Drowning and helpless
With the water level inside the locked car rising exponentially and the rain thundering outside, I was stranded.
There are many ways in which you can feel helpless. You feel helpless when you think about college, you feel helpless when you realise that very few people around you actually remembered that Thursday was International Literacy Day. And it doesn’t help when someone tells you that 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed since 9/11.
One of those times, and the most recent, involved a car, submerged in waist deep water, stuck while reversing over a ditch, with the water level inside the locked car rising exponentially, the rain thundering outside and leaking through the crack in the window, and with you sitting in the backseat, teeth chattering.
Just another rainy day in the city by the sea - helpless.
I should have known, really. Where the two streets intersected, the second consistent hour of rain had created a mini deep-sea gorge. I was stuck from every way. Twenty feet north, east and west of me was a river of brown, buffeting the walls of every building around. Behind me was a butcher shop, a photocopy-wala, two manmade islands in the sea of muck. And smack in the middle was a smallish sedan, carrying a smallish, old me. Did I expect something like this to happen? No. I had faith in the newly installed drains, the fact that there had been no complaints about the past two weeks’ rain and that the underpasses hadn’t turned into water amusement parks, like they had the last time.
Hadn’t even the Nursery Market or the Nursery Lake, been bearable the last time it had poured like this? Evidently, not here... I rolled down the window and stuck my head out.
“Aap thori si madad karsaktay hain?” (Can you please help me a little?)
A short man wearing an acid-green shirt stared back at me. He was standing on the (relative) safety of the sidewalk, eight feet away from me. He looked at the water. I could see his face and it was screaming, “Please, pagal larki.”
In English he yelled back...
He’s just having bad day, I told myself. A few minutes later two men waded bravely from the butcher’s and tried giving the car a ‘dhaka start’. One of them flashed me a thumbs up sign. It was very hard to share his enthusiasm, with the water now at knee-level in the car. Bro, just get me out of here!
I was now suddenly aware of the amount of people watching me. From the man-made islands, hanging from the gates nearby houses, and all wary of coming forward, like the acid-green man. I don’t blame them or the cars that whizz by. A Prado, a Suzuki APV, a Suzuki Bolan- all of them at ease as they swish through the street, cascading water on my window as they go by. The last Prado slows down in front of the butcher shop. It has a government licence plate, and for some reason this eases me. Surely, they’re bound by law to help?
The shop owner gesticulates hysterically:
“Yaar, bachi hai gaari mein, madad karlo!” (Buddy there is a girl in the car, please help her!)
The Prado revs up immediately and saunters ahead. Come back...?
Therein lay the problem- I was a bachi. If I was a baji none of this would have ever happened. If I was a baji, I would have opened the car door, waded fearlessly through the water and pushed out the car myself with spectacular inhuman strength. If I was a baji, I would have walked- sorry, swam- to the Prado-wala and given him a piece of my mind. If I was a baji, I would have climbed on to the roof of my car, and using my dupatta and the nearby telephone pole, swung myself to higher ground. But as it was, I was a bachi. And all bachis can do is sit in the back of the car looking frightened, while well meaning strangers outside ask, in a perfectly non-sarcastic tone, “Mummy papa ko phone kiya hai?” (have you called your parents?). Mummy, papa, shopkeeper, driver, police, other people’s chowkidars standing outside- these were the people who would do something and could do something. All I could do was try not to count how many electricity wires there were in the area (four). I had never felt more stupid and brat-ish in my life.
One man had by now found a large wooden pole and jammed it under the tyre to make it move. Snap, went the wood, plop went the tyre, and both were now floating aimlessly in the putrid water. The man holding the other half of the pole started laughing, his helper started laughing, the chowkidaar on the opposite edge of the street started laughing, the crowd at the butcher shop started laughing- why was I laughing hysterically as well?! Because the whole situation was ridiculous. I’m drowning, I realised. Just when I was wondering whether my history textbook would make a good life buoy, the car, as if sensing my despair, suddenly jerked up, reversed itself, and swam across those twenty feet of boggy rain. The crowd cheered, as I called out a feeble ‘shukriya’. I felt the (remaining) tyres hit ground, felt the water slurp itself out of the car door, and the exhaust pipe cough out the last of the baarish.
My rite of passage is complete- I’ve survived the rain. Was I helpless? Yes, completely and utterly.
But the fear of allowing the pani to get to you somehow makes you more resilient to everything else that may happen.
The window breaks down by the time I get home, but I’m drenched for the better.