We were going south to Bangalore after a day trip to Lepakshi. Ahead of us, my car shone snow-white on gleaming asphalt. I wasn't in my car, Mahesh my driver was at its wheel, I was in the car behind, with a friend driving. My wife sat in the back. Our eyes were locked on my car, my wife’s eyes as well — sitting in front I could sense her stare.
“Look!” my wife said.
She was pointing to a grey hill that had appeared, a long, flat-topped outcrop rather like a high wall guarding a giant’s dwelling. The hill framed my car, which we soon passed, and all around us the sight was again of green plains awash with sunlight, and patches here and there of grapevine.
At the deviation to Nandi Hills my wife and I said goodbye to the friend and got in my car and sped to Koramangala. We needed to arrive in time for a birthday, our grandson’s, his fourth.
A half of the alfresco restaurant was taken by us. Mostly couples, most of them young, sat in the other half, and when a child or two wandered over to them their eyes lit up and they tried to engage them.
The welcome kit for the kids was lollipops and a little flag with an airplane sketched on it. The aeroplane was the theme of the party, and the cake was fashioned after an airfield, with blue the dominant colour.
An hour into the party, a cool strong wind started to blow, gathering up the leaves on the ground, sending them swirling upward. It brought down the leaves on the trees. The children set aside their balloons and clay and paint and watched the play of the wind. In an instant, the world around had cooled, but an electric energy ruled the air and, warmed by the change, the voices of the children grew shriller, their hopping wilder, their laughter gayer, and their eyes gleamed. Just then the rain came down, it grew dark, the lights came on, and we of the party hurried into a room on the premises. The other customers exited quickly.
We congregated into a tight, warm, moist pack in the room. We set up the cake, improvised a counter for dinner.
Coming out, we drove down the street we’d come up on. Water squelched under the tyres and, slowly, inch by inch, water rose until it drowned the wheels — which we could tell by the cars in front and on the side. Some vehicles had halted altogether. In the distance, green lights atop a bus blinked, signalling hopelessness to us behind.
“Go left, Mahesh,” I said.
“Risky,” my wife said. The edge of our streets, when flooded, is deadly dangerous. Walking, you could drop down an open manhole and go down to hell. Driving over an open manhole … you can guess. But we went leftward anyway and considered the lay of the street ahead. The water was brown, oily, and roiling, but the length of it was clear.
“Move,” I said.
We went a few metres, cutting the water in two. Then we stopped. Mahesh pushed the ignition button, got only a click a push.
“Stopped?” I said.
“Yes,” he said in a whisper.
We called service, they estimated they’d need an hour to reach us. We leaned back and considered what we'd gotten into. We looked at the mess all around. A line of seven men walked on the median, balancing their step in the manner of the tightrope walker. A young couple, also on the median, approached the seven men. When they met, the parties halted, considered one another. Four men stepped off the median, leaving three holding position. The three and the couple stepped forward. They stopped. The wait was longer this time, neither side yielding until the couple hitched high their slacks and climbed down.
On our left, a man in a black raincoat pushed his bicycle against the surging swaying water and, tripping on something, fell, taking his cycle down with him, going underwater. (The water had a good dose of sewage, we learnt later.) He rose by his own effort and, dripping, grinned in embarrassment.
A truck passed on the right. A biker had stopped by us and was resting a foot on the median. He had his shoes on his fuel tank. A mighty splash doused him, his bike, his shoes. He turned to us. “Wanted to keep my shoes dry,” he said, shaking his head like he’d been stupid.
“None of us gets angry with the government,” my wife said in the back.
It’s two weeks since. The week after, Mahesh, coming back from the car service, said, “It’s going to cost … .“ Half the price of the car. “They need two months to give it back.”
Watching the changing expression on my face, he said: “Not even a puncture we’d ever had, sir.”
“How it’d looked on the highway!” my wife said. “My own eyes cast bad luck on it.”