Roaming our Bombay suburb half a day after the vast downpour, things seem deceptively normal. Well, there's that street that's like a long swimming pool, but then that street gets like a long swimming pool after 10 minutes of moderate rain. There's the Dhirubhai Ambani School bus that's been abandoned at an angle across a junction, effectively cutting off two streets. There's the enormous pipal tree that's fallen across another junction, ripping up the pavement.
Well, not so normal.
In the small shopping strip up the road from me, only two shops have managed to open. The liquor shop and the haircut place. What might have persuaded the people who run these particular establishments to open for business today? I mean, liquor is likely to be in demand, sure. It always is. But haircuts?
I'm not sure if this liquor shop has supplied the men I run into on the flyover over Mahim Causeway. As soon as I pull out my ancient camera to take a shot of traffic snarled in every direction, these guys run up and surround me. They seem to think I'm with some major news agency -- me, with my sweaty T-shirt and flowered shorts. They are, literally and otherwise, in high spirits; but just a little menacing too.
"Come on, take a picture of us!" they demand, pushing me into position. They pose on the parapet, high above the traffic. As I look through my viewfinder, one says with just a touch of menace: "Yeah, yeah, go on, you're going to show the world how dirty Bombay is!" And after I click the button -- and this is a noisy beast, my camera -- another nearly snarls: "You didn't take our picture, you just looked at us through your lens!" I shrug. They move on.
Elsewhere in the traffic, I meet Sambhaji, BEST driver, has been in the bus for 24 hours straight. It's now smack in the middle of the crush, isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Nor is he, like dozens of other BEST drivers and conductors biding their time in their buses.
I stop to look over at the railway tracks below, crossing a surging Mahim creek, full like I've never seen it. Hundreds of commuters from the stationary trains beyond are walking very very gingerly along the tracks, across the water. Gingerly, because they know like I know, what that creek looks and smells like in normal times.
I meet Claudia, Lindabede, Vera and muscular young Cody ("we don't mess with Cody", says Vera as he smiles sheepishly), four Americans from Cheyenne, Wyoming. They have been crammed in a small cab for 19 hours, trying to reach a hotel near the airport. What about bathroom needs, I ask. "Well," says Vera, "Indians are wonderful people, what can we say? People everywhere have let us use their facilities."
Nearby, a man walks past, then stops and asks me: "DD News?" I shake my head no, and he walks on disappointed.
Nobody, not even the drunken louts, seems in need of a haircut. Though if they are, I'm ready to tell them where they can get one. Thirty bucks, massage included.