Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Fire Fire"

Centuries ago, as a student at JNU, I giggled loud and long over a fire safety sign in our department building that enumerated several steps to safety. There were the usual suspects, such as "Do not use the elevator" and so on. But the one that took the cake was the instructive, demonstrative, and very, very practical: "Raise alarm by shouting 'FIRE FIRE'."

I thought that was the stupidest thing I ever saw.

But I remembered all that when I watched the blaze engulf a busy commercial building in Kolkata's Burrabazar area. I watched on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. And the situation only grew worse. Firemen watched helplessly. The army got called in.
Apparently there wasn't enough water.
Apparently the pump wasn't working.
Apparently the ladders couldn't reach high enough. (This is a 13-storey building in a city where the highest building is 32 floors.)
Apparently the ladder brought in from nearby Haldia did not work.
Apparently the army - brought in to control a situation that should never have spun out of control in the first place - were not getting much help from the firemen.
Apparently the army would spray foam and the fire department would wash it out. (Where did that water come from? And why were they fighting each other instead of the fire?)
Apparently Kolkata is a metropolitan city of the 21st century.

This is (one of) the stupidest thing(s) I have ever seen.

The Weekend Blogger has written about Burrabazar and you can visualise a bustling hub of small commerce, all of which adds up to thriving trade. The fortunes of a huge section of Kolkata are in ashes right now. Burnt, tattered, flooded, destroyed. So it was an unauthorised building. So what? I just cannot understand how a fire in a big city with an 'organised' government (they even have a Fire Minister!) could be allowed to rage for three whole days. The Fire Minister behaved badly (on camera) with the lobby of Rajasthani politicians who came to represent the traders' case. He had nothing to say. He had plenty to do, but was not doing it. The CM never even went to visit the site. If that is the message from the top, what will the bottom-feeders do?

Over the last few months things have gone terribly wrong in Kolkata. And over the last year or more, in West Bengal. Flooding and constant road reconstruction angered everyone. Nandigram, and Rizwanur's murder, placed the city's intelligentsia at loggerheads with the CPI(M). I think the only silver lining of the smoky cloud over this blaze is that now, another section of the population will turn against that stupid, stupid government. And do you think that might mean a change for the better?


dipali said...

I certainly hope so. I've been here for the past year and a half, and have seen the chaos that is 'normal' out here. We live in a rather nice area, as long as there are no heavy showers. (Our lane becomes unpassable). Distance per se has no meaning- time taken varies from thirty minutes to two hours, for the same route. It's a city I love, yet I fear for its future.

sbora said...

Its really sad to hear about the dismal state of this once beautiful and historic city. Out of the all the cities I visited, Calcutta always was special - very charming.
Unfortunately this is the state of many other cities not just in India but also in the US, though the indian cities are worse off.

aunty g said...

Yes, its a great pity about the blaze || Seems the politicians have gone out to graze || With the river so huge || They could've caused a deluge || Bah! All they want is a lot of praise!

Anamika said...

Dipali: I know what you mean. My mother-in-law was telling me there were fish in the streets during the flooding last September/October!

Sbora: Agreed. Sad that though it is clubbed with the other "metros" it cannot really lay claim to being at par with them. And the government is destroying what existed.

Aunty G: A true limerick if there ever was one! I love the line about them going out to graze! Had an amusing vision of bovine politicians chewing the cud :)

the mad momma said...

nope. we like stupid governments. don't go getting your hopes up. take a long hard look at the rest of the country if you dont believe me. we even want modi back.

Anamika said...

MM: I so want to be an optimist here.

Sue said...

Sweets, I do NOT support this government. Having said that, I have not yet seen someone who can take over in its place.