The following is an account of an event from exactly five years ago today during my journey to India. Since the anniversary of the start of the trip I have been posting stories from this adventure, this is the sixth. I understood Kolkata would be unique from anything I had ever experienced, different language, culture, traditions, food, clothing etc. There were also other surprises I never anticipated and Wednesday, June 13th, 2007 presented one of those shocks.
I awoke to heavy rain and crashing thunder that morning, it was close to monsoon season although we thought we would be returning home before it started. My usual routine would be to head down to breakfast with which ever travel buddies happened to be hungry and was startled to peer over the balcony. What was, the day prior, our floral sanctuary of a courtyard was now a swamp of dark dirty water. Going down the stairs to the ground level I wondered if my eggs and warm cereal were even worth the effort on this day. I waded through shin deep water to step up to the cafeteria area and reach my friends.
As an assignment for the program I was reading May You Be The Mother of a Hundred Sons by Elisabeth Bumiller. In it she describes the flooding on the streets during the monsoons. Naively I assumed since the book was published in 1991, drainage systems would have corrected the problem. Wow, was I wrong.
Days before this Jesi, Natalie and I set appointments for the morning to get massages as it was a day off of classes, and we were encouraged by our instructor to try out the Indian style of massage. We wondered whether everything would be closed down anyway. We were assured cabs continue to run and businesses stay open today. Following breakfast we began the trek out to the main street, the usually noisy and bustling traffic had slowed to only the larger vehicles to manage the dingy water. Shortly after leaving the gates of the Ramakrishna Mission I chickened out. Considering how dark the water was and knowing the condition of the sidewalk to not being able to watch my step I knew I would be clumsy. Further, having observed for weeks trash, human and animal waste all over the streets of Kolkata and then feeling things brush up against my legs in the water I couldn’t see… the princess in me had to run back up to my room and immediately shower.
By the evening the flooding had resided and while the streets were wet, water was not standing everywhere. At yoga some of the local women informed us the flooding is normal. They stated later in the monsoon season it will sometimes rain like it had that morning and continue for three days. When it peaks all traffic stops and including trains and planes.
It was shocking to witness a whole city underwater and to think at a fairly regular rate in the summer time the whole population grinds to a stop to wait for the water to reside. Maybe it’s the equivalent to when Kansas City has a blizzard or an ice storm and waits for the plows to clear or precipitation to melt. The difference between Kolkata and Kansas City when it comes to natures interference is the number of individuals without appropriate shelter.
I was privileged on June 13, 2007 to escape the waters to an air-conditioned third story room. I wondered where everyone else went though? Where do the families who live on the streets go when it floods? What does the already impoverished conditions of the slums look like with tainted liquid? How many people have to sit and wait it out with their feet soaked in the standing water I was scared of being in?
While I can’t repair the drainage for the Kolkata, at least I can be more patient when nature interferes with my plans at home. Remembering most importantly: I am safe and it will pass.
On a somewhat humorous note, Natalie and Jesi did brave the conditions to attend their massage appointment the morning of the flooding. Two days afterwards both girls had rashes covering their bodies, mostly their legs. Natalie and Jesi continually checked their skin for improvements and frequently found it to be spreading more. They resorted to calling it their scabies and were thankful when it eventually went away later in the week. Exactly what it was or what caused the rash is unknown. We assumed it was probably a reaction to the tables or oil at the massage place. Whatever it was, I was happy I chose not to go.