Flames Licking Deaf Ears

Posted on April 5, 2010 in Society

Shruti Venukumar:

“There is no smoke without fire,

Don’t ignore this, or you’ll invite the ire.”

This seems to be the warning note that some of us have been so blissfully ignoring for so long (and continuing). About a week ago, it was indeed an irony to scan across page 1 of the papers. No sooner had one’s eyes widened to a “Fire at Bangalore’s Carlton Towers” that a “WLIFW Stalled Over Fire Permit” made them roll sardonically in their sockets. The slew did not end there. A whole gamut of blazes reached out, flaming arms and all, in the form of fire accidents at the Income Tax office, a prominent politico’s garage being gutted, a sari shops charred and a slum cluster falling to the spark set off by a callous lit bidi.

And then in that newspaper article listing, in black, the markets that are quite at odds with the Fire Department over NOCs! It essentially ruined my trip to Palika Bazaar (no question of writing it off as that would have resulted in fire from other quarters) *Sighs*

Here I was, sifting through a white cotton ensemble, my head, full of the horrors that could be unleashed in the enclosure if a spark snowballed through, “Hey Shruthi, nice boots eh?,” my friend cooed. “Righto. Smoking hot!”

“I’m gonna wear these to the book fair at our uni.”

The book fair! And my mind drifts away to the best known book fair at Pragati Maidan! Piled with books, some too hot to handle, some scorching, some smoldering in a pot of controversy, draped in the crispiest literary finery, all insulated from the outside with hard wood-the perfect tinderbox to stand on. Singing straitjacketed along the lines of your favourite book import.

“Ow,” I shriek. Smacked hard on the head by something alien, golden sparks, flying off raven tresses.

“Sorry Madam,” the shop boy uttered mechanically, grabbing the source of the sparks from its fallen glory — an imitation purse, decked in sparkle. And just like that, I get cold feet in the midst of the heat. “Let’s get out of here.” And there ended our tryst with Palika Bazaar for the day, to the resentment of my friend.

The next stop, classier by some standards.

“Does this building have fire exits?” I casually prod.

“Um, I reckon. But what good is it for us?” my friend throws in. “If this building were to catch fire just now, we’d be deadlocked, here in the elevator.”

“Not an elevating thought…” Needless to say, my instincts for survival kicked in and I kicked myself out of the mall with lightning speed. One thing is for sure. Never again will Jwala be my travelling buddy.

The familiar cold wave swept over me every time I saw the stairs spread out proudly adjacent to elevators, ignorant of the blunders of the constructors. “Swamped in the Stampede” the headline would read.

“How many exit doors do we have in the house?” I lisp.

“Enough to attract a sizeable number of robbers,” and thus flowed my brother’s wit. Great! So furnishing fire exits exposes us to other adversities.

“Hey, let’s go for a movie tonight, watsay?” asks my movie-buff friend with her back-slapping demeanor.

“Why not! Which one?”

“Something sizzling? Oh before that, we ought to hit the new restaurant two blocks from here. The sizzlers are hot!” The images appear again. One bathed in dark splendor, borrowing dazzle from the big screen. The other is hazy, not with clouds of confusion, but with smoky cooking flames.

“OMG! 846 schools in the capital run flouting fire safety norms!” it was one of those occasions that got Charlene shocked. “I wonder what the scene is like, with colleges.”

At this precise moment, the lights in my brain smash off crumbling and the chinks of glass set off in a multitude of directions, searing through, plugging in my pain receptor. Psychologists would call it paranoia. I would add “legitimate” before it.

“The fire department acted callously. They led to show cancellations worth lakhs.” The fashion industry had screamed conspiracy.

2,377 high-rises, 812 sans fire-safety measures. Millions with daily access to them. Do the math.

The writer is a senior correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.