Blog: The Delhi Deluge And The Saga Of The Blue Baleno

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What does drowning in shame mean? Ask my husband’s car and you will get the answer. Don’t think that it’s a lightweight, though. It’s a celebrity car that made it to national TV. For drowning.

This is the story of the Blue Baleno that became one of the protagonists in the saga of the Delhi Deluge.

In this bittersweet tale of unexpected stardom, the Blue Baleno is emerging as both a victim and a survivor of nature’s fury at humankind’s criminal neglect of the environment. On 13 July 2023, Civil  Lines, one of the poshest neighbourhoods of Delhi – where both the Lieutenant Governor and Chief Minister of Delhi have their official residences – was claimed by the wronged and angry Yamuna.

Nothing unusual about the event, as India has a tradition of bad civic management across most states, and we are inured to flooding, traffic pileups, haphazard and dangerous constructions, and disappearing forests. Only this time, it is the national capital’s wealthiest that were affected.

The legend has it that an elderly guard from the ‘Marghat Wale Hanuman Baba’ temple came shouting to the posh side of the Mahatma Gandhi Road aka Ring Road in the early hours of 13 July, warning that the water level was rising. He was promptly shooed away as a drunkard by the posh guards of posh people. By 7 am, the cars parked on Bela Road began to float.

By noon, these cars attained celebrity. The national media launched its warriors in chest-deep water to bring ground reports. My husband tweeted that it was a red-letter day in the life of his car. And that’s when it dawned upon all of us. Among the fancy, expensive cars floating around in Civil Lines, our Maruti -a decades-old symbol of middle-classness – was trying to act normal. Imagine Kangana Ranaut’s Rani in Queen suddenly swimming with The Great Gatsby partygoers on a yacht in Miami. There’s a Mercedes on the left and a Landcruiser on the right, our humble and hardworking Baleno trying to hold its head high in the middle.

Our flooded street and if you look very carefully my flooded car makes a cameo appearance in this stellar ⁦@ndtv⁩ report. No electricity or water, so 5 seconds of fame will have to do…

— Praveen Swami (@praveenswami) July 13, 2023

I tweeted the photo of this submerged social warrior later that afternoon. The caption started WWIII in my mentions. The followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal descended in full force to defend the honour of their leaders. There was an occasional Rahul Gandhi fan, trying to clutch at the straws of relevance.

One of my cars decided to go for a swim today.

Thank you, @narendramodi.
Thank you, @ArvindKejriwal.

For giving us this free-access swimming pool in the most VIP Area of Delhi. #DelhiFloods #delhiflood

— Nishtha Gautam (@TedhiLakeer) July 13, 2023

The biggest zealots, however, pointed out ‘elitism’ in the tweet, confirming my long-held belief that the most obnoxious people usually are those that lack a sense of humour. The summary of countless replies is the following: Good that your car drowned, you entitled b*$&*!

But here is the thing – when Delhi’s ‘VIP’ area was flooded, the biggest talking point was not about the damage its residents faced. It was the realisation that this neighbourhood was inundated despite some of the strictest floor area ratio regulations, the quick reaction of civic authorities (because everyone important knows someone more important), and the constant gaze of national media. Imagine the horror unleashed on those who live in areas that can boast of none of the above. Actually, there is nothing left to the imagination anymore. It’s for everyone to see. If at all, this imagination hardly ever translates into action that averts the next disaster.

There is a rather weak argument going around about the inevitability of natural disasters. It’s the biggest con – to lull us into the comfort of calm resignation. The meme-like “Ab kya hi kar sakte hain” attitude. Year after year, a chain of drought and deluge shackles India’s cities and villages. We are rarely prepared for either. In fact, we often mistake one for the other. A senior police officer tells me that he was busy preparing plans to save people from starvation till last month because 2023 was meant to be a drought year, thanks to met department predictions. Silt kept getting deposited on the bed of the Yamuna, elevating it by 10-15 feet without the extra water, and nobody cared. Delhi’s drainage system has stayed clogged for decades. Yamuna floodplains have been badly encroached upon by the rich and the poor alike.

To the Twitter trolls who got a kick out of serenading the socialist nature of Nature, my tuppence is: Who are you kidding, bunny? It may be the cheapest car in Civil Lines, but the Blue Baleno is fully insured. (Because my husband is the most efficient man in the world.) Yes, you guessed it right, he forced me to insert the parenthesis.

The financial damage caused by the historic Delhi floods to our property won’t bankrupt us in Civil Lines. We’ll go back to our everyday lives once electricity is back. Till then, we have our friends, family, and five-star hotels to take us in. It is not a question of survival but comfort for us here. The only issue here is the absolute brokenness of our country’s systems. The scaffolding of all our institutions is so rotten that it cannot save even its own people – the privileged.

Nobody cares for the poor but even the rich cannot be spared anymore. And that, dear reader, can start a revolution in any society. Who knows, the Civil Lines chhole-bhature may be undergoing an existential transformation. Don’t be surprised if the power of Kachori Kranti is what will ultimately save India from becoming a failed nation.

Obviously, the Blue Baleno will be the mascot of this revolution. 

(Nishtha Gautam is a Delhi-based author and academic.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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