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Marooned

delhi Updated: Aug 15, 2008 23:13 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

My tryst with the Indian middle class dream came to a near end on the eve of Independence Day. It was a normal day for me at the Hindustan Times, where I was preparing to write a story on the civil nuclear deal.

The mobile rang late in the afternoon. It was Indira Unninayar, secretary of the Belvedere Park Condominium Association, the upscale Gurgaon high-rise apartments that have been home since August 2007.

"Amit, where are you?" she asked. "In office," I replied. "Water is gushing into Belvedere Park. There's waist-deep water inside," Indira told me.

My concern was for my nine-year-old daughter and two maids who were at home in our 18th floor flat — which has a commanding view of India's Manhattan — a series of high-rise buildings that dominate the DLF Phase-III skyline.

I walked home the last mile, since there was a hug jam in Manhattan, parking my car outside a guest-house. Luckily, the landline at home was working so I told my daughter, who was calling every few minutes, to stay put.

From about 5 pm to 9.30 pm, I stood outside in the water as men rushed to build a "bund" to prevent more water from rushing in. It looked as if the Burhi Gandak river was flowing into the condo, especially the "tributary" from a massive construction site just behind us.

The power supply had been shut down. Our mini-power station, the "DG sets", or diesel gensets, in the basement were flooded. Two maintenance staff narrowly escaped being swept away as they held on to the sandbags at the entrance of the basement. No lifts working.

"This is a slum, man," said CP Surendran, fellow-journalist and traveller, as he waded into the water, heading for his 10th floor flat.

I realised that I had been luckier than the thousand-odd people who live in the 300 flats. As residents drove in after spending hours on the road, they took a few minutes to fathom the enormity of the catastrophe.

Basically, we had all been marooned in our little island of prosperity in the civic chaos that passes off for new Gurgaon. Who is accountable, we asked each other. The builders, civic authorities, or both?

And, then the rain gods relented. The water began to slowly recede, a couple of pumps were found. Rickshawallahs were doing a brisk business, bringing out people through the water. Their charge: Rs. 100 for a sortie.

Finally, I drove my wife's Wagon-R into the condo, climbed 18 floors with the help of light from my mobile phone and brought my daughter down.

We had some electricity by 2.30 am, the lifts began working at 9 am. Around the time we should have been hoisting the tricolor in the little park in our condo to celebrate India's 61st year of independence.