June 10, 2010

A few years ago, when it had rained like hell in the afternoon, I left office early to beat the traffic and flooding and ended up in a most memorable but not very pleasant situation.

Yesterdat was a sort of sequel to that day.

When I saw the rain pelting down at 4.15 p.m., I again decided to leave early. As I drove through the downpour to the chidren’s daycare, I began to wonder whether it had been a wise decision. Then I saw the traffic backed up ahead of an underpass. Great – if this was what it looked like now, what would it look like when all the office traffic came pouring out?

It took me 15 minutes to crawl along till I came up against the root cause: the underpass was flooded. In fact, it was not an underpass so much as a river. On the other side of the road, a couple of vehicles roared past, raising a huge tidal wave of muddy rain water. At the entry to the underpass, various small cars had stopped and drivers stood around shaking their heads skeptically. I could see a Maruti Omni and a Canter lorry floating in the middle. In front of me was a large truck. He waited several minutes before wading in and roaring through.

Now what should I do? Trucks are high enough, they can get through. And if they get stuck, they can go to Plan B. But what would I do if I got stuck? My beautiful trousers, new socks, and formal black shoes would be wrecked as I stood around and pleaded with hangers-on to push my car through. And then I’d be stranded. Amit was busy in an office meeting and would be of no help whatsoever. How on earth would I get home and what would I do with the car?

But there was nothing to be gained by just standing there. Every minute, more vehicles were getting added to the never-ending queue of vehicles stretching behind us. And the water was not going to abate any time soon; there might even be more rain yet.

And the girls would get impatient. They’d need access to food and toilets.

I crawled to the edge of the water and got into first gear. There was a technique to driving through water, which my parents had taught me years – decades – ago. You had to keep one foot lightly on the brake to close the brake shoe and prevent water from getting into the brakes. This also had the effect of increasing the revs, preventing water from entering via the exhaust.

I took a deep breath,floored the accelerator and released the clutch. We raced through the initial stretch of water. Then, the depth of water increased and my car slowed down. Damn. I shifted my left foot to the brake and we almost stopped. Damn – that wasn’t what I wanted. I floored the accelerator again, and put my left foot back on the clutch. That increased the revs and hopefully prevented water from entering the exhaust. In any case, in another few seconds we made it through and then I had to brake sharply to avoid ramming the car in front of me, who had stalled after getting out of the river.

I was shaking with relief – as if I’d just driven through a ring of fire. The kids were firing questions about my sudden change in driving technique, which I tried my best to answer while still thinking of what would have happened if I hadn’t made it. In the rear view, I saw another car, a Maruti Omni, stall in the middle.

Having emerged from the flooded underpass, I saw the backup of vehicles on the other side of the road stretching for hundreds of metres. It was not even 5.30! It was going to be a very long evening for a very large number of people.

Beyond the underpass, there was no traffic on my side of the road at all. But at one busstop I saw a vast number of people waiting hopelessly. It was sad… the buses, which might actually have got through the water without any trouble, were completely stuck in the jam with no hope of getting through.

As for me, I made it home in record time after that… but there are no guarantees.

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