“May you live in interesting times.”
That’s a very famous Chinese Curse—famous everywhere except for China, that is. Quite like the numerous things in which quoting ‘China’ becomes customary, because China is exotic with a mystic eastern air to it—and because ordinary people don’t really pay that much attention to it except for the jawdropping growth rates and bullet trains. And Kung Fu.
Here’s to the un-Chinese curse.
June 13, 2013
Remember where we left off last time? Sajjad and I were sitting at a bench across the road from the lake, waiting for the rain to stop. (And it isn’t remotely as romantic as it sounds: the bench across the road does NOT face the lake, so we have our backs to it. With Hasan in one set of arms and a positively enormous baby-supplies bag in the other set, and two umbrellas balanced precariously between us three, we’re neither of us remotely inclined to crane our necks and gaze at the view behind. )
And now here we are, three hours later: decidedly distressed—barely shielded by an umbrella that seems flimsy as a leaf beside the three-hour-long relentless rain thundering down with palpable anger— standing by a traffic-clogged road waiting for the driver to pick us up, all the while bouncing an increasingly cranky, bawling baby. Mummy and Fatima are nowhere to be seen—probably still shopping at the Mall Road.
Another half hour and the car is here. Hasan has managed to fall asleep in his Baba’s arms, soothed at last by his Mamma’s lullabies. Perhaps that’s the reason why he’d been so irritable all this while: sleep. But a mother’s instinct tells me there’s something else too. A sleepy baby wouldn’t cry for almost all of one hour before he succumbs to rocking arms and lullabies—and refuse to take his bottle, too. The reason becomes clear enough when we reach the hotel. Hasan has a major—and I mean major—nappy rash, all courtesy of a severely runny stomach. His nappy didn’t appear soiled an hour ago, so it was probably stomach ache, or some such general unwell feeling that a poor 9-month-old can only communicate through wails and bawls.
The rain is still pouring down mercilessly. The heavens have flooded over, water crashing over the edges onto the mortal world. Just this corner of the world, that is. Heaven tipped to a side with all that weight.
It’s well past 9 pm, the rain shows no signs of abating, traffic is all choc-a-bloc and we have no clue where to find a doctor or a chemist shop. I call up Hasan’s old paediatrician in Delhi and she doesn’t pick up. There’s a mild probiotic that I’ve brought with me but that’s no match for the severe infection that he seems to have picked up. On hindsight, he was showing signs of a mildly upset stomach even when we’d arrived in Corbett. But it was mostly indiscernible and I’m more the stay-away-from antibiotics mom. Well, so much for that.
The poor baby is in great pain. It’s the worst rash I’ve ever seen—and it’s only just the second time he’s ever had a rash. We spend a sleepless night full of baby-screams. A sleepless night is bad in itself, but the worst thing ever is to see the helpless little one—for whom you are personally responsible—suffer agonisingly. Am I a bad mother? Could I have done something differently? Was it because of the elephant-n-soother episode? Was I neglectful? Should I have acted on the very first signs?
Experience is only gained through the worst episodes.
June 14, 2016
The final day of our doomed vacation. And it still rains.
The Heavens really have ripped apart. The flow earthwards has slowed but is far from clamping down.
Around mid-day we depart for Aligarh. Hasan is a little better outwardly, though Sajjad and I are more the worse for wear. We have over eight hours of road journey ahead, and with the persistent rain it would take longer.
7: 30 p.m.
A mostly-uneventful journey has turned eventful as the rain-soaked universe stops us midway. The road is almost flooded and we see a huge SUV stuck in the water ahead. A ditch? Probably. Dead engine? Perhaps. No one can make out on the water-puffed road. The driver is apprehensive of taking our vehicle into the literally murky waters. But we can’t keep waiting there forever—and forever is what the rain-bearers seem to be aiming for.
Mummy’s lips start moving with fervently pronounced though inaudible Quranic verses. She’s the most devout of us all, her lips the very first that break open in prayer, no matter what the occasion. I suppose Sajjad would get the distinction of being more of the sticking-to-the-religious-rule-book type, but when it comes to impromptu prayers spoken from the heart, mom tops us all. Well, here we are, engines revved up and sloshing through the muddy pool, with the odds stacked high in favour of our vehicle getting stranded right in the middle.
We beat the odds.
And reach Aligarh around 10 p.m.
Sigh of relief gets a whole new meaning.
June 15, 2016
Sajjad leaves for Delhi the next morning. (We’re still living in that weekend arrangement, in case you’ve forgotten.) Mom joins office too. There’s an extremely unwell little baby with me. And rather bizarrely, it’s still raining.
My grandmother, who lives with my mom, swears she has never heard a baby scream quite so agonisingly as this—and she’s brought up two of her own along with two of my mom’s. The paediatrician from Delhi refuses to prescribe antibiotics until the stool test reports are here, which basically means two more days of this.
Hasan’s cries are ripping my heart apart.
Panic. Lots of panic.
Rush to the local paediatrician, shielding Hasan from the unbelievably obstinate rain.
Doctor’s out of town. There’s a replacement doctor seeing his patients instead, who does prescribe an anti-biotic along with a local application ointment with much higher potency than the regular diaper-rash cream I’d been applying.
Every time the ointment makes contact with Hasan’s little bum, he lets out the most gut-wrenching, ear-splitting wail you could imagine. Wait—you can’t imagine. Another day of this and I take him to our family homeopath.
Turns out the painful skin-burning ointment was actually a treatment for piles. How wonderful.
It never rains but it pours.
June 16 2013
It never rains but it pours.
But this downpour is phenomenal. The entire mountainous region of Uttarakhand has been deluged by the most devastating flood in the country—“the country’s worst natural disaster since the Tsunami of 2004”, to quote Wikipedia. The North India Flood of June 2013. Attributed to cloudburst, and to the debris of the “building of dams upstream”, causing rivers to block up and then overflow.
“From 14 to 17 June 2013, the Indian state of Uttarakhand and adjoining areas received heavy rainfall, which was about 375% more than the benchmark rainfall during a normal monsoon.”
Don’t I know it—oh, don’t I know it.
“The main day of the flood is said to be on 16 June 2013.”
Exactly two days from when we left the ill-fated Uttarakhand mountainside.
For days the newspapers and news channels are crammed with reports of over 100,000 trapped tourists as well as pilgrims, as three of the four sacred Hindu Chhota Char Dhams fall in the lower ranges of the Himalayas.
Houses fall over. Bridges collapse. People die. The Indian Army, Air Force and Paramilitary forces put in all they have to get people out of the water’s wrath.
The nation is besieged.
My family and I all pray for the victims and survivors as well as the armed forces at each Namaz time each day.
And I, petty human that I am, can’t help thinking over and over: we’d been there two days ago.
My mother, my husband, my sister, my son. A handpicked selection of the crown jewels of my life.
Escaped by the skin of their teeth the ire of the great North India flood.
INTERESTING times indeed.