Karachi rains took me back to 1995 when water came flooding in and we took turns sleeping on a charpai

Though this year’s rain has brought joy to me, I’m praying for it to slow down, and to stop, before it wrecks homes and lives.

Zahra Hajyani: Published 18 Jul, 2020 08:04pm

I have been sitting on my terrace that’s unusually big for the size of the apartment that I live in, enjoying the rain, chasing my dogs, and them chasing me in return. I have everything to be grateful for, and today even more so, when as it rains, I find myself able to enjoy it comfortably from the shelter of my home. But the happiness and calm is bitter sweet as my mother mentions the rains of 1995.

Although at that time it had rained in the middle of the night, she vividly remembers it being as heavy then as it was today. We were woken up by our father, and before we could ask him, or even open our eyes, lightning struck, the electricity went off, and in the little torch light that he had managed to grab in five minutes’ time, which back then seemed like an eternity, we saw the devastation that had made him wake us all up.

Through the zigzag tin ceiling, and the few holes in it, the rain water had managed to find a home in our home. And in an attempt to get up, as I put my foot down from the bed to the floor, my lower legs were half deep in the rainwater that had gathered in.

Lots of toys and pans were floating here and there. I was six back then, and my brother was four. As my father was busy with the landlord and the neighbours in trying to open up the drains outside so it could avert the rainwater from entering and flooding the homes in the street, my mother quickly picked my brother and I up, one by one, and told us that we had to keep standing with her on the coffee table that she had brought in as part of her dowry. She was also standing with us on the table but suddenly realised she had forgotten to pick my little sister up from her cradle. She was born that same year in March and was only a few months old.

As my mother got off the table to pick my sister up, the coffee table with just my brother and I atop, started to float. It became our standing boat; we were screaming, with joy I think. My mother quickly grabbed my sister, and got back on the coffee table with us, and after that the table stood still. It was still quite submerged; some 75 per cent of it being underwater.

From there, we had a clear view of the door that my father had left open when he went outside to help open the drains along with our neighbours. This resulted in the rain water having even easier access to enter our home, as well as the garbage from the street and the sewage waste that was floating in the water at the time. We were still safe from it all until our coffee table hadn’t completely submerged. I do not have much recollection of what I felt back then. Was I happy that it was raining this much? Did I understand the extent of devastation that had occurred? I don’t remember. I remember my mother screaming and asking someone to close our door, being upset at my father for having left it open.

I do not have much recollection of the remainder of that night, of how we got off that table, where we slept or if we did. I remember the next morning, opening my eyes on a wet bed, and a broom in my mother’s hand, trying to push the water out of our home, with one hand on her nose because of the stench of sewage waste.

As she saw us wake up, she told us not to get off our beds and stay put. Later that day, we sat down to assess the damage that had been caused, the small damage that concerned us as kids that is. My school bag was found; it was wet, and all my books, and notebooks in it, were completely soiled. Now that I think of it, I’m glad we didn’t use ink pens in first grade, or all my class work would have been smudged. As it was, we only needed to get rid of the plastic and brown paper covers on the books and the notebooks, and soak them in the sun by hanging on the rope that we normally used to dry our laundry.

All the furniture made from chipboard that my mother had brought in as part of her dowry; a bed, a dresser, the coffee table, something we called a showcase, which held amma’s nice cutlery, pans, and decor pieces made by her, was damaged beyond repair. Her blue rexine couches were also no longer fixable. My father brought in a kabari, a person who buys waste at minimal cost, and all the furniture to him. We did not see a bed, or a dresser, or a couch in our house again until 2013. We survived on a charpai and after we got too big for all three of us siblings to squeeze in on it, we took turns to sleep on it. Our metal cupboard that was salvaged in the rain served as our only piece of storage besides the cardboard boxes and the soiled luggage that our relatives had handed over.

Our birth certificates were soiled and damaged, but my mother hung them in the air to check if they could be salvaged. As soon as they dried up, my mother got them coated in plastic from a nearby photocopy shop so we would be prepared for the next set of rains and floods.

All the houses in our neighbourhood including our landlord’s had gotten equally damaged; they all had tin roofs with holes in them, and uneven and weak brick structures that leaked in places. In preparation for the next floods, our landlord decided to raise the floor of the house to 4 feet compared to the street outside as that seemed to be the height the rainwater had reached as it flooded our home.

Over the next few weeks, we lived at our landlord’s home after he had put in sand safeguards in it some 4 feet in height, but hadn’t yet plastered the floor. And while it was a difficult time for my family, my mom, my brother, and I still tried to find moments of joy in it. Our story of hardship, I feel, still ended on happy notes.

Looking back at that time and the rains these past couple of weeks reminded me of the fate of so many people living in difficult conditions and how they must be suffering. Some of them must be trying to put buckets to put under their roofs to collect the rainwater leaking in, cover their furniture and belongings with plastic, with no time or luxury to enjoy the rain, and only praying that it stops before the little that they have is ruined beyond repair.

And though this year’s rain has brought joy to me, I’m praying for it to slow down, and to stop, before it wrecks the homes and lives of many, like it did ours in the 1990s.

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