Monday, 19 October 2015

‘They all died happy’

-Brian Mendonça

Friday, 16 October 2015. An ordinary day. Until 1 p.m. Minutes after that 7 students and 1 gent are burnt alive eating their lunch on an illegal first floor of City Kinara Hotel, Kurla (West), Mumbai. 

Gas leakage and short circuit have been stated as the causes. The flaming false ceiling of plaster of Paris (POP) fell on them and the dingy space trapped them with no exit.

The roll of the dead is Bernadette D’Souza (18), Erwin D’Souza (18), Brian Fernando (19), Taha Shaikh (20), Sarjeel Shaikh (20), Akash Thapar (19), Sajid Chaudhuri (20) and Arvind Kanojia, a design engineer, father of two school-going kids.

As the horror of the incident began to seep in, shock, disbelief, rage, and remorse racked the near and dear ones of the unfortunate eight. The charred bodies had to be taken in sitting position itself to the hospital at Ghatkopar to be identified. 

Though I did not know even one of the deceased, this was like a personal blow to us because Queenie grew up among these lanes in Kurla. We were married at Holy Cross Church opposite City Kinara hotel, where the incident occurred. 

The area teems with life and energy. In the few days we used to spend when we used to come in from Goa we made it a point to sample the street food on the lane with vada pavs, idlis, and kebabs. It was virtually ‘Eat Street’ where Chinese food -- which City Kinara boasted of -- was the new kid on the block. 

When I asked Melanie David (20) from Kurla who knew three of the seven what she felt, she said ‘They all died happy.’ CCTV footage from the restaurant of the last few minutes of the lunch showed the students enjoying themselves, happy in each other’s company. They were doing what they wanted to. They bonded as one. Catholics, Hindus, Muslims all set their differences aside and sat down to eat as a family. Here were the youth showing India the way!

I was wondering why such a major event was not reported in any of the Goan newspapers. Mumbai is so close by but we hardly get any newsfeeds from it in the print media in Goa. Local papers should develop more of a national perspective. As a result we remain like frogs in the well. Newspapers should highlight how India’s hope, lies in positive youth like the magnificent seven. 

The incident also cautions us that anytime, anyone, anything can cut the thread of our lives.  The Uphaar fire tragedy in Delhi where a movie theatre caught fire in 1997 incinerating many, and the downing of the passenger aircraft MH17 by a Buk missile last year are cases in point. 

The imagery of the thread is from Arpana Caur’s painting ‘Day and Night’ where we weave from a golden thread during the day, but night comes upon us too soon nullifying everything. Once we outlive the night, we again use the golden thread  . . . until the scissors cuts the thread.
Pix of painting of 'Day and Night' by Arpana Caur; CCTV grab viewed on hindustantimes online edition; pix of City Kinara in flames and Taha's whatsapp page on the day he left us, courtesy Melanie David. Published in the weekly feature 'On My Mind,' in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 8 November 2015.

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