Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Looking on Clouds from Both Sides

How trusting is this? The unmanned brolly park, at the entrance to Mr Roland’s office. We have bought three umbrellas in as many days, but it’d do no harm to have a look, would it?
It’s not all paper-boats and rainbow waterproofs, the monsoon. According to the Mumbai DNA (Daily News Analysis), the rains have claimed three lives already. One hundred and thirty-five accidents have left dozens injured, and it only started raining on Thursday night. This year, instead of blaming potholes and unfinished road-works, they’re blaming finished ones, for a change. The notorious Eastern Highway has been re-surfaced too smoothly, it appears. If it means anything to you, it’s mastic asphalt, not enough grit in the mix, according to the wisdom of hindsight. With a glug of oil and a few hundred gallons of water, the road’s turned into a skating rink. Factor in local disinclination to adjust speed, unless the water’s lapping high enough to disable the windscreen-wipers, and you have an accident waiting to happen. Or not waiting, in fact.
Arboreal casualties are even higher – nearly forty trees, roots-up, in less than a week. When the rain starts to fall, not only does it weigh down the canopy, but, even as it reaches the roots, it loosens the soil, so all it needs is a wilful storm wind, for the tree to topple, like a ninepin. They’re all still out there, blocking roads and strewing paths – I don’t know if Mumbai council (BMC ) is trying to make a point, or if they’re waiting for a clear day to do the tidying up. The trees will have turned into coal, by September...When a fully-grown tree’s lying across half the carriageway, and the other half’s under a foot of water, no-one’s going anywhere, fast. The BMC claim, from behind a bolted door, I imagine, that the flooding’s caused by the one percent of drainage channels or nullahs, which they haven’t managed to desilt between the end of last year’s rainy season, and the beginning of this year’s. All I can say, looking around, is that it’s a good job they had time to fit in the other ninety-nine percent, or we really would be up to our knees in trouble... Oh, we are.
It’s reassuring to note that Mumbai’s metropolitan police force boasts five thousand officers – “2000 of them specially trained” - ready to “wade in” to combat monsoon emergencies, in flood-prone zones. What about the other 3000, were they filling in traffic reports or making butterfly cakes, when their mates were learning CPR?
On the plus side, I see a tuk-tuk driver this afternoon, ploughing through the brown lake which used to be the over-taking lane, and he’s actually laughing – you only need to be in Mumbai for quarter of an hour, to know that that’s an aberration of nature. Where the greater malady is fixed, and all that...
It’s 94% humidity, today, according to World Weather on the BBC. Actually, you could work it out for yourself, if you had a packet of Bombay Mix to hand. Tip a handful into a clean bowl, out of a newly opened pack, and it loses its crunch, before the head’s settled on your Kingfisher. How damply unfair’s that? I decide to invent the Bombay Mix Pig (adapted canapé version of the salt-pig), but I’m thinking I might have to market it under a different name.
If it weren’t enough, taking the bite out of your snacks, the wet air creeps into your wardrobes and along your bookshelves, leaving a wanton trail of mould and rot. Not all is lost, however. You can tempt the damp away from your Prada suit and your Armani jacket, by the judicious placing of open packets of rock salt, in the bottom of your closet. This strategy also works with Primark jeans and BhS t-shirts, thankfully. If you have limp books (I mean the paper, not your poor choice of author) – sprinkle talc along the edges, leave them for a bit, then shake off excess, et voilà, Robert est ton oncle, dry books (again, I mean non-soggy pages, not stuff about comparative linguistics or paleontology, or somesuch – why are you determined to misunderstand?).
I know people who decamp for the monsoon, and leave their ceiling fans on for four months, unattended. How can they sleep, cosily tucked up in Seattle, when their ventilator might break loose and decapitate a burglar in Mumbai, at any minute? People don’t take worrying seriously, these days, I have noticed.
Today’s the day for Monsoon Shopping. I don’t mean buying a satin sheath-dress encrusted with seed pearls and sequins, I mean Emergency Provisions. When Monu was trapped in the car for eight hours, in 2005, he and his passenger had a small bottle of water between them. Did they have anything to eat, I ask, showing him our in-car emergency picnic (juice, biscuits, dried apricots, mints, and cashew nuts - unsalted, we won’t want to be more thirsty than we already are, because that will have only one consequence, and I haven’t steeled myself to bucket-shopping, yet). “No food,” he says. “Was it a Tuesday?” I ask. – (Tuesday’s Monu’s God Day, and he fasts.) – We all chortle at my extreme wit, but I look it up, when I get home, and 26 July 2005 turns out to be a Tuesday, after all. I hope, if it’s given to us, to be trapped in the car, for hours, that it’s not a Tuesday, because Roland and I will be chomping our way through packet after packet of Punjab Shortbread, while Monu spectates wistfully, in the rear-view mirror... Maybe all bets are off, in dire circumstances? I park the picnic, with the baby-wipes and tissues, and the spare umbrella, in the boot, and Mr Roland and Monu exchange a maddening “Women! What will they get into their little heads next?” look, entre hommes. Don’t think I don’t see it, boys. They’ll be glad, when we’re marooned down a pothole in Colaba – well, if it’s between Wednesday and Monday, they will. Without my Girl Guiding instincts, we’d have to rely on the untrained MP officer, coming to our rescue with a Tupperware box full of fairy cakes, instead of oxyacetylene cutting-torch.