The recent Kamla mills fire raised a lot of questions about safety and has led to an elaborate blame game, in which no one is willing to admit liability. Well, now they all have someone to blame.
I am responsible for the Kamla mills fire. ‘1 Above’ was one of my favourite hangouts in Kamla mills. The open starry night, good music and eclectic decor made me keep coming back to the place.
The first time I went there, I noticed that there were only elevators to transport you up and down and no stairs. I joked to my friends about being stuck up there without electricity. We reasoned that there may be some service stairs for such situations and laughed it off.
On one particular visit with my family and elderly grandfather, I noticed how narrow and long the entry into the main arena is. I barely had space to walk alongside my grandfather and father as we escorted him. My dad joked about what a fire hazard this can be. We reasoned that surely ‘the management’ will have ‘something’ in place to avoid such an incident. We laughed it away, and I pushed the annoying little alarm bell in my head to the back of my mind, burying it in nonsense news till I couldn’t hear it ring.
A few months ago I took a friend there, boasting to him about how this place is as lovely as any New York roof top bar and has a lovely open view of the Mumbai sky, only to find the whole place covered in a dark black cloth and mandap style bamboos supporting it everywhere. I lamented to the bartender who told me it was up for the monsoons. I argued back that the monsoons were done with and he assured me that they will be gone soon. The next two weeks, I was grumpy as my friend couldn’t take in the place as I had envisioned but was atleast glad that he was enjoying the night. He had sheesha and was delighted about trying pan rasna. I randomly thought about that time when hookah was banned in Mumbai. The mayor lady had made a huge deal and it was gone. Thank god they allowed it back. I mean, with so many places serving and flaunting it, they must have right? ‘Mumbai politics’, I had reasoned to myself and had pushed that thought away.
On Dec 2, I once again decided to venture to 1 above, confident that by now ‘they’ would have taken down that horrible black thing so that we could look at the sky again, only to find it still in place. It was a Saturday night and as I sat at the bar with my friends, looking around at the super crowded place, with hookahs precariously placed throughout the tables, I wondered what would happen if any of the sparks from the coal was large enough and caught onto the tarp above? Stop thinking such morbid thoughts, I told myself and didn’t even bring it up with my friends for the rest of the night. Instead, I whined to the bartender and manager again about the top covering making it claustrophobic with all the hookah and cigarette smoke. We are taking it off this week Madame, they reassured me and I felt reassured, kind of.
At every step and every occasion, I had a choice. A choice to do something. But I chose to do nothing. I went home each time and got caught up with my day to day life.
Would making a fuss about it even lead to any resolution? In a city, where it takes years on end to get a confirmed terrorist to justice, what hope did I have to even get a response from BMC? Why would I waste my time and energy fighting a battle that can’t be won? With these thoughts in mind, I chose to do nothing.
I was sitting at home when the fire erupted and my mom & I rushed to the balcony as we saw the flames snaking their way up to the sky. The following aftermath on TV and the debate that ensued in my house about it, made me realise one thing, in a city where no one was willing to take the blame, someone had to be held accountable, and I am responsible for the fire. Every time I decided not to act, I became more responsible. How many of you are willing to hold yourself accountable, Mumbai? How many of you chose to do nothing about the problems you saw around you? How many of you had the ‘chalta hain’ attitude like me? I am responsible for the Kamla mills fire and so are you.
A quote I randomly read on the internet has been in my mind ever since this tragedy:
“The surest way for evil to triumph is when good men do nothing.”
What did I do to address the problems in my city? What did any of you do? More importantly, what will you do?