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It was while hurrying back from Vijayanagar to Malleshwaram that we happened to meet this ‘all-time high,’ ‘10-cm’ record rain for Bangalore. Such a rain is not new to me personally – it was a regular during my childhood days, in my village in Kerala. And trust me, there were no unwanted incidents or accidents there, due to rain, except for occasional breaking of Areca trees.
Both my husband and I, though stuck in a traffic jam, were enjoying the rain, sitting in the car. After 20 minutes, I got the first panic call – my brother called, asking us to hurry up and check the situation inside our house. We could not gauge the enormity of his statement – ‘situation inside the house’ – at the moment. I thought it must be some leakage from the 20-year-old cement roofing of the house, which will stop after the rains. But it was not going to be as simple as that. If only I knew!
The rain was at its peak when we reached home. I gasped in awe, there was knee-deep water in our front yard, and immediately knew the reason – the water is not going out through the drainage pit.
My heart sank when I reached the front door, wading through the water. Water had entered the three rooms on the front – one hall and two bedrooms. Books in lower shelves, clothes kept in suitcase, the UPS of the computer, bedsheets inside the diwan – the water had soaked everything. Plastic toys and slippers were floating in the water, while my brother and househelp were busy rescuing whatever they could, from the wrath of water.
Meanwhile my husband tried to lift the lid of the drainage pit, as he thought that will clear the drainage outlet. But, when he lifted the lid, sewage water in the pit started gushing out with even more force – so he replaced the lid hastily.
Inspite of being a journalist, at that moment, I did not know which number to call for help. My Facebook post seeking help got some ‘like’s but no help. Finally we bought food from the nearby hotel, took bath in an unaffected neighbour’s house, and took shelter there that night.
Next morning I went back home. My nose and senses were overpowered with the stench. I also realised that this water must have entered the sump in our front yard. The sump stores borewell water and pumps it up to the overhead tank, which supplies water for washing needs of all the houses in the compound. To be sure, I opened the lid of the sump – my conclusion was true. The water was black in colour, and was not fit for washing clothes or bathing.
Thankfully Cauvery water was being supplied in the tap continuously the whole day, so we could finish cleaning urgent things like baby’s clothes and utensils and take bath by boiling the water. I alongwith my housemaid cleaned up the immediate mess partially.
Where is the problem?
The problem seemed to be with the 100-year-old drainage lines, which were not upgraded according to the needs of the growing area. Malleshwaram is an old locality, with most sites measuring minimum 40 feet in width and 80 feet in length. The number of residences have increased, with a few apartments contributing to the growth of population in the area.
Drainage system uses the conservancy lane system – sewerage line is installed in the lane between two rows of houses – with all residences releasing the waste into the pipeline.
In our case, the underground drain line that carries sewage from our house was at a lower level than the main drain line in the conservancy. When the blockage elsewhere stopped the sewage water, the sewage from the main line entered our drain line and backed into our pit and from there to the front yard, causing the mess.
Since many houses in the area suffered like us, I thought the episode won’t repeat the next day as the BWSSB might have acted upon this. But no – the scene repeated the next evening too. While rain gods were smiling at Bangalore again, our front yard started filling again, with the sewage water that came all the way from 18th cross to 7th cross… We were watching helplessly, while I managed to click some pictures of our front yard. This time we were careful enough to close all the doors and watch everything from a distance; but water knows how to find its way where it wants to go! Whatever we did was of no use.
Government helplines finally help
Meanwhile I texted the Personal Assistant of Ashwath Narayan, MLA of our area, asking whom to contact for help. He gave me one number, which was the BBMP helpline (080-23561692).
I explained the problem and enquired them about immediate help that I can get. They said plugging the leakage from sanitary lines is not their job, and I need to call the BWSSB. They even gave me the BWSSB helpline (080-22238888)
Well, I called up the BWSSB; they gave me one number of the Assistant Engineer of Malleshwaram Service Station (Dalayat -9845444017). I called this number too, who gave me another number of a Junior Engineer (Sridhar – 9845444019).
I could not quit at this point. I called up this number too. The JE asked me which area was it; I explained. He said he won’t be able to anything during night and while it’s raining; he will send the BWSSB vehicle to clean up the drain in the morning.
By next morning, it was the same scene again; the house was a mess filled with stench and muck. I cleaned up everything as soon as possible and got to the job of chasing the BWSSB.
My first call at 10.30 am was to the AE whom I’d called the previous day. He said, the cleaning vehicle is in Palace Guttahalli doing some cleaning up, it will take another half an hour for them to reach.
Okay, I waited for half an hour and called up again. They said they were busy cleaning up in some area and will be there in our area soon. This continued for a while, before I saw the BWSSB yellow vehicle with Jetting Machine finally in front of my house at 12.45pm.
Saviours at work
As they were opening every manhole in the conservancy and checking for blockages, I too was peeping inside the manholes. They showed me the 80-year-old brick walls inside a manhole, built presumably by the British, which now have lost their cement plaster with bricks falling inside the manhole. One more record rain – and the manhole might crumble inside causing a big ditch amid the conservancy.
Finally they found the culprits responsible for the blockages and the mess – two manholes on the next road. The bricks covering the wall of the manhole had fallen down, and rodents had corroded the wall of the manhole. This had caused lot of silt formation, with virtually no space left for the sewage water to flow. So the water found its way out wherever it could.
There was a boy’s hostel nearby for students and working men, with the kitchen in the basement. There were also some homes with sump on their front yard like us, with their houses built at a lower level than the road. All these houses had suffered the fury of sewage water.
The sewerage line was of 9 inches, which according to the Jetting Machine workers, needed to be replaced by 12-inch lines, as the area had grown in terms of number of people and buildings.
The BWSSB workers, armed with a sanike (grape hoe) but no mask or gloves or shoes, removed the silt in the manhole. Then they put the arrowhead of the jetting pipe into the manhole. When the jetting started, the arrowhead made its way inside the manhole, pushing whatever came its way with the help of water. The mud and silt and plastic items that were stored in the drain now reached the manhole. Once the jetting pipe was taken out, the workers cleared the items responsible for blockage, using the grape hoes.
They did the same thing at another manhole too, and declared that there won’t be problem in the area anymore. The debris they lifted from manhole contained many things: Plastic bottles, clothes, sanitary pads, plastic bags, toys, mobile covers and more.
The debris was left by the side of the manhole. I asked them what happens to it; they said they have done their duty; it’s not their job to worry about it. The BBMP has to clean it up. If it were to be left like that there, that will again flow with the rain water and cause blockages elsewhere, and the BWSSB will have to start the whole process all over again.
I tried calling the BBMP and explained them about it; They said they don’t have PKs (Poura Karmikas) working at that hour. It was 4 pm by the way. They would get it cleared tomorrow when the PKs come to work.
It rained the same evening. The rain was not heavy. And there was no clogging of the drain.
After one week, the water tank cleaned, all the surroundings thoroughly disinfected, alternative arrangement made for the computer, I find no rest. I’m still busy cleaning the wet pillows and jackets and bedsheets, everything, bit-by-bit, every day. My husband’s leather jacket he got from Italy was submerged in water, invisible to our eyes, in the storage of Diwan. Now, I don’t know what to do with it, as it stinks like hell and I don’t even want to touch it.
When I paid a visit to the next road to check about the debris – it’s still lying there, as there was no heavy rain that has been able to wash it out. And the BBMP hasn’t bothered yet.
My attempts to suggest the owner of the house to start rainwater harvesting at least in a small scale did not yield any results, as he feels that “there has not been shortage of water in 26 years. Water will be there, no need of rainwater harvesting.”
As I type this now, the FM station I have tuned into plays the old melody Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh barsaat ki raat. I can’t help but feel that the radio jockey has somehow sensed my sentiments!