A private hospital in Kolkata is issued a warning by the fire brigade to clear its basement. Months pass by. Nothing happens.

A fire starts in that basement. The television channel crews arrive.  The newscaster keeps saying “Jaise ki aap dekh rahen hain… as you can see.”

Yes, we can see.

The fire brigade approaches the building. Billowing smoke makes the approach difficult. Hydraulic cranes move in like slow moving sauropods.  One firefighter is standing on the crane beating against thick glass with what looks like a wooden plank, trying to break it. The camera focuses in on him. He doesn’t give up. Neither does the glass.

The camera moves to the shocked tear-stained face of a middle-aged woman standing outside. Some people who were going to the market in the morning have stopped in their tracks. There are news-crews, curious onlookers, politicians, and policemen.

Some men are now inside breaking glass to release the smoke. To let in air to those who were hooked up to oxygen cylinders.

Word has it that when those who were well enough to move suspected something was amiss and wanted to escape the hospital, they were asked to pay their bills before being allowed to leave.  At least they had a choice. That is more of an option than what bedridden patients had.

There is anger. In the past, indignant crowds have vented frustration. They have beaten up doctors. Because grievously injured doctors take better care of their patients. They have blocked roads. Because creating roadblocks is the best way to ensure the sick get to hospitals on time. They have set fire to public property. Because burning down buses is the best way to ensure nothing else burns down again.

The government will blame the management. The Opposition will blame the government. Heads will roll. Arrests will be made. Buildings will be required to comply with fire ordinances, or else!

Or else, what?

We always need a tragedy for nothing to happen.


11 thoughts on “Inferno

  1. This is truly outrage-worthy but I’ll not be surprised if there isn’t enough outrage. I blame the government as much as the management. If the basement wasn’t cleared and other fire codes weren’t adhered, the hospital should have been shut down. But I know, just saying this will draw derisive laughter and mutterings of “bloody NRI…doesn’t know the reality of India”

  2. This is the same hospital where the fathers of two of my friends died due to sheer negligence of the hospital. This hospital deserves to be burnt down…but not with people in them.

  3. Sad how hospital staff fled without even summoning the fire brigade. Screw those ailing patients who couldn’t move of their own accord, screw their howling relatives. Charging the patients was more important to them. And as far as fire safety and disaster management mechanism goes, hell what do those things mean anyway?

  4. Tersely said, Anirban, said but you’ve covered a lot and said a lot.
    Dante would have stood on Dhakuria flyover ashen-faced and nonplussed, for it wasn’t an inferno, but a smoking box–the likes of which are used by rubber growers in Kerala to deposit a coating of carbon on sheet rubber to prevent undue oxidation. I had seen once a street dog’s unmarked carcass in one such, for it innocently sought cover from the sun the previous day.
    Yes, there was a team of demons too, as in Faust’s hell; not only those who pocketed most of the ill-gotten gains, but also the servants they paid to look after the upkeep of their golden geese. The last lot, goaded by their overlords, would keep running costs to a minimum: switch off the fire/smoke alarms every now and then to save pennies, store all the rubbish, flammable or not, in the basement for the next fruitful visit of the kabadi-wallah, and refrain form keeping any useless medical records.
    But why did the powers that be allowed such a tinder box to be built on a road where barely two fire-tenders can be accommodated at a time? Why didn’t the fire department follow up their July (?) visit with a confirmatory look-see? What’s the guarantee that it wouldn’t happen tonight again in other hospitals, hospices, public buildings, private offices, or even in the block of apartments where I have a flat? Or, whether the Todis-Goenkas-Agarwals et al will really be found guilty by a court of law? Divine absolvence could always be bought from churches and temples; we can only suspect that juridical innocence has often been bought in this country by the powerful and the wealthy.

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