RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!
Rain has always held a special place in my life! It mesmerizes me, enchants and takes me way back down the memory lane. It reminds me of the happy and carefree childhood I spent in my parental home with my siblings.
As it rained more than half of the year in East Pakistan (now Bangla Desh), rain was a part and parcel of our lives. The staircase to the upper floor of our cosy little house overlooked a long alley. After lunch, I and my siblings would sit one child on one stair and watch with delight as rain came lashing down on the pedestrians. Some had umbrellas, other used large sheets of polythene to protect themselves and a few were seen running for shelter if they possessed none of these.
After nights when the thunder kept rolling, the clouds clapping ominously and rain pouring down as if it would never come again, I remember calling school expectantly. “Is the school off today?” And the predictable answer came “Why do you think the school would be off today” I would be counter questioned. The voice sounded irritated as if tired of answering the same question repeatedly. “It has been raining so hard all night” I would try to argue although I myself could feel my voice grow weaker. “Do think rain makes any difference to life in this part of the world?” and the phone was banged angrily.
Rain made literally no difference to normal activities as schools, offices and markets opened as usual and everyone seemed to be carrying on his/her work as usual. Heavy downpours recorded in inches, were a part and parcel of life and there were no traffic jams, electric failures, overflowing storm drains or stagnant water on the roads. All that could be seen were small puddles in which children loved to splash around, but with a well maintained drainage system, these too disappeared in no time.
Apart from natural calamities like floods or cyclones which were a normal feature in that region, little or no news of suffering of the low income class was witnessed after the routine heavy rains.
Rain meant enjoyment to me and my siblings. If the rainy day was a holiday, picnic baskets would be packed immediately and we would set out for an outing to any of the green spots in Dhaka. Otherwise, Beisan or Potato Parathas would be cooked, to be enjoyed with Ammi’s unmatchable sweet mango chutney and ripe mangoes in plastic buckets were set out in the open courtyard to be cooled by the falling rain.
I distinctly remember the long drives with friends after a rainy day, dashing to the famous Ramna Park of Dhaka for Chatpatti (Chat) and Puchka (Pani Puri) and the treat finished off with a Meetha Paan at the renowned pan shop outside the Dhaka Stadium. Traffic moved a bit slow but there was no disruption to its flow!
After I migrated to Karachi, I used to miss the rains as these were limited to a couple of months only. As clouds came in, I would look expectantly towards the sky and pray for them to burst into a downpour. Until I witnessed the other side of the coin, i.e how rains could play havoc with the lives of people! To my dismay, unlike my birth city Dhaka, rain always brought misery to the lives of the residents of Karachi, especially those who reside in low lying or slum areas. Every year after the monsoon rains hits, life seems to be paralyzed as the roads are turned into rivulets in no time.
Although in the four decades plus that I have been living in Karachi, I have seen that rains always disrupt and paralyze life in the city, I feel that things are getting worse with each passing year.
This year, the 3rd of August began as a usual day, but before nightfall tragic news from all parts of the city came pouring in, as fast as the torrential rains we witnessed during the day. In all the years I have been living in Karachi, this was perhaps the worst rainy day I had witnessed.
Loss of 16 precious lives was reported and all the major roads were flooded heavily. Most of the city was plunged into darkness as power went off as soon as the rain started lashing the city. Some areas, (like mine) had to go without power for nearly 24 hours or more! Emergency was declared in the city and army had to be called in to drain the stagnant water. As usual, action was taken too late as the CM dismissed the Karachi Administrator, as well as the Director Municipal Services from their respective posts. But could these belated steps bring back the precious lives or heavy loss to property? the question hangs heavily in the air.
But the depressing part of all the sufferings is that we Karachiites could have been spared this gloom. Although there was a forecast of a monsoon more severe than is usual to Karachi, the City Government had simply taken no steps to prevent the dwellers of the mega city from the misery it had to face. Storm water drains (which are getting narrower each year due to encroachments) were not cleared up in time, and as these are usually clogged with the garbage slum dwellers throw in them, they overflew in no time, spreading stinking water on major roads and alleys.
The poor dwellers of the areas lining the storm water drains were the worst affected as their homes were totally inundated! After the heavy downpour, although I was dreading the bad news, I had no idea it would be worse than my imagination. The domestic helper who has been cleaning my house for years, came frantically banging the door as the bell was not ringing. Her eyes burning with tears she was trying hard to control, she said in a voice lined with despair. “Ammi kuch nahin bacha, sirf badan pe ye kapre hain!” (Ammi, nothing is left except the clothes that I am wearing). She had lost the entire ration she had got from different affluent people (remember it was Ramzan), as well as her meager belongings. “Shukar hai, Bachon ki jaan bach gayi”! (Thank God, the lives of my children were saved). She said in a resigned tone. Such depressing stories came pouring in from other quarters as night fell.
There was a forecast of more rain for the next two or three days but it seems nature was also moved by the misery the heavy downpour had caused! Although the weather remained cloudy for the next few days, fortunately we only witnessed drizzling after every few hours!
There was a time when I looked up at the clouds expectantly, praying for the rains to come. But after decades of living in Karachi, I mutter a prayer when I see the ominous clouds coming in. Rain, Rain, Go Away! We are not prepared yet to enjoy you! The burst of clouds which meant enjoyment and relaxation in my childhood days causes pain, anxiety, sorrow and darkness in this city of lights!