3 - Issue 9
Yes, He did. And in so many beautiful ways. When the city often touted as the Shanghai of India turned into a city of distress and despair, the Sai workers submerged themselves in the ocean of service - the above description is only a drop. They were busy alleviating pain and bringing smiles on the faces of the affected and the anxious. Medical camps were on for days and nights, week after week, simultaneously with other service activities.
Before we give you more thrilling stories of how the Sai workers reached out to every corner of Mumbai, and more interestingly, how our beloved Swami rescued them and guarded them every moment, let’s have a quick look at the city of Mumbai on the 26th of July 2005 – the day the never-at-rest-for-a-second city of India, stumbled and came to a total stand still.
Part-I : Devastation In Mumbai
26 th of July - it was the day when the financial capital of India , which contributes over Rs. 58,000 crore (US$13.3 billion) in revenue to the central government of India every year was totally numb. Its citizens - shocked and shattered. Its infrastructure - pathetically paralyzed. It was a day of great trial for the populace of Mumbai.
What initially seemed as the beginning of a normal work day in the monsoon season was by the end of the day probably the most traumatic the people of Mumbai (Mumbaikars) had ever gone through. The mayhem caused by the unprecedented rains in the 24-hour period from 8.30 am on July 26 th to 8.30 am on July 27th, 2005 – an incredible 944.2 mm rainfall in the city’s suburbs which houses the majority of the city’s population - was unimagined and indescribable. It was truly frightening.
As a result, everything dreaded happened. It was the city’s wildest unimaginable nightmare. Houses collapsed, entire suburban areas went under water and carcasses of bloated animals floated on the street.
Drainage water overflowed and mixed with the rainwater on the street. And rainwater hurled garbage and dirt onto the roads and lanes.
Hardly an hour since the start of the deluge and the ubiquitous cell phones of Mumbai, which never know what is rest or sleep, were powerless and dead. And just when Mumbaikars thought that it was the last of their problems, the lights went out. Large swathes of the suburbs were left groping in the dark (Power supply to several suburbs was switched off to prevent short circuits and electrocution).
…Some More Glimpses of the Havoc
A trip from Nariman Point, the city’s business hub, to Bandra, which usually takes 45 minutes, now took over 8 hours. Railway tracks between Ambarnath, Dombivili and Badlapur were under eight inches of water – one could have easily mistaken the railway station to be a river! The Lepers' Colony along the railway tracks at Dahisar was fully submerged.
A Mumbai-bound college teacher waiting in Frankfurt to board the Lufthansa flight LH-756 did not know what to do. The Mumbai airport – the busiest in the country - was searching for its air strip. There was now only a sheet of water. All flights were cancelled or rescheduled.
The city's lifeline - its suburban local train service - ground to a complete halt. It was a forced brake on the always-on-the-move life of Mumbai.
Jaya, like thousands of other Mumbaikars, walked for hours until she found a cab. The cab only took her a partial distance. After further wading through neck high water and walking through slush and mud, she finally arrived home after 27 hours of effort.
Another Mumbaikar, Pramod, stayed back in his office until the next day. On finally reaching his home he found his house and the surrounding area submerged. His family's whereabouts were unknown. He walked back for hours searching for a vacant room in a guesthouse.
Residents of the suburb of Thane, who were working in the city, started getting calls about their homes being flooded since the morning but could do nothing…they were stuck in the island city…many parents did not know where their children were…and the list goes on. Every Mumbaikar has a unique harrowing tale to tell of the trials of that day.
And the damage was not restricted to Mumbai alone. For example, at least 100 people died in their sleep at Jui village in Raigad district of Maharastra, when a landslide hit 43 houses at 8pm on the 25th July. And as many as 12 villages in Sangli district were inundated and over 6,500 people evacuated as the waters of the River Krishna rose above the danger mark. And in Kolhapur district, 40 villages were marooned. And so on goes the depressing story.
To sum it up, according to a leading Indian weekly -
1,000 people died in the state of Maharashtra of which Mumbai city alone accounted for over 400.
200 billion rupees was the loss in Mumbai alone, let alone the other parts of Maharastra.
15-20 billion rupees worth of preliminary insurance claims were filed in the immediate aftermath of the floods, the figure kept increasing every passing day.
Part-II: Reasons For The Catastrophe
Why the Mayhem in Mumbai?
Yes, the destruction and the damage was depressing and demoralizing, to say the least. But, “Why Mumbai?” as some Mumbaikars started asking once they were back home and life was somewhat normal.
“Was it only the coincidence of exceptionally heavy rains and the high tide?”
Some remarked, “OK… it poured like mad, but why did the water take so long to recede? The sea is just next door!”
“Was it all the anger of the Gods? Was it a purely natural disaster? Is there anything more to it?” Mumbai’s inhabitants were seeking answers.
The answer is: Yes, there is certainly more to it. In fact, a lot more. And there are many lessons to be learnt too.
What Swami Says About Such Calamities?
First and foremost is this: God never punishes. He cannot but only help. It is the flaw in our actions that is responsible for our miseries. As Swami said on Sep 25 th, 2000 ,
If you have read the first line carefully, you will notice the words ‘utter selfishness’ of man – that is the catchphrase, the bottom line. The fitting example of the Mithi River , which flows through the centre of the island on which Mumbai City is located, is probably, by now, well known as it was widely reported. But we cannot resist reiterating it here for it is representative of what went wrong.
Once a River, Now a Drain
The Mithi River, once used for transportation and fishing, is today only a filthy stream, thanks to the people who use it as an open drain, the factories which dump industrial waste and garbage unchecked. Besides unauthorised hazardous is also waste dumped into it by all and sundry.
The Mithi River once acted as a natural safety valve carrying excess rainwater into the sea and absorbing seawater at times of high tide. It was nature’s gift to Mumbai. But today the situation is pretty dismal, you will see. In the words of Prof B. Arunachalam, eminent geographer and author of “Mumbai by Sea”,
Even the spanking Bandra Kurla complex was built on land reclaimed by diverting the Mithi River. And Mumbai paid for this flagrant indifference to nature when the Mithi River overflowed, carrying with it all the filth dumped into it.
In all the areas around the existing route of the river the water rose suddenly and to a staggering 15ft! People trapped in cars drowned. Even those on top of buses were scared. And the ground floors of many housing colonies were inundated. The greed of builders and developers and the blind eye turned by successive governments to the violations of the coastal zone regulations was something that was highlighted beyond a shadow of doubt by this patently avoidable and self-inflicted catastrophe.
In violation of these same regulations, 7000 acres of mangroves had been cut down for construction activities by private players in the Versova-Malad belt. And flouting every line from the rule book, buildings had been constructed within 500m of the high tide line. We know the important role woods play in containing water and keeping soil intact, and thereby preventing floods and landslides.
Mumbai’s 150 Year Outmoded Drainage System
Then, of course, is the much talked about drainage system in Mumbai, which stands as a symbol of the city’s pitiable infrastructure. You cannot expect a 2 year old to carry a 100 kg load on his head and that is what the 150 year antiquated Mumbai’s drainage system was asked to do. And as expected it collapsed.
It was equipped to carry only 2.5 cm of rain every hour. The 94.4 cm of rain on July 26th naturally beleaguered it beyond limits. And the size of Mumbai’s population, which had more than doubled in less than twenty years to 16 million, actually made mockery of the old and tired city drainage system.
The woes of the average citizen were compounded as the government had declared a two-day holiday. Thus, the state machinery’s response was delayed and the common man was left to fend for himself.
The bomb-blasts that rocked the city in 1993 were, no doubt, a man-made disaster. The Mumbai demon of a deluge too was to a large extent, man-made, if seen in a proper perspective.
If only the Mithi River was allowed to flow its natural course, if only people respected plantations and forests, if only the drainage system was upgraded well before time, if only a proactive disaster management programme was up and running, then probably it would have been just another beautiful, refreshing rainy day for Mumbai citizens.
Part-III: The Undying Spirit of Mumbai
The Undying Spirit of Mumbai
Yes, Mumbai drowned but the spirit of Mumbai soared.
The stories of such unexpected Samaritans are many - people going out of their way and opening their doors for strangers, serving hot food, drinks and giving shelter when their own ground floor is flooded; citizens opening their toilets for the public; young boys risking their lives to save people stranded in buses and trains; and people enthusiastically distributing fruits, biscuits and water to anyone and everyone who was stranded.
Every cloud has a silver lining and this was Mumbai’s silver lining. And this has been the case whenever disaster has struck this vibrant city – its citizens have demonstrated amazing bravery and stirring sympathy. It was as if the whole city was actually one family united by common suffering.
The Deluge of Sai Service
Inside this big family was the small but significant Sai family who just like other good-hearted people took every opportunity to serve their fellow brothers and sisters.
Way back in February 1966, Swami had said,
And the Sai devotees in Mumbai did just that.
Dr. Asha Damodaran who coordinated a lot of service activities, says,
Offering Food Packets, Offering Love
And so, within two days after the Terrible Tuesday of 26th July, Sai devotees organized themselves into different groups and panned out to every accessible area of Mumbai which needed help and care.
Their focus was first to provide food. Food packets containing mainly rice, pulses, sugar, turmeric, wheat flour and other small items like candles, and a match box, etc. were made.
More than 1,500 food packets were produced and distributed in one day, thanks to 50 Sai volunteers who worked the whole night in “Sai Prem”, New Mumbai, putting together all the items into neat packs.
The food packing area was later shifted to Worli, Old Mumbai, for ease of distribution as it was closer to the affected areas. And here again, 50 Sai workers worked from nine in the morning to twelve in the night for six continuous days, preparing 12,000 food packets.
Dr. Asha, recalling the initial days after the deluge, says,
And the Sai workers did not merely distribute food packets, those packets were, in fact, tokens of love, carefully packed and lovingly presented. From each region of Mumbai a dozen volunteers carried these packets of love and reached out to every shattered slum and every affected small lane of Mumbai to give, nay, offer it to the hungry and the deprived.
As important as food was medical attention to the affected people. In the initial days after the deluge, as Dr. Asha mentioned, there were only respiratory and gastro intestinal infections, but the epidemic was germinating. The outbreak of leptospirosis and dengue epidemic was one of the most terrible aftermaths of the tragic Mumbai rains. While leptospirosis was contracted from rat urine in water, dengue was caught from infected mosquitoes.
And here the Sai Organisation of Mumbai played a very proactive role.
To take this head on and prevent the spread of the epidemic, the Sai Organization conducted numerous medical camps spread all over Mumbai. Free medicines and injections were supplied and devotee doctors moved from one place to another with their teams to provide help and treatment.
It is a well-acknowledged fact that the administration of epidemic-preventive injections and medicines like Anti-Typhoid and Tetanus by Sai workers is what prevented the epidemic from taking alarming proportions in many areas of Mumbai.
There were medical camps conducted in Kalamboli, New Panvel, Palshet, Gadeshwar, Shiravali, among several other places. Just to give an instance, here again we have Dr. Asha Damodar, who was very much involved in the camps, giving us insights into the Seva done,
The Sai workers did a lot - not only for the people of these areas but for the entire state of Maharashtra .
In the Navi Mumbai zone alone, more than 2,500 patients were attended to during the first week of August. The number was much more in the Kurla-Kalina region, the most affected area of Mumbai, with 50 doctors working round the clock. The numbers keep adding up when we include all the major zones where Seva was conducted in the entire state of Maharashtra.
The Incredible Make-Shift Hospital
Dr. Janaki, a very dedicated devotee doctor, who was the motivational force behind several camps, comments,
So, that was the story of how Dr. Janaki started the new makeshift nursing home in Kadamwadi, in east Santa Cruz area of Mumbai. At least 800 patients were treated in six days from the 17 th to 22 nd August here and more than 650 typhoid injections were administered by Dr. Janaki’s team.
Dr. Agarwal, who saw Dr. Janaki at work, says, “It was a demonstration of our Lord’s most important teaching being put into practice – Love all, Serve all”. If you ask Dr. Janaki she replies, “I am not the doer, it is He.”
Though there was Seva going on right from day one of the tragedy, on the 7th of August, the Mumbai Sai Organisation, organized camps on a very large scale after making a very comprehensive survey for almost a week. On that day they organised medical camps simultaneously in eight principal regions of Mumbai, namely, the regions of Sion Wadala, Chembur, Mulund, Bail Bazar, Malad, Kandivili, Borivili and Dahisar. More than 8,000 patients were rendered medical help by devotee doctors who were ably assisted by hundreds of Sai workers.
While this was going on about 6,000 food packets were distributed simultaneously to all needy people in these regions. In Pandharpur zone, 4,000 rotis (pancakes) with sabji (curry) were distributed continuously for 24 hours on this day, apart from the service done on other days.
On the same day in the Kurla-Kalina region, where people only had four walls for a house and had lost all their possessions, utensils, appliances, clothes, books, etc. - whatever was necessary - were distributed to the affected people. And all the 650 schoolchildren got blankets, bed sheets, mattresses and notebooks.
One Sai worker said,
And to give them emotional and spiritual strength, Sai workers gave them Swami’s photo and Vibhuti as Prasad while asking them to have faith in God and prayer.
The Sai Workers and the Bankers
One important fact that must be mentioned is this: working in tandem with the Sathya Sai Seva Organisation was the HDFC Bank – one of India ’s leading private banks and the State Bank of India (SBI) – India ’s largest bank.
In the words of Ms. Sushma Barve, a SBI officer who distributed food packets along with the Sai workers, “I am proud to be an employee of State Bank of India now after this opportunity to work with the Sai Organisation. ”
And in fact, it was the SBI who approached the Sai Organization first, offering huge amounts because of their tremendous trust and confidence in Sai workers.
HDFC refused many other non-governmental organizations, and sanctioned a big amount solely to the Sai Organisation. For, in the words of Mr. Puri, MD of HDFC, “If I give Rs. 100,000 to the Sai Organisation, they will put another Rs. 10,000 to see that the Rs. 100,000 is spent judiciously”.
The damage, as we know, was not restricted to Mumbai alone, and Sai Seva too went beyond Mumbai. There were medical camps conducted in Dasgaon. In Mahad Taluka, where 50 people were buried alive and many houses destroyed due to a massive landslide, the Sai workers constructed temporary housing for all the unfortunate people in the Kosabi/Rawalgaon area.
In Sangli-Satara zone which included areas like Sikli, Sanwad, Danwad, Bastewad, Kurundwad, Chitrapur and Rajapur, medical camps and food grain distribution were held for four days from 6th to 9th August, 2005 . Additionally, much relief activity was carried out in Pandharpur.
How the Sai Workers Served
The passion with which the Sai workers served, the kind of areas they visited - the most filthy and dreaded slums - the smile with which they went about doing their work and the way these volunteers were received, was something to be seen to be believed.
It was not for ostentation. It was not for personal glory. It was done with the one aim of serving Sai. The Sai who is within each one in distress.
For the Sevadals of Mumbai, it was their duty, their devotion and worship. It was very heartening to see Sai workers who were once upon a time slum children now serving the citizens of Mumbai non-stop day and night. These were the children adopted from a slum by a Sai worker years ago and now groomed into respectable citizens. Once upon a time on the receiving end, these workers were now serving the citizens of Mumbai with great sincerity and devotion to Sai.
In the words of one service coordinator,
When humanity is faced with tragedy, it is God’s opportunity to provide solace and succor. Those who are lucky enough to serve alone know what an exhilarating experience it is to be an instrument of the divine. And those 'helped' always remember the touch of the divine that came to them in their pain and time of acute need.
Ask any Sai worker and he (or she) will tell you - Sai was always with him (or her). In fact, one Sai worker recounts,
Indeed, Sai is there everywhere for everybody ready to help. The Sai devotees know it better than anybody else. And every devotee has an account of how Swami saved his/her life and property. Take the case of Mr. Aklekar, for instance.
Part-V: Sai Comes To The Rescue
Sai - Their Saviour
When Mr. Kumar Aklekar realized that the deluge was endangering his family in Andheri, he rushed home. He sent his children to a place of safety higher up the building, while he and his wife, Sheetal stayed back in their home. As the waters in the flat rose, they moved their television, computers and other valuables to higher floors within the premises. The roads were already flooded. There was more than 5 feet of water. He could see his car submerged. The water had climbed up to nearly three feet inside their flat. He and Sheetal sat on the kitchen platform the whole night praying and reciting "Sai Gayatri" (a Vedic composition on Sai). The water was gushing into their flat. It did not look like the rain would ever stop.
The room had a life size picture of Swami placed three and a half feet above the ground. Sheetal mentioned to Kumar in a frightened tone that the water level should not rise to touch Swami's photograph. The water level started rising further. They were tense and terrified. The water initially rose but then stopped to their utter disbelief. It stopped just three inches below Swami’s life-size photograph, which as we know, was three and a half feet above ground level. This was all the more miraculous as the water rose five feet in their neighbour’s home on the very same floor!
The Aklekars spent the next two days cleaning their home from the residual mud. And to their great surprise and joy on Thursday (the third day after the deluge) Swami assured them of His presence at all times as Amrita (holy nectar) started dripping from His photograph, as if to say, "I am always here, why fear!"
Vol 3 Issue 9 - September 2005
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