The clouds look animated. The sun bursts through for a moment, and then it’s gone. It starts to drizzle, and I remember that I forgot my umbrella. I decide to take shelter. There is a chai stall near by, so I find a place in the huddle. A couple moments later, it’s pouring all around me. I look across the street and notice two men whizzing by on a scooter. The passenger in the back is holding an umbrella overhead as they drive. Suddenly, umbrellas miraculously emerge all around me. It’s the heart of the monsoon in Mumbai and the streets are alive and bustling. I sip my chai and think about how resilient these people are. It’s a torrential downpour, and the city doesn’t skip a beat.
Across the road and through an inviting gate, I hear the giggles of a group of kids playing in a puddle. They are soaked from head to toe, bare feet and carefree. It reminds me of snow days in Canada. When my parents would heed shelter and I would be rolling in the snow. I decide to sacrifice my dry footing to join the kids. I am immediately transmuted into a younger version of myself, except instead of snow there are puddles at recess.
Once you decide to embrace the monsoon, in full force, it overcomes you. There was a point there when my arms were outstretched towards the sky and I’m sure onlookers were reminded of the scene from Lagaan when the rains finally came. Now that I was soaked, I decided to make a day out of it. I headed to the train station, bound for the city.
As I waited for the train at Bandra Station, a man reached out to me from the tracks to give him a hand up onto the platform. Suddenly, I became the go to hand on the platform to help people up after crossing the tracks. In India, things have a way of working and everyone considers you their brother. By the time the overcrowded train arrived, the tracks had cleared. I secured a spot in the doorway so I could lean into the rain as we moved. It’s funny; nature has a way of bursting through a city of concrete. The endless rains at this time of year can bring the slightest foliage into a lush existence. Beside the tracks, locals had noticed small squares of earth and were now harvesting them into vibrant rice fields. These city dwellers are not only resilient, but ingenious. There is a word here for precisely this type of unusual innovation on scarce resources. It’s called ‘jugaad’.
When the train arrived at Church gate station, I walked to the waterfront on Marine Drive. The waters were raging over the tetra pod barriers onto the boardwalk. This area is known as the queen’s necklace. It’s romantic, because for every bead on the necklace, there are forbidden lovers basking in the view. While, some seemed to be getting cozy under an umbrella, others sat without shields and waited for the crashing waves to baptize them. I stood there, like a schoolboy smiling as the waves exploded around me. It was a thrill I could compare to the bottom of a log ride at a theme park.
I looked back at the city and noticed all the houses were covered in blue plastic. Rather than fix their roofs, people would rather tie scores of plastic tarp to ensure the rainfall circumvents their homes. It really is a city that just works without precedence. I looked over at the bridge, and noticed that a truck driver had intentionally parked his rig underneath the gushing runoff to get a free carwash. It might be water under the bridge now, but it was another fine example of jugaad.
It’s easy to say that we don’t have enough, or that we need something more. In Mumbai, people seem to make the best of what they have. While many choose to take their vacations during the monsoon, for those who stay, it’s business as usual. The rains are heavy, streets pool up, and everything is wet, but it is also a cleansing time for reflection. Besides, as the rainfall gains momentum, it tends to drown out the man-made sounds of the city. A gentle reminder, that nature has no master.