It Happens Only in Mumbai…Of Deluges, Treks, Leptospirosis and Wet Mobiles

Currently I am about to finish a week’s prophylactic course of an antibiotic called doxycycline, for a disease called leptospirosis. This is an infectious disease, spread through rat droppings and typically seen in sewage workers. If not picked up early, it becomes deadly and people die because of multiple organ hemorrhaging.
I am sure you know that I am not a sewage worker. So what does this have to do with me?
Last year I had read about two men who drove for half a day to find the only existing PacBell phone booth in the middle of the Mojave dessert in California. All they wanted to do was to go there and make a call, which they did. Why? Just! Ever since, I have had this “keeda” (Hindi for itch, urge, whatever…) to do something crazy!
On July 12, the day of the big deluge, I was at work, but stuck without a car. Around 4.00PM, when I finally decided to go home, I realized that my only options were to stay back the night in office or to try and catch a taxi through Pedder Road, Worli and Dadar with a walk to Matunga or to walk the whole way from Girgaum to Matunga, a distance of approximately 11 km. I had never experienced the last option before and on an impulse decided to try it out, thinking that there would be no better opportunity to do this again. I left my laptop in my office, put my wallet and Palm V in two plastic bags which I placed between my chest and my shirt, put my mobile in my shirt pocket, rolled up my pants a la Raj Kapoor and set out, armed with an umbrella as my only protection against the rain.
At Lamington Road, I suddenly found myself in hip-deep water. People told me that this state would continue only for another 100-200 meters and so I forged ahead. The 100 meters eventually became 4 km, all the way upto Jacob Circle (Saat Rasta). I thought of turning back, but having already walked a kilometer before realizing what I had gotten into, it didn’t make sense to turn back. After half a kilometer, my thighs were aching, my shoes were biting and I was feeling miserable. I was wet from a fall I had at the beginning when I thought it would be a smart idea to walk on the divider in the middle of the road, not realizing that at places the divider stones are often absent. Within minutes of starting the trek, I fell into a gap between two stones, lost my balance, bruised and scraped my legs and fell into the water, wet upto my shirt pocket. I soon became an expert though and realized that the best place to walk was a foot away from the divider.
Around Nair Hospital, I saw two BEST buses successfully plowing their way through the water. During school and junior-college days, I used to be an expert at catching running buses and I tried to do that again. I am out of practice, thirty-five years old and the bus raised a big wave as it came towards me, pushing me backwards. I fell and completely drenched myself.
Frustrated, wanting some sympathy, I tried to call home on my mobile. It was then that I realized that the mobile had been drowning in water for some time and when I tried to turn it on, it obviously didn’t work.
I walked on and reached Jacob Circle. From there on, past Arthur Rd Jail, Chinchpokli Bridge, Lalbaug, KEM Hospital, Naigaum and Wadala, things were much better, since the water was at best, a thin film on the road. I tried in vain to get lifts from stray cars passing by; the only one I could manage was a 1km ride in a police jeep from Lalbaug to Naigaum, via KEM Hospital.
Two and a half hours later, wet and dirty with cuts on my legs and forearms, I reached the safe sanctuary of my home…only to find that there was no electricity and the hot bath that I had been dreaming of was to remain just that.
Last week, I heard of a person dying of leptospirosis outside the KEM casualty. The same day, the Times of India reported that there might be an epidemic of leptospirosis, linking it to the July 12 deluge by tracking the incubation period of the germ backwards. According to experts, on that day, sewage water had mixed with rain-water in all the flooded areas and prolonged contact of wounds, cuts and bruises with this kind of water is known to give rise to this infection. Within an hour, I felt feverish and I immediately called a physician friend who laughed at me, but then anyway advised me to start a course of doxycycline to be on the safe side. I am fine at present and probably past the incubation period…but let’s touch wood anyway!
Just to end this on a happy note. I had presumed that my mobile was a gonner, despite having opened it up completely on a friend’s advice and dried it using a hair-dryer. I finally gave it for repairs…and guess what…I actually got it back in working condition, in two days. Last week, it conked off again and when I again gave it for repairs, they changed the battery and ever since it has been working fine. My Palm V and credit cards had remained dry anyway, thanks to the double plastic covering.
So, at the end of it all…no leptospirosis, a working mobile and an adventure to write about. Not bad, huh!

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