The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Foul fumes from the rubble Smoke, slush & a kind of hush

171A, M.G. Road, Kolkata 7… The city’s latest ‘destination’ this Sunday afternoon. Hundreds file past, down the pavement facing the blackened, crumbling façade of the three-storeyed structure in Burrabazar that went up in flames early on Saturday.

Turn left off Chitpur Road and you find Indira and Rajiv Gandhi staring straight into the caverns of the Ludhiana Hosiery Building, a mild — now morbid — smile on their lips. Above the two busts, Sunny Deol strikes a languid pose in a Lux vest, as the crowds are kept on the pavement, and off the fire-engine-lined street, by a limp rope. “Sab jal gaya, par yeh dono vahin ke vahin hain,” spits out a passerby, pointing at Kareena peddling Pepsi and Shah Rukh making Magic on either side of the darkened edifice.

Himalayan Waterproof Works. Anil Waterproof Stores. Signboards clinging on to the building that was, still dripping water from the fire-fighting hoses. Despite the crowds, a hush has descended. The shuffling feet and the whispered voices are punctuated by the occasional bark: “Keu darabe na, cholo, cholo (No one stop. Move on, move on).” This from policemen on duty desperate that the queue gaping at the disaster zone — almost as if it’s a puja pandal — keeps moving.

Peechhe se chalte hain, pura dikhega,” say some. 77, Cotton Street… the backdoor portal to peril point. A solitary fire-engine is squeezed into the narrow lane. A burnt-out teddy bear lies helpless on its back at the entrance, swimming in the slush.

A staircase rises above the rubble. On the third and final floor, the devastation hits home. The acrid smell of smouldering substances mingles with the death of dreams. Firemen in bright yellow helmets pick their way through piles of colourful woollens that kids were meant to wear this winter. A solitary resident sifts through stray belongings down a precarious corridor ending abruptly in mid-air.

Smoke shrouds the abandoned arches and ravaged rooms. Half an aquarium with dead fish within four pink walls… Slippers, clothes, plastic bottles… A half-burnt garland on what was, till Friday, a puja sthal… A hapless Hanuman of hay, in an ironic twist of time and fate, hangs in a corner with its legs singed and its tail —that set Ravana’s Lanka alight — missing.

Sab khatm ho gaya (Everything is finished),” is the mumble you can’t miss.

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