Friday, July 24, 2009

Tidal tales

If I were a tide off the coast of Mumbai, I would be mortified with the amount of hype , about my alleged activities on the three days July 24-26, 2009, after the great scare engineered by by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, hitherto referred to as MCGM. .

The MCGM, is currently burdened with a lopsided weight distribution. It tries to control things all over Mumbai, sitting at one far corner of the city, concentrating all the power with itself, as powerless officials, pretend to be locally in charge, and deal with enraged citizens. For years together, road contractors would salivate at the thought of monsoon road surfacing, where all you did was fill potholes , with more emphasis on "potholes" than "fill" . Then came the garbage and plastic age, that coincided with the illegal construction age, and old river estuaries that ran through the city to empty themselves into the sea, suddenly realized the meaning of
meander, and got so heavy with trash, that nothing got emptied into the sea.

Massive monsoon flooding of July 2005 had the MCGM on the back foot.

So , this year, from early March and April, they started hyping the fact that on
July 24-26 , Mumbai would be having the highest tides it had seen in the last 100 years. How big ? Close to 5.5 metres. Tables appeared in newspapers, outlining "dangerous days" in this monsoon season, when these huge tides would wash over Mumbai, at amazingly accurate times like 1:13 pm etc.

The chaos when combined with a slightly heavier monsoon rain on those days was used to create a fear in the minds of the citizenry. Schools declared holidays, Mumbai University, postponed exams, some companies worked the previous weekend and declared these days off. While ground floor residents of areas that always flood , regardless of tides, routinely shifted their belongings to neighbor's houses above, this scare forced several people into panic mode and stuff was hurriedly moved here and there.

Every few days , there would be a news item of "
MCGM monsoon preparedness" in the newspapers. Pumps installed, ditches cleaned , disaster cell phone numbers displayed, fire brigade on call, extra guards deployed.

While we don't mention the fact that lots of usual inconvenient flooding happened few days earlier with normal monsoon rain, and lesser tidal heights,
what was not mentioned in this Tidal Hype, was that these kind of big tides happen every year. Mostly in and around November, due to the earths planetary position.

The Port Office of Mumbai publishes tide tables which I have been checking , and tides of 4.5 metres happen all the time. They even happened last month, and possibly even last week.

Waves crashing at sea side walls and dissipating high up in the air is a routine activity at seashores where greedy folks have appropriated land , constructed walls and jutting promontories, sprinkled concrete tetra pods alongside, and built bunds. For years and years, folks have been making monsoon visits to these places to enjoy the massive waves that crash in and overflow the barricades, like boiling milk overflowing all over the stove base. There are so many pictures taken over the years, say, at the
Gateway of India, opposite the Taj Mahal hotel, showing water cascading on to the road by the sea, and that was then designated as the charm of the monsoon.

It has occurred to me that this year, the MCGM may have decided to alter its approach. The smell of tar and bulldozers, and pumps, and visions of people pushing stalled cars in hip deep water , had been overdone.

And so they took the help of the Bard. The Right Honorable William Shakespeare Esq, lately of Stratford-upon-Avon, who had one of his villain characters , Brutus, say this to Julius Caesar, his king:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Despite the distinct undeniable possibility that "
floods leading to a fortune" was the main incentive to some in MCGM, it is clear that the "shallows (Shakespearean for potholes) and miseries" of the monsoon continue, whether the tide is taken at the flood , or omitted. Luckily, for the harried populace , and despite the hype about tides, we are not "afloat on a full sea", and thanks to the power stations of Reliance Energy (who have recently upped their charges), it is clear that "we must take the current when it serves". And as far as the "affairs of men" go, well, we do not deign to comment.

It is now the midpoint of the danger period of 24-26 July. Normal monsoon rain has fallen since yesterday. There have even been parts of both days which were sunny and bright. I have travelled in decent dryness to two of Mumbai's far flung suburbs. We have had wonderful monsoon winds and a couple of mean showers and huge waves. People landed up in droves to experience the waves. Folks went to work as usual based on the usually inaccurate and sometimes diametrically opposite forecasts by the Met office.

The tides continue to do their stuff, whether at 3, 4 or 5 metres. While the pictures of water on the streets was nothing alarming, what really hit the nail on the head, was the picture of our city's lady mayor, standing in forlorn isolation, watching the waves crashing and breaking her seaside compound wall . Like they do every year.

The above poetic wisdom appears in the play, Julius Caesar, and was supposed to have been dispensed by Brutus, Caesar's disloyal friend, before he went to war, as he wanted to talk about Opportunity and Chance.How we need to grab it, and how it sometimes happens only once, and so on.

Lets not comment on listening to advice from folks with dicey reputations, who stab and kill their kings. And their ideas about "grabbing" opportunity. I think they followed the wrong guy in this entire tides episode. Despite the Met office saying , again and again, that heavy rains were not imminent on these days. Sometimes it is better to believe the redoubtable Met Office instead of the traitorous Brutus. Talk about listening to Goondas....

I think the MCGM just blew it.


  1. You are fast! First the snake in the Orissa Assembly and now this.

    Writing posts as soon as events take place!

    Here at our home- we're laughing about the tidal predictions, too.:)

  2. Our weathermen have been predicting floods here, too. So far we have had only one night of the kind of storm that fills the washes and can flood. But no flooding. Storm alert sounds ominous as it interrupts our TV shows, but nothing happens. 'Tis the same all over.

    The tides of men, and all that jazz.

  3. This is a delicious post Suranga.
    I LOVE the Shakespearean parallel!
    June in Oz

  4. What fascinating reading ! Kept me enthralled for ages If it's not monsoons and high tides it's all the wild life you encounter How wonderful ! Alas I cannot reciprocate unless you count a rat in the garden, an occasional visit from an urban fox or a heron flapping over now and again!
    "The deep of night is crept upon our talk
    And nature must obey necessity "

  5. yes yes ! There is indeed a tide in the affairs of men. For we hear that there was a traffic jam in the world getting to Marine drive and such places to experience the tide !

    And ofcourse the tides will continue lashing. And the traffic snarls will continue.

    Marketing, branding and perhaps the BMC will stand. The test of time. Or perhaps tides.

    (Ok. Take the BMC out. The mayors wall was knocked down. The tides have given it back !)

  6. Ha, ha! Trust the MCGM to grab opportunities.Our government offices are not that smart come on Suranga. They just need to mumble something and make it sound important and that's what they did.