HAND IN HAND - Saluting the unsung heroes of the 2005 deluge

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: September 1, 2005

Jari Mari
"We did nothing special"

Mohammed Yasin was on the road outside their chali when the waters suddenly began to rise around 2.30 p.m. on July 26. Frightened by the sight, he immediately alerted other young men from the area. In all the years that he has lived there, flooding had never reached life-threatening dimensions. "Before we knew it, the water level inside our homes was as high as five-seven feet. Never does so much water get into our houses and never so quickly."

A resident of the Azad Welfare Chawl in Jari Mari for over 25 years, Yasin has a small poultry business in the locality. That day, Yasin and his neighbours, though afraid themselves, were quick to act. Apart from their own chawl, nearby Priya Chawl, Radhakrishna Chawl and Indiranagar were also badly affected.

Says Mrs Sharma, a resident, "It was all thanks to the quick action of these boys who realised that we were trapped inside our homes. We had all but given up hope when about 45 minutes later they came from atop our roofs, broke the tin and slowly brought us to safety. We didn’t even have a pair of clothes with us. What mattered was that our children, we, were all safe."

Yasin and others first ran to the Jari Mari police chowky for help. The inspector on duty said he was helpless. With the water level rising everywhere, neither the fire brigade nor the police could reach anywhere, they were told. Left to their own devices, they did their locality proud.

"Around 3.30 p.m., the airport wall crashed. If anything saved our chawl, it was this wall collapse, as the water, in full flow, gushed into the airport compound through the breach in the wall. If the wall hadn’t crashed, the whole of Azad Welfare Chawl would have been completely submerged. The building of the airport wall following the reclamation of land by airport authorities off the Mithi river is a major cause for flooding at Jari Mari. Another reason is re-direction of the course of the Mithi river, a full 90- degree turn. A third factor is the role of the land mafia in bastis like ours, capturing land and building around the nullah off the Mithi."

Residents were on their own. "The level of water was so frightening that going to the police station and back, which normally takes five to seven minutes, took us 45 minutes that day," recalls Yasin.

Yasin and his friends could see the terrified faces of the chali’s women and children, many of whom were stuck inside. They had to suppress their own terror and though chilled by the sight, they still rose to face the challenge. As they saw the waters rising, they climbed onto the fragile tin roofs. Wrenching off the roofs one by one, they rescued about 45 people in all. It was risky but who thought of risk at the time? They just wanted to see their neighbours safe and well.

"I can still visualise the scene, the dark swirling water around us, threatening to rise further as the rain just would not stop. Eight to ten of us inched precariously over the roofs to reach out to people. In a ready-made garments’ unit owned by Hamid, over 250 persons were huddled on the mala, the mezzanine floor, of his tenement," says Basant, another resident.

Mohammed Vakil, who has a local metal fabrication workshop, was with Yasin when CC spoke to him. A part of the rescue team, Vakil had little to add, only offering humbly, "We did what was required of us at the time... nothing special."

Mohd. Salim, Tasleem Shaikh, Qasim Ali, Ravindra Patharia, Babu Shaikh, Babbu Ali, Afsar Ali, Mohd. Vakil, Basant, were all part of this brave group. They do not even remember the names of all those they managed to rescue… the Basant parivar, the Vishwakarma family, Jaffar, Anissa, the Sharma family, other neighbours… but the residents they rescued all remember them well. And remain eternally grateful.

"Ghausiya Masjid was also submerged in neck-deep water. Every now and then, after we had taken a few more persons to safety, we would climb onto the minaret just to take another look at our basti. It was a scary sight. We couldn’t see most of the houses. Only those tall enough to have a mezzanine floor could be seen. All else was under water," says Yasin.

"For the next three days, the Hari Masjid and the madrassa next to it were home to 500-1,000 people. Warm food was fed to all throughout. By the morning of July 27, the floodwaters started receding, but the very next day we had flooding again. This time, policemen Khandargle and Mani sahib used the public address system to warn us all not to panic on hearing rumours about a tsunami. This helped a lot or else people would have panicked and there would have been a stampede.

"There was no sign of any relief supply from the State for the first 12-13 days but non-governmental organisations helped a lot. They even conducted health camps. Illness is still a problem for some residents, however.

"Why couldn’t we have been alerted, through the police, about the torrential deluge of July 26? It would have given us sufficient warning to move out of our homes."


Orlem, Malad
"God gave me strength"

It is the good priest’s fifth year at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Orlem parish, in Malad-West. Following heavy rains on July 26, the entire Orlem area started flooding dangerously. Over 100 residents were trapped as over 10 feet of water swirled in a fast current preventing entry or escape. Committed to his parishioners, whichever their faith, Father Johnson Lawrence could not bear the agony. He first rushed to the local police station, seeking help for the marooned residents of Patel Chawl and Valnai Chawl.

They expressed helplessness, saying their mobile phones too did not have network connections! Though there were three police vehicles stationed there, no help was forthcoming.

"I could hear the cries of the children asking us to come and save them. The cries went straight to my heart. I have always been a good swimmer but looking at the fast flowing water gushing across the seven foot-wide street, I felt I would not be able to manage. I began to lose hope. But God gave me the strength to go ahead.

Seven youth from the surrounding locality – a mixed community – came forward to team up with Father Lawrence. They somehow swam together, hanging on to a rope for support, for about 25 metres. But suddenly they felt overwhelmed by the depth of the water and could not cope.

When Father, swimming ahead, turned around, he saw that most of them had abandoned the effort. Luckily, one of the young men climbed to a high spot and helped the floundering team by throwing a rope out to them and persuading the others to form a human chain and hold onto the rope to enable progress through the surging waters. This encouraged the others to come back and rejoin the rescue.

Slowly, this team of volunteers managed to swim, wade and struggle through despite the strong current. They made it to the chawls and rescued about 100 people.

Warm tea, biscuits and clothes awaited the traumatised residents at the parish. Many of them were small children who have nightmares about the water to this day. A little rain and they start trembling. Many of the homes are still badly damaged in this area.

At Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Orlem, local residents from Malad helped Father Anthony Fernandes to form teams with dozens of others who had offered themselves as volunteers. The entire surrounding communities of all faiths, residents of Lourdes Colony, Ambewadi, Sanghgalli, Jain merchants, all chipped in generously for over a week. The first night, this church had 400 people there.

By 9 a.m. the next day, many fathers and brothers (priests) from the Goregaon seminary reached this large team of Malad parishioners after wading all night through chest-deep water and helping stranded people along the way, carrying elderly persons on their shoulders.

From the next day onwards, about 1,000 persons stayed in the church for a week. Help came from all quarters. Hope and humanity was restored to badly stranded residents.

"I did my duty as a policeman"

(Tushar Kadam, assistant police inspector, Crime Branch, Mumbai)

I was at home with my wife when the water entered our home in Kalina. There was 4 ½-5 feet of water. One of our daughters was stranded in the school bus. We were very anxious the whole night. While we were awake my wife remarked, ‘Agar hamare ghar mein itna paani hai to socho Indian Airlines Colony mein kya haal hoga?’ (‘If there’s so much water in our house, imagine what Indian Airlines Colony must be like.’)

The thought stayed with me all night and at about 8 a.m. the next morning I went to the IA/AI Colony. The situation there was heart-wrenching. People were stranded atop submerged BEST buses, on top of trees. There were shouts and screams for help. Nobody dared brave the frightening mass of water. There was 12-14 feet of water all around… it was really scary.

That was when I realised I had to don my uniform. I went home, put on my uniform and rushed back to the problem spot. I tried to get help from locals living in the surrounding areas. About 10-11 persons volunteered to help. We got hold of bamboos, sticks and ropes. We tied the rope around ourselves to form a human chain and with each other for support, we started wading, stumbling, scrambling, swimming through the water in a desperate bid to get to the marooned people. An hour later, when I looked around, only two of the volunteers remained; the rest had simply given up and turned back.

First I banged into the watchmen’s chowky at the colony’s gate. It was fully submerged in 12 feet of water. I saw bodies floating. It was terrifying… We recovered the bodies of three watchmen and made our way towards the buildings. Even now, I cringe at the thought of what the next few hours held in store for us. The body of a small boy, water-bottle clutched in one hand, the other still clutching the end of his mother’s sari… his mother’s body and the body of another woman. I still cry when I remember that sight.

Sixteen hours I spent in that water, going back and forth, wading and stumbling, swimming. With the help of ropes and sticks I managed to rescue 40 people, seven of whom were school children. Unfortunately, I also brought out 12 dead bodies in all. Later that day locals helped procure a boat from the Mahim fishermen’s colony. The boat had a hole in it, which we plugged with plastic and cloth.

At about the same time, my friend Benhur Vaz was plodding through the sludge in his van, carrying a leaky boat. Once the vessel hit the now 12-feet-deep water, using bamboo poles as oars, three of us rowed from colony to colony while some 10 others, who clung to the sides of the boat, were of great help in negotiating the boat’s passage around fallen trees and marooned vehicles.

(Among other things, in the course of the 14 trips they made to the three colonies, they rescued children marooned on the first floor of a fast submerging school and people perched on roofs of buses. They also distributed biscuits, milk and water among the starving residents).

It was while we were distributing the foodstuff in the colonies that we heard of a couple and their three-month-old twins stranded on a first floor flat in the Air India Colony. The water had already submerged the ground floor and was now rising ominously. The kids hadn’t had anything to eat for two days and the mother appeared unwell. We positioned the boat right below the flat. The anxious mother was unwilling to let go of her children. I asked my men to make sure the boat didn’t sway an inch. After I had convinced them that there was no other option, I got to the edge of the boat, stood on tiptoe and extended my hands towards the couple. They were standing in the first floor corridor. I prayed hard as I steadied myself and cupped my fingers. Bunty made a smooth landing, followed by Babli.

(Sunil and Rajani Yadav, the grateful couple, recall the rescue. "My mother waited outside the colony with some milk, pleading with people to deliver it to us," says Sunil Yadav, a driver with a travel firm. "Each time we opened the door to try and get out, the water would come gushing in. In the end, I knew that I would have to trust the police officer.")

After the sixth or seventh round of rescue, the DCP of Zone IX, Shashi Shinde joined me, and was shoulder-to-shoulder helping in the rescue effort.

Did I fall ill? It is God’s way… I did not even catch a cold, did not take any medicines… I believe there was someone up there to save me… Normally, if I get even slightly wet in the rain I start sneezing. But after 16 hours in that water I escaped without any illness. I believe that what I did was part of my duty as a policeman… My presence there gave others confidence and made them brave…


"They were Allah-sent"

By Somit Sen

Diva: Nestled between Mumbra and Dombivli, the neglected suburb of Diva remained under water for three days. Residents – wet, cold and starving –had a glimmer of hope when a chopper began dropping food packets. Within minutes, however, they were plunged into despair yet again – almost all the relief material was swept away by overflowing drains.

A day later, after having been let down by community leaders and politicians, the flood-stricken residents saw a band of good Samaritans from Mumbra. They came marching in – ten Muslim youths, lugging sacks of food grains, waded through two km of waterlogged tracks to reach their Hindu neighbours.

"They did not just deliver the stocks. These Muslim brothers, especially Mohammedbhai, cooked food for us and ensured that we got potable drinking water, which was brought from Mumbra," said Sopan Patil, a social worker who has spent 47 years of his life in Diva.

Patil and others who received the aid couldn’t stop praising their benefactors for setting such a fine example of communal harmony. "Mumbra has always been considered a sensitive Muslim pocket by the Thane police. But in times of crisis, these residents readily came to our rescue," said Patil, who is from the Agri community, which is predominant in Diva.

Altaf, a Mumbra resident and part of the group which did the work, said it was their duty to help neighbours in distress. "We saved lives and that is more important to us – be it those of Hindus or Muslims," he said. Altaf chose to play down the risk in transporting food grains on foot along railway tracks which had witnessed soil erosion last week.

Locals, now assured of a meal of hot khichdi and curry thanks to the food supplies coming in from Mumbra, say the concern shown by the Muslim youths has put Diva’s councillors and neighbourhood bigwigs to shame. Said Dattaram Naik, "Politicians like guardian minister Ganesh Naik did not show his face. He sent some food grains and oil through his men. The local corporators have also vanished in this time of crisis."

Diva falls within the jurisdiction of Thane Municipal Corporation but civic officials did not step beyond Mumbra limits, say locals. Losses are estimated to be to the tune of lakhs of rupees. At least 2,000 homes have been damaged and over 100 people were killed. Several are still missing.

Said 75-year-old Tukaram Patil, "Diva was submerged under nine feet of water for three days. When the water levels dropped to about two or three feet, the sight of these Muslim brothers brought tears to our eyes. They were Allah-sent."

(Courtesy: The Times of India, Mumbai)


Kalyan, Mumbra, Panvel
Band of angels

Aslambhai Merchant was enjoying the rains on the evening of July 26, gobbling bhelpuri with his friends near the Gateway of India, when he received the first distress calls on his mobile. One was from Kalyan, the other came from Mumbra but the message was the same. The water level had risen rapidly, inundating the streets and flooding homes. "Do something, we are marooned!"

Aslambhai immediately rushed home. Gathering his friends he organised a rally in his Dongri mohalla despite the continuing downpour and appealed for funds. The valiant effort yielded Rs. 50,000 in cash and Rs. 1.5 lakh worth of food. From the night of July 26 itself and for the next 10 days, Aslambhai and his band – Babloo Muqadam, Munnabhai, Sajjid, Mustafabhai, Akhilbhai, Abu Bakr, Vakilbhai, Mohd. Siddiqui, Irfan Chachwala, Dr. Asfaque Mulla – worked like men possessed. Thrice daily they ferried van loads of milk, bread, jam and cooked food from South Mumbai to faraway Kalyan, Mumbra and Panvel to feed thousands of hungry souls, marooned and starving.

From a well known family and a social worker of repute, Aslambhai is a familiar face in the Dongri area. He used every waking moment to ensure that traders and shopkeepers gave the best price for food and other relief items. "When he walks down the streets of the wholesale market, they say the shaitaan (devil) has come," Maqsoodbhai, a close associate, remarks in good humour. He’d prick shopkeepers’ consciences and warned them of divine wrath were they to profit from others’ misery. For him it was not enough that the hungry were fed. The bread had to be of good quality and the butter first-rate. And the shopkeeper could ask for nothing but rock-bottom prices.

All that got collected today had to be spent/distributed today. The next day, another round of collections. People responded generously day after day and Aslambhai and his friends made daily trips to Mumbra, Kalyan and Panvel to keep all the "middle men" out. The needy received the relief material directly from those who did the collecting.

Thus the group continued for a week, uncaring of risk or fatigue. And their mission was not without danger. When they reached Kalyan at 12.30 p.m. on July 27, they found the police and fire brigade unwilling to help them reach the food and supplies that they had brought to those stranded. Binding themselves into a long human chain with a rope and taking deep breaths, they plunged in the swirling waters, with the name of the almighty on their lips. They met a starving, five-year-old girl who had not eaten for days. A newly wed woman was so grateful, she offered the Samaritans her gold jewellery (not accepted) in lieu of the bread and milk they gave her.

The next day, in Mumbra, they waded through filth, neck-deep water and slush and as they trudged, snakes surfaced from the marsh. No one was bitten but the snakes wound themselves tightly around the legs of the heroic band, causing severe contusions. Uncaring of the mission’s consequences for their own health, the rescuers did what few would do in such a crisis. Thinking only of hungry mouths to feed, they brought succour to hundreds.

On July 29, driving a truck through deep sludge, the vehicle’s brakes suddenly failed. Aslambhai motioned to the driver to keep silent and drive carefully. Manoeuvring the accelerator and clutch with skill, the driver brought the truck to a shuddering halt against a tree. And the daily operation, taking bread, milk, jam and whatever else had been collected to homes where none had tried to reach, resumed.

When the Aarey dairy and outlets at Worli and Vashi delayed their efforts to reach relief to the needy, Aslambhai and Babloo staged a mini-protest and hartal, shaming them into compliance.

While Aslambhai remained engrossed in his relief mission, his brother who was in hospital succumbed to cancer.

The young Babloo who had slept just two hours in two whole weeks had to be put on a saline drip to recover from the physical exertion and the mental fatigue. But none of this band of angels has lost the will to carry on in their task.


"Life is more important than dal - chawal"

On July 26, 2005, as the fateful deluge engulfed Mumbai, 60 children ranging from six months to 10 years of age, were perched on a four-foot high countertop inside a creche at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre colony, Trombay. "When the water started rising at 4 p.m., we didn’t think it was serious," said Mangala Gawai (45), assistant supervisor at the ARWA (Anushakti Nagar Resident’s Welfare Association) Creche. "We put the children on the counter, hoping the rain would stop." But it didn’t. Soon the shouts and cries of teachers and children alerted nearby tradesmen who were busy trying to protect their wares.

"When we heard the sounds, we left everything and ran," said Nishant Bombatkar (27), a worker at Anushakti Nagar Consumers Co-op Society Stores. "After all, a life is more important than dal and chawal."

When Bombatkar and the others reached the creche, there was less than a foot of space left between the kids and the water. "It was a scary sight," said Sambhaji Patil (24). "We decided to move the children to the first floor of the nearby Kamet building, which was the only safe place around."

The question was how. The water was waist-deep now and gushing in. Instead of carrying on as a group, they formed a human chain between the creche and Kamet, and the children were passed on to safety.

Kamet’s first floor residents, the Tiwaris, opened their home to all 60 children. Each one was dried, clothed, fed and entertained till their parents arrived.

But things turned sour for the saviours. "All the grain, rice and pulses were spoilt," said KG Bilaskar (30), who suffered Rs. 4 lakh loss. But he and the others were happy they saved lives.

"Many parents came late as they were also stuck in the rains," said Sanjeev Tiwari, who sheltered the children. The last one left at 11 p.m.

Kiran Kumar (60), grandmother of Esha Ranjan (2) said, "I was quite surprised to see my Esha clothed in an oversized T-shirt, happily eating biscuits and playing. Not a single child was crying."

The other shopkeepers:

* Vidya Vaidande (23)—Anushakti Nagar Consumers Co-op Society Stores

* Yogesh Nikam (18)—Anushakti Nagar Consumers Co-op Society Stores

* Anita Kamani (20)—Anushakti Nagar Consumers Co-op Society Stores

* Amol Dhoble (18)—Anushakti Nagar Consumers Co-op Society Stores

* Nanji Patel (30)—Chandrakant Stores

* Ramesh Patel (21)—Guru Kripa General Stores

* B. Valli (45)

* Sundar K. (18)

* Shiju Joshi (24)—PVR Stores

(Courtesy: The Indian Express, Mumbai)


Water baby

Twelve-year-old Aasma Khan, an orphan living at the Children’s Aid Society, Mankhurd, is today a local heroine and favourite. Showing grit, determination and courage for her young years, she saved 40 kids during the deluge.

"It was around 4 p.m. and all of us were asked to leave the school as it was raining heavily. Around 4.30 p.m., water started entering our dormitories and I had to shift the kids to our superintendent’s room. There were nearly 100 kids between three-eight years in the room. All of us thought we would be safe but then to our dismay the water level started rising," recalls Aasma.

She adds, "My superintendent and the other two staffers were trying to think of how we could get the kids out. When I looked at those kids, I could see the fear in their eyes and I immediately decided to jump into the water and take the kids to the other building. Even though I didn’t know how to swim I decided to do this as I was taller than the rest. I carried three kids on my shoulders and took them to the other side. I made several more trips and saved nearly 40 kids. The rest were helped by the other staff members."

Superintendent of the home, Indumati Jagtap says, "She is a brilliant girl. She does whatever work is given to her and is a role model for everyone. She not only completes her work on time but also takes care of other kids; she is an asset to the home. She helped us even after the floods, all our books were wet so she collected them and helped us dry them."

Aasma adds, "I love taking care of the children. I am the monitor of all the three divisions of the home." She is also a very religious and secular person – she fasts on Mahashivratri and prays at the local temple. As far as the deluge is concerned, Aasma very wisely says, "These rains have taught me one thing – never meddle with nature. Let us not create an imbalance by chopping trees and destroying the environment."

Aasma has won bravery awards from several organisations like the Gayatri Parivar in Navi Mumbai and the State Bank of India, which felicitated her and gave her a cash prize. Not only that, Aasma is also being recommended for the Rashtrapati awards in bravery.

(Courtesy: Mid-Day)


Stoic hearts

The offspring of a partition-hit refugee family, Satish Manchanda has been living in the Kurla Central Railway Colony since his birth in 1955. His family, refugees from West Pakistan, settled here, in what was once a refugee colony before it became a residential complex for employees of the Central Railway. Since the colony is on a low-lying stretch of land and surrounding areas, including roads and flyovers, have been reclaimed and raised in height, ground floor flats get submerged every year.

On the afternoon of July 26, Manchanda was in Vikhroli. Due to heavy rains and flooding, by the time he reached his colony it was well past midnight. The ground around and between the buildings was already submerged in water and the residents of the ground floor flats did not know what to do. Every year, at least once or twice each monsoon, all flats on the ground floor are filled with water. The flats in Building Nos. 91, 93 and 88 suffer the most.

This year after the July 26 deluge, the flats and the land on which the colony is located lay submerged and without electricity for eight days. But the sorry plight of the colony’s residents attracted neither official nor the media’s attention. It was left to the sound good sense and organisation of a few local residents to help the distressed residents of their colony. The local gurudwara played a heroic and supportive role providing shelter to families whose ground floor flats were submerged.

A team of stoic hearts, led by Manchanda, swam through the fast rising water to reach all the stranded residents of the ground floor. Filthy water gushing out of choked gutters behind the colony had also entered the rooms. They rescued the hapless souls without any help from State personnel. All the families from the ground floor shifted to the top floors for a week. Food and care was taken care of.

Manchanda is secretary of the Central Railways Employees Consumer Society. He along with Krishnakant Sattam, Roger Pereira, MJ Khan, Jitendra Sachdev, Rajkumar Ahirwar, Bodhraj Sachdev and Tushar Sangle used their wits to provide food and shelter. Since payday was a few days away, all the eggs, biscuits, etc. stored in the local shop were collected to feed hungry stomachs. Regular meals and clothing were also provided.

Tragically, Sattam, one of the unsung heroes of the Mumbai deluge, is no more. He succumbed to leptospirosis and so far his widow has received no compensation.


Sablenagar, Patrachawl, Kurla
They were a godsend

Rajinder Vishwanath Jaole and his cousin Suresh Dada Jaole are simple Mumbaikars living at Sablenagar, Patrachawl, Kurla, The Jaoles and several others left behind anxious families stranded on the mala of their small rooms as the waters swirled dangerously all around. Terrified family members pleaded with them not to go. It was 1 a.m. on July 27. "When my son and nephew insisted on going outside to help others in distress, we just weren’t sure that they would return," recalls Jaole’s mother.

Undeterred, they stumbled off in the dead of the night; without electricity the area was pitch dark. They first reached the police chowky where the response was, "Kon yenar? Evde pausa madhe (Who will come in so much rain? Even we have wife and children at home)."

"Bless these boys who plunged selflessly into the dark and swirling water that had become our bane," says Panditayeen, a North Indian resident of the basti whose college-going daughter was one of those rescued by the heroic duo. "My eldest daughter had still not come home and my husband was stuck somewhere, so I was terrified for both her life and safety…" The young girl was returning home when, seeing the level of water rising dangerously, she gave up all hope at a street corner. Using the standard rope and bamboo poles that helped many a volunteer team through the Mumbai deluge, the boys reassured her and many others, bringing them home to relieved and grateful families.

By then the belongings of many of the residents of Sablenagar were being swept away with the force of the swelling water. But the two Jaole brothers with Shashikant Mane and Dagder Sarpade soldiered on, doing what no one else dared to. Using bamboo poles and wooden sticks for support, they inched themselves through neck-deep water and rescued six stranded persons, including some terrified girls trying to get home from school and college. They were in eight feet and more of water for the whole night. And for the neighbours, frightened for their girls who had not returned home, they were a godsend…


"Nimbalkar died saving our lives"

He managed to save two people from being sucked to death but lost his own life in an attempt to answer a third cry for help. The body of Pradip Nimbalkar, a constable with the Local Arms Unit-I, was recovered five days later in Kurla where he drowned trying to save a man whose body is yet to be found. A 28-year-old bachelor, on July 26, Nimbalkar was on his way home after receiving a phone call that his room at the Nehru Nagar Police Lines was under water. At Kurla he saw two men (later identified as Vijay Ambure and Hemant Satam) floundering in the water. Nimbalkar, a good swimmer, pulled Ambure out by his collar, and dived in again to rescue Satam. On hearing another cry for help, he swam out a third time but was pulled under along with the man crying for help. Nimbalkar’s body was recovered on August 3.

Commissioner of police, Mumbai, AN Roy has announced compensation due to a policeman who dies on duty. The chief added that rewards would also be given to those who saved people during the flood. According to the police, 440 people, including two policemen, have died as a result of the heavy rain. At least 66 people, including a constable, are still missing.

Ambure and Satam were called to police headquarters to relate their stories. Satam, who owns a flower shop near Kurla station, said he knew Nimbalkar since they were both from the same neighbourhood. "When I heard that a police constable was missing, I went to the Nehru Nagar police and they showed me a photograph," said Satam. "It was Nimbalkar. He died saving our lives."

Building bridges

By Nitasha Natu/TNN

Mumbai: She does some quick arithmetic before deciding on the number of chapattis to be made. A neighbour volunteers to knead the dough while another comes forward with freshly cut vegetables. It’s 10 a.m. on Friday and Farida Bi is in charge of a community kitchen at Meghwadi.

An hour-and-a-half later, lunch is ready to be served to the flood-stricken families in the area. But by the end of the meal what will have been managed is much more than food on the table.

It’s what activists have long been struggling to achieve – communal harmony. Farida Bi’s kitchen, and several similar ones being run in Jogeshwari in the last week, have been serving food to Hindu families affected by the floods.

"We could not bear to see the plight of our neighbours after the floods, some of them had lost everything. It was then that we decided to come together and put our biases behind us to help them out," she said.

At Jogeshwari, Hindu and Muslim families have been living in separate colonies for almost a decade now. "The Muslim families live in Isga Maidan, which is situated on a slightly elevated piece of land and therefore did not get flooded. The residents of Meghwadi and Majaswadi, mostly Hindu families, weren’t as lucky," a local resident said.

Since then, a number of Muslim women’s groups, youth teams as well as welfare trusts have been actively involved in relief work. The women put up community kitchens dishing out hot meals while the youths go from door to door and collect money to buy clothes and quilts for the flood victims. The community kitchens have been a big hit – they even serve tea and toast in the morning for breakfast.

Those who are fussy about their food are given an option – they can have coarse food grains or cook a meal of their choice. Food has also been sent to flood-stricken families in Chachanagar.

"Meghwadi has had 11 casualties after the deluge and we decided to focus on medical health," says activist Sajid Sheikh of the Rangoonwala trust. The trust has organised medical camps for the 3000-strong population of the region, bringing in doctors from South Mumbai and distributing antibiotics.

"We realised that apart from food and clothing what the people need are household items," says Sheikh. The trust got students from the Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work to conduct a survey of all the homes affected by the deluge.

Based on the report, it organised household kits containing utensils, toiletries and blankets for distribution. Women’s kits containing nighties and sanitary products were also given away. "We involved the local residents and Mahila Mandals to improve coordination," adds Sheikh. "All along we have been working towards communal harmony and this exercise may help us achieve just that."

(Courtesy: The Times of India, Mumbai)

Sadaf Building Collapse, Temkar Street
"If I get a chance I’ll serve people again"

Mai taxi chalata hoon. Us din mujhe maalik ne sewa ka mauka diya. Ye kuch mera kaam nahin hai. Bas kismat se mai wahin tha, Undhiya Street mein, jab building giri. Ek baccha, jo woh building mein rahta hain, uske upar ek cement ka block gira – baccha lahoo se bhar gaya. Mein bhag kar wahan gaya, Maalik ki iccha thee, doosre mohalla ke chokre ke saath che (6) logon ko andar se nikala. Do bacche the, re. Mere saath Aslam Sonde bhi tha.

Bas aur kya? 1986 se mera licence hai. Baap Dada Bambai mein hi paida hue. Ittefaq se mein Zaveri Bazaar mein hi that jab bomb blast hua tha. Bahir bheed thee. Phir bhi mein taxi andar lekar gaya aur bahut saare zahkmee logon ko bachaya… Aur bhi sewa ka mauka mile to sewa karoonga…

I am a taxi driver, Irfan Shaikh. That day the Lord gave me an opportunity to serve others. This is not my work. Fate put me there, in Undhiya Street, when the building collapsed. A cement slab fell on a child who lived in that building, the child was covered with blood. I ran there, it was God’s will, along with others from the locality, and pulled out six people from the debris. There were two children there. Aslam Sonde was also there helping.

What more is there to be said? I’ve had a licence since 1986. My father, grandfather, were all born in Mumbai. Coincidentally, I was in Zaveri Bazaar when the bomb blast happened (in July 2003). There was such a crowd. But I still took the taxi in and saved several of those injured. If I get a chance to do so, I will serve people again.


Cooper, KEM Hospitals, State Blood Transfusion Council
Healing touch

(While the state government and civic administration, including the collector’s office and the police have received flak, rightly, for the failure to respond effectively to the Mumbai deluge, doctor teams in Mumbai’s public hospitals who work tirelessly, often at grave risk, deserve applause).


Cooper Hospital
Dr. Pramod Nagarkar,
Casualty Ward
Dr. PR Kasturi, Administrator

The RN Cooper Hospital in Irla, Vile Parle, had no electricity for three days. There was no time to communicate the crisis to the outside world. There was no potable water, the hospital building and everywhere around it was submerged in waist-deep water. Here, the team of doctors in the Casualty and other wards worked heroically in grim conditions. Without complaint. Cooper Hospital, a municipal institution, dealt not just with flood victims but also victims of the landslides and stampedes that followed. At the heart of its operations were two doctors, Dr. Pramod Nagarkar and Dr. PR Kasturi, along with a team of nurses. While Dr. Nagarkar (40), a casualty medical officer, attended to patients with electric shocks, head injuries and severe respiratory distress, Dr. Kasturi ensured that patients on the ground floor were moved upstairs. "Our entire hospital was in waist-deep water, so it was crucial to save patients," said senior medical officer and administrator, Dr. Kasturi. A Lokhandwala resident, Dr. Kasturi (in her 50s) didn’t go home for three days.

On July 28, the hospital had to deal with a deadlier tragedy: the rumour-sparked stampede in nearby Nehru Nagar. The 18 dead and the injured were taken to Cooper Hospital. "I’ve never seen so many dead bodies at a time," said Dr. Nagarkar ruefully. Armed with only a candle, Dr. Nagarkar examined the injured and identified 32 bodies in one night. All this while his own apartment on the hospital’s ground floor was flooding and his 12-year-old daughter was stranded in school.

These doctors as well as others at the GT Hospital and at KEM Hospital exemplify the true meaning of public service. Mumbai needs to acknowledge their tireless service.

KEM Hospital
Dr. Jayshree Sharma,
Blood Bank chief
Dr. Jadhav, State Blood

Transfusion Council

It was on August 11 that Dr. Jayshree Sharma, chief of the Blood Bank at KEM Hospital, saw the writing on the wall and alerted the State Blood Transfusion Council (SBTC) through its assistant director, Dr. Jadhav, who set the alarm bells ringing. As a result, 54 per cent of those struck by leptospirosis and dengue who were admitted to the city’s hospitals could be saved.

How? Call it intuition, or foresight, but that is what true disaster management is all about. The state government, which has been held guilty on several counts, swung into motion to ensure a ready and adequate supply of platelets. Platelet units were airlifted from sources in Nashik, Aurangabad, Ahmedabad and Bangalore to meet the demand.

"In a situation where there was a frightening lack of communication and parts of Mumbai were blacked out for days, the authorities response to the platelets demand was prompt," says Vinod Shetty, a resident of Kalina who is a representative of Citizen, an NGO that works for victims of thalassaemia and AIDS. "It was Dr. Jayshree Sharma from KEM who alerted Dr. Jadhav, SBTC, and decisions were immediate – platelet units were flown in and distributed free."

Rauf Lala from the Kausa-Mumbra Relief Committee agrees. Dozens of persons affected by the flood came down with dengue and leptospirosis, their blood count started falling drastically. We alerted the minister for Medical Education who responded with a big heart. His entire team immediately diverted much-needed platelets to Mumbra. Still, we lost 11 of our young boys who had bravely helped in relief, wading through water without a thought for the risk they were taking."

Says Dr. Sharma, "It was on August 11, 2005 that the extent of the post-deluge crisis could be observed by us at KEM. Normally in the monsoon the demand for platelets at KEM’s Blood Bank, the largest and most efficient in the city, is for about 100-140 units per day. But this year, it was as if the whole city’s patients were pouring into KEM. We needed 300 platelet units every day. Patients were bleeding like taps. It was heartbreaking. It was the poor that were the worst sufferers. They would say, ‘Paani mein sab chala gaya… bas ek jaan hi bachi hai, usko bacha deejiye…’ (‘We have lost everything in the flood… only our life is left, please save that at least…’). The rich can manage somehow… what do the poor do?"

"I immediately alerted Dr. Jadhav from the SBTC. He responded very promptly. Stocks were airlifted from Nashik, Aurangabad, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. Free of cost – the SBTC bore the entire cost – platelet units were provided to all hospitals, public and private. Wherever there was a crisis, Mumbai or Mumbra, supplies were reached.

"The process of acquiring platelets is expensive and complicated, a time-consuming one. Donors need to be bled and tested. The platelets are then separated from the plasma and red blood cells, which are then given back to the donor. A platelet donor can donate platelets twice a week. This needs pheresis machines, which were also in short supply. The kit used in this process costs Rs. 7,000 per patient. Two extra machines were also provided to the KEM Hospital, all at government cost. We used these machines continuously from August 11 to August 30, 2005."

Pressing the panic button in time saved hundreds of lives. As a result 54 per cent who came in could be saved. The rest unfortunately were already critical when they came in.

Dr Sharma, remembered by many for her foresight, is dismissive, "It was my duty to do what I did. Anyone in my place would have done it. It had to be done. God gave me the insight to press the panic buttons at the right moment."

(As told to Teesta Setalvad).