Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fire and Ice

Many moons ago, there existed a popular nightclub called Fire 'n' Ice in Mumbai. It met a sad end. Well.... I underwent a traumatic trial by fire late last night, when an airconditioner in the health club downstairs caused a short circuit and started an electrical fire that created acrid, thick smoke which engulfed the entire complex.I awoke with a start at 03.30 am, certain that my own a\c was about to explode ( I live in mortal dread of that happening ). I rushed out of the bedroom to check where the sharp, searing smell of burning wires was from coming from, only to be met by toxic fumes creeping in from a narrow slit under the front door of the living room. I woke up the rest of the family ( and Kiara, our adorable female dog), and worked on an instant plan of action. The stairs were not an option, the elevators are never an option in such circumstances. That left - what?? By then there were three fire brigade tankers, police cars and other security agency personnel hard at work. The smoke was getting thicker and blacker. My eyes were watering and my throat was on fire. My daughter Arundhati was about to faint. I recalled the old fire drill - wet towels under the door, soaked towels covering the face, blankets over the body, and as quick an exit as possible.
That's exactly what we did, gagging all the way. But once downstairs, we were able to better assess the seriousness of the situation (the state- of -the-art health club has been reduced to cinders) and wake up to the reality of how poorly manned most building societies are in Mumbai. No fire alarm was sounded, no intercom alerted residents, no call was made to evacuate the building. Nothing. I find that scarey and disgraceful. In any other big city, residents would sue and claim damages if this was the attitude of irresponsible committee members. Lives could have been lost, property destroyed. What is the outcome here?? Nobody bothers to initiate action. Everybody is thankful, even grateful, about being safe..... being alive. No real investigation is ever done as to the cause of the short circuit. It is business as usual, with neighbours laughing stupidly about how they slept through it!! We call ourselves a megapolis. This building society represents one of the most expensive real estate properties in India. And this is the level of safety, awareness and accountability!
With barely a couple of hours of sleep (no electricity), I had to rush to inaugurate a plants and trees exhibition, now in its 10th year, thanks to the initiative taken by the citizens' association spearheaded by Nana Chudasama - 'I love Mumbai.' My lungs were still burning, as I spoke about global warming and other environmental issues . Sweet irony! But the plants were gorgeous.... and I have fallen in love with a full grown ficus. Determined to go back and buy it, along with a graceful, delicate black bamboo from Kolkata. These are my true friends... they respond to love, ask for nothing, but give everything - like Kiara, and .... and.... oh dear.... how sad.... can't think of a single name!!


Priti said...

Gosh! It must have been crazy!

*Aham* said...

Ohh God! Safe you are...

yes, your building in in a prime location and if this could go awry here... then it could anywhere... The fire brigade is the only group that works wonderfully, and there is no pun at that. The are swift in time... and are very helpful... I have called them up for things like a bird's wings stuck in wires, a cow fallen in the ditch... and they have treated the animals with more empathy and care than I could myself.

Happy that all of you'll are safe.

I am a regular at VJTI flower show... you should visit it... it is cleverly scheduled every year sometime during or near valentines day.

Neha said...

Omg...that sounds like quite a night! Well, really glad you and your family are safe! Thats the most important thing at the end of the day!

Yeah...India must really do something about its safety precautions, there's just not enough care taken to handle emergencies such as these...

Arjun said...

Always keep a fire extinguisher handy - make sure it's the ABC type!!

KeepingItSimple said...

Glad to hear Everybody is safe and sound !!!

We are 100 years behind other developed countries in aspect of Always Safety First Approach.

Vinay. said...

Glad that u r safe.
god bless u.take care

Anonymous said...

Plantation drive yearly ?

Rhett said...

So, not all is not shiny and well behind glossy curtains of tinsel town?! The dog's name is suweeeet.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

Thankgoodness that everyone is safe. That must have been a scary experience.

What is the building committee doing to rectify matters? Has it been scared into action?

I am not surprised at the smoke alarm and other safety systems being an afterthought. A long time ago, in Architecture school in India, our courses for safety systems were almost an afterthought.

I know that some of the newer buildings and town house communities have state of the art safety systems in place. Obviously it has not become the norm across the board.

A Police Officer once told me that the most effective places to keep fire extinguishers are: close to the bed in the master bedroom, close to the entry door to the house and at the entrance to the kitchen (not near the stove). Seems logical. These would be the easiest places to reach the extinguisher if woken by smoke and fumes while sleeping, or if you smell smoke when you enter the house or if you have a kitchen stove flameout. Another tip he passed on was to place a cellphone in the master bathroom when sleeping. In case of a fire or home invasion, if they are unable to get out safely many people will lock themselves into the bathroom for immediate safety. The cell phone will ensure you can call for help. And ofcourse dont forget the smoke detectors on the ceiling just outside sleeping areas. As a family with little kids, these are rules we live by.

I hope that the visit to the plant exhibit brought back a sense of calm back into your lives.

Black bamboo? I must google for images of that. Sounds exotic and very fanciful.

•♥•♥[V]♥•♥• said...

glad to hear u all are safe..
take care

Vikram Hazra said...

True; safety standards are not just appalling, they are practically nonexistent -- one wonders what would happen if the same situation occurred in one of the swankier new malls.
The black bamboo sounds lovely. I visited the nursery at Bhavan's college, Andheri last week, and it was a revelation, it even has a miniature lake (pukur) rife with red shaluk (water lilies)

Double Seven said...

"No fire alarm was sounded, no intercom alerted residents, no call was made to evacuate the building. Nothing. I find that scarey and disgraceful. In any other big city, residents would sue and claim damages if this was the attitude of irresponsible committee members."

I am actually blessed that waysssss!

Here even a small cigarette smoke inside my apartment could wage wars between fire-alarms!!!!!! that is something which is utterly not asked for and highly annoying.
people here take it all TOO cautiously! which is not good most of the times... the sprinklers start spraying water everywhere even where there isn't any smoke; an army of fire brigades comes sirening the whole complex and waking everybody up.
Good that you came out safe and Maker Towers is where you live, right? That place is over 35 years old ma'am; so you can't and you shouldn't expect much.


കിഷോര്‍:Kishor said...


Sorry to hear about fire @ ur home.. Nice to know that you and family are safe.

alhakika said...

an illusion is creating another illusion, don't u think?

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Hey, Shobha! Just discovered your blog today! Do read your columns regularly. Nice to know the fire @home did not harm anyone. Do visit my humor blog and read my posts, whenever time permits!

Anonymous said...

M'am 'De,

I fully know and understand each word of your expression. I have witnessed Fire long back in our own printing press way back in 1989. Safety is the one word we have not learnt enough since our school days.
People who have never run a factory or handled back office administration find difficulty in allotting expenses for preventive maintenance.
This cannot be an excuse for risking life health and other consequences.
Time now for mulling about preventive maintenance.
Vinod Agarwal - Appreciate your commitment towards cause.

Anonymous said...

shobha de, smart move.
now a blog to get plots for your cheesy books. way to go lady. you do have a sense of fooling the aam public. kiti vaayit aahe tu.
Krishna rajadhyaksha.

Niedhie said...

Talking of smoke alarms, even when I have added zeera and bay leaves into hot oil to cook a curry, I have seen my smoke alarm go on (if the chimney outlet has not been turned on). On one hand I feel people in London are a little too scared, in India we take life a little too casually.

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