Watered down

Last week's flood changed Fayes T Kantawala's life

Watered down
As I stood knee-deep in the marshy but ecofriendly pool that used to be my front garden last week, a profound thought came to me: “This, right here, is why a tidal wave is a bad metaphor for political change.” This realization was followed by a piercing shriek; a frog had brushed up against my leg, and I had watched Jaws by myself the night before.

Last week Mother Nature nominated Lahore to do the Ice Bucket Challenge from Hell and Lahore lost. Just when you thought the soft drizzle was a prelude to a pleasant end, the heavens turned on the taps again. I hadn’t seen this much rain since The Great Wetness of 1996. Most longsuffering, well-off Lahoris will recall the early autumnal flood of that year, when it rained so hard that people actually starting buying rowboats to get around their houses (or so the kids boasted at school). As children we didn’t care about the damage inflicted on ordinary life by heavy rains; rather we were thrilled by how it turned gardens into waterparks. We laughed and splashed and giggled, had rain baths and acted out our favorite Bollywood waterfall sequences (‘twas a good time before Dengue). It wasn’t all good, though. I recall going to a friend’s house and seeing his basement under ten feet of water, his father’s gun collection now completely submerged; one of my aunts had taken to gliding about her lounge on a canoe for weeks, so deep was her flooding. And so, for a long time, that week in 1996 remained my own little phantasmagoric experience of a great flood.

Until now.

The first 24 hours of thick rain were like a welcome surprise, a guilt-free day off. But by evening I was already hearing of friends’ drawing rooms carrying inches of water, and of the distant horrors in low-lying areas where diseases had quickly sprouted. My own house looked wet but was otherwise OK so I relaxed. Most people I knew had no power or electricity, but somehow I still did. When I woke up on Day Two, however, I couldn’t see my grass or the bottom of my care tires. My dead-end street was still not completely flooded, so I took a chance and drove out into the world, which was a bad idea. There was water everywhere, gushing around street bends like a maddened river; cars were abandoned in the middle of the road; people waded cautiously in fast-running torrents where roads had been the day before; the water was so deep in some places that it petered in through car doors, even as people drove those cars. It was terrifying to behold. I had that real sense of the sublime, that feeling of smallness you get when you are confronted with a natural force so awesome that it makes you feel like a germ staring down a planet.

[quote]My ceiling had more leaks than the NSA[/quote]

When I woke up on the third day, the rains were still going strong. I could no longer see the grass in my lawn, or the flowerbeds, or the bottom of my car. Indeed, waves of greyish water were crashing a mere inch below my front door. Every single wall in my house looked like it had giant pimples, satanic bubbles of God-knows-what that burst and oozed down like a sophisticated Japanese horror-film effect. Water was dripping from joints and windows and rising up from floors. The gutters outside my gate were clogged and overflowing, sending black water (it’s the politest thing I can call it here) gushing back into the street. My garden looked like Death, and my ceiling had more leaks than the NSA. Water didn’t seem to be going anywhere, just collecting and procreating.

I had no power, no Internet, no gas, and, most frustrating of all, given the circumstances, no water. It was while I was cursing Fate in general and Shahbaz Sharif’s inadequate drainage systems in particular that I heard a large and ominous crash, followed by some screams, followed by gasps and a chorus of “BC/MC/BC/MC eh ki hoya?”

Outside my gate, my male neighbors were standing in the water staring at something, their shalwars hitched up around their knees. As I walked up to the circle I saw what they were looking at: a giant hole in the ground, 12 feet wide, that had come out of nowhere. When it appeared it took with it an electric pole, the Internet wires, several water pipes and all the gas connections. Later we were told that this Hellmouth was in fact a colonial-era well that had lain unknown for a hundred years under our patch of road. It goes down about 100 feet and is the single most frightening thing I’ve seen after Nicki Minaj.

I can’t get my car in or out of my house now because the Hole is blocking the way; the whole neighborhood is without electrical power because the Hole swallowed a pole; and the officials are saying they may need to rebuild our road since it is structurally unsound (no sh**). Considering how many of my neighbors are on life-support (I have assumed this from the sound of their breathing), I’m surprised they’ve been as patient with the repairs as they have. I haven’t, obvs. It’s been seven days so far, and I still have no utilities; and so I shout at the poor guy filling my hole to hurry it up. (Ew.) I got away easy, though. My carpenter has no home, and my gardener told me his neighbor’s earthly possessions were swept away in a flash when their house’s wall came apart. Thousands across the province (and soon, the country) will have lost their livelihoods – and some even their lives – by the time you read this piece.

And there you are, out there on your container, talking about your so-called tsunami…

Write to thekantawala@gmail.com and follow @fkantawala on twitter