily we came out safe and we had a sigh of relief.  I had a good darshan. I wanted to go to this temple for some time now and this desire was now fulfilled.

By the time I reached the hotel, Ankur had left for Surat. He caught a private bus and advised me to do the same. I do not know why but I did not act as per his advise. I told him to give me a call when he reached Surat. I decided to start the next day morning after hearing from him. Also I could inquire about trains and buses. I had my lunch and spent my evening on inquiries and magazines. Rains were not stopping. After Baroda, Anand, Nadiad, Dakor, Surat, Kheda were also in heavy floods. Narendra announced floods were an disaster equal in magnitude to tsunami. He asked for Central help and got Rs 500 crore for this “Air Tsunami”. Bardoa railway station and airport were closed. Shanti express was stuck on tracks and water started entering the compartments. Thousands of people were at Ahmedabad station. People were stuck up for 3-4 days and were staying on the station. They were too poor to afford  lodge. Their food consisted of Parle-G, Samosas, Tea etc from railway stalls. Western Railways did a amazing job of feeding people by maintaining efficient supplies and providing good catering service. Its inquiry counters informed one and all – people were always asking for information.

Ankur came back in the night. He had just reached 40 kms outside Ahmedabad. But the situation in Kheda was really bad. After 8 hours his bus returned. I was saved from the ordeal thankfully. He saw people with their lives uprooted. Their houses and belongings had been washed away. The more unfortunate had seen their dear ones being washed away. Many were crying on the roadside. It was indeed painful to hear all this. How people will restart their lives? The flood aid will never reach these actual affected ones. It goes to the affluent and powerful only. Our hotel rooms was unbearable. We were bored of the same food. We were out of cash – thanks to ATM we refuelled our wallets. In disasters like this (and always!), cash is the king.

Entrepreneurs Or Opportunists?
Trust to Gujaratis to make the most of the situation. People were helping the stuck vehicles to be removed – for a price. People were ferried over by 6 seater autos over water filled areas at unreasonable prices. The prices of all essential commodities were up. A 6 Rs milk packet was being sold at double the price. Also the auto fellows of Ahmedabad had gone on strike. Kinetic Hondas were milking money. I was quoted the price of Rs 50 from Bus Stand to Railway Station – normally it costs Rs 10. I then went by city bus at Re 1. Prices of even Corns and snacks were increased. People still make a habit of milking tragedy. Human concern, service are the last thing on one’s mind. Profits are the only thing that matter.

People & Lives
People were used to seeing dry riverbeds. But now all rivers were flowing full of water and were about the danger level. We saw many people coming out to watch flooding rivers. On my bus, I was also surprised to see school boys discussing the Imrana case instead of floods. Imrana is more important!

Every stranded person also had a story. Some people were returning home and some had just started out of home. Some had their exams. I met one fellow at Ahmedabad who was staying on the station for last 3 days. He was fed up of food and was forced to sleep on the floor. One fellow’s child was sick and was crying. Her mom did not know what to do and started beating her. I guess she was also tired and frustrated. Thanks to communication revolution, people stayed in touch with their near and dear ones. My friends, office and family also kept a constant track. Moments like these show how much important we are to our near and dear ones.

Homeward Ho!
We went to sleep. We woke up at 5:30 am in the morning. We inquired at railway station and bus station. It was day 6 but the situation was still the same. No trains, no buses to Bombay. Nothing. We came back and went off to sleep. We woke up at 9:30 am. We got ready, had our breakfast. We decided to visit the city. We went to ST station again. We were thinking about taking alternative routes to Mumbai. What if we go to MP, then to Nagpur and then to Mumbai. Then Ankur caught one travel fellow with an alternative idea similar to ours. He was going to take us to Surat by first going to North Gujarat – totally opposite direction and then catch Surat on Bombay – Udaipur highway. Since we had nothing else to do at hotel, we decided to try out this option. The route today was different from yesterday’s Ankur trip and we could take a chance. And MET had forecasted more heavy rains in next 48 hours. So if we could not go today, we would be stuck up for more 2-3 days. So we took the gamble. Despite that sight of bus over the bridge and story of Ankur’s experience, we took the gamble. We prayed to God and started.

We boarded the bus at 12 noon. The enterprising bus driver filled up the entire bus and started the journey only at 1 pm. He was charging Rs 350 as against a normal fare of Rs 50. We were totally in a new terrain. I had not visited these districts nor had Ankur. Initially we saw water, water and more water. People were carrying their belonging and trying to find safe haven. Then we entered northern parts of Gujarat. It was relatively drier here.  We went on traveling. By evening, we were tired. There were also no dhabas on the way as the road was the normal travel road. We did not also have breaks. And ironically enough, he was playing “Pinjre Ke Panchi” song. We reached Godhra via Modasa, Meghraj and finally Baroda. Then we reached Surat at 1 am. Nearly 13 hours from start. But what mattered was that we indeed reached Surat.

Ankur stays in Surat. He insisted that I join him, have food and rest and than start in the morning. But I wanted to reach home. Let me take the load together and take a break on reaching home. I caught Ernakulam express at 2 am and reached Vashi at 6am. I caught a local and was at home at 7:30 am. I had a quick bath, took breakfast, read paper and then went to sleep.

Love Triumphs
Gujarat Floods had its share of stories and anecdotes. The biggest was the Shanti Express story. Shanti Express train was stuck at Dakor for two days. 400 passengers were stuck and as water levels increased, water started entering the coach as well. One of the passenger had a cellphone. She called officials for help, no one helped. Her husband came with police to her rescue. But the policeman was wiped away and her husband had to return dejected. He was in touch with her through the phone. On second day she saw water levels reduce for a brief period of time. Her husband again started with jeeps and food stuff. He reached the train and managed to bring her and fellow passengers out. It was a big slap for the Gujarat government and Army. What they could not achieve, one husband did it without expertise and support. But he had true love in his heart!

Water For Thought
I was just wondering about people who were stranded like me and people who had been harshly affected. People were waiting to meet their loved ones. Worse affected were people whose lives were uprooted in the flood. Their belongings and possessions of life time were washed away. They will have to start all over again from scratch with an empty world and heavy heart.

We may try to empathize with them, but we will fail miserably. We have become immune to their situation. We have become indifferent. When we read newspapers or watch TV report, we swap to next page or channel. Sitting in our AC offices, we are indifferent and insensitive to the human suffering. 100 dead or 232 injured does not make a difference to us. It is just another news item. If it is a bigger death toll or some new tragedy like Tsunami, then only it attracts our attention and we speak about it. Some donate money and then forget. We are living in a world where we neither have time nor the inclination to think of fellow human beings. Like any other commodity in excess, human beings have lost their importance. We do not care. This reflects our degradation. Kudos to people & NGOs who spare time and efforts to rebuild the lives of affected ones. They are making a real difference.

Media also is never interested beyond the headline. It is partisan, insensitive and tends to dramatize the situation. It does not reflect the correct picture and is more concerned about snatching TRPs from competitor. Everything is “Breaking News” or “Exclusive” nowadays. So the real breaking news get diluted. While reporting, media reported only select images and stories to enhance the story value.

Final Word
Life was indeed calling. Floods had called me & Ankur. This was a new experience for us.  It was a big real life adventure for me. Due to God’s grace we came home safe. But memories of this experience will refuse to die.

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