I had never seen a house on fire before, only filmed reports of it on the
television. So, one evening when I heard the siren screams of a few
fire-engines rushing past my house, I dashed into the street and joined a
growing crowd of curious people. We could see the fire only from a safe
distance as the police had cordoned off
the place for security reasons. even at a distance, I could recognize that
the affected houses were in a squatter area where my part-time maid, Mani,
What a terrible scene greeted my eyes ! The fire was raging through
the shabbily built houses. Flames leaped up hungrily to devour the wooden
sheds. every now and then tongues of fire would shoot up almost skyhigh,
sprinkling bright red sparks of fire about. Fiery wooden beams crashed and
glowed brightly. Thick black smoke spread all around.
Dozens of firemen from the four fire-engines were busily engaged in
putting out the fire. The rushing water from several hoses soaked the houses
but it did not seem to have any effect on the flames. Soon, a few firemen
with hoses in their hands were seen climbing up tall red ladders of the
fire-engines. The continuous flooding from the top finally brought the fire
under control. Where it had been red there was only black -- the charred
remains of ruined houses.
While all eyes were transfixed on the
inferno, the plight of the victims did not escape the eyes of the
spectators. Firemen were seen dragging wailing women away from the burning
houses to a safe area. Frightened children clutched to their mothers. Some
of the men simply stared speechlessly as they witnessed their homes reduced
It took only 30 minutes before the whole squatter area, comprising mainly
wooden houses, was razed to the ground. No one could salvage anything.
According to a reporter, the estimated loss was around 1 million dollars.
Although the amount may seem insignificant to some, for the victims it was
all they had. Their only consolation was the fact that no lives were
Though I watched with great sympathy for the other victims of the fire,
my real fear the concern were for Mani. All this while, I was straining my
eyes to catch a glimpse of her. What a relief when I finally saw her
standing with downcast eyes in the midst of other fire victims. My heart
went out to her.