Mumbai : Subhash Gavai sits teary-eyed on the MICU bed of Sion Hospital. The seventh floor resident of the SRA complex at Vikhroli can’t believe that he escaped Monday’s devastating fire. In the one hour that the fire brigade took to arrive, he saw death from close quarters.

The Gavais lived next door to the Shilwants, all of whom perished in the fire. “I woke up when the fire had already reached the seventh floor. I opened the door, only to see the ball of fire entering Shilwant’s house. “Our house was the next target. I closed the door immediately,” said Gavai.
Gavai and his family were trapped. The whole passage was on fire along with the staircase. “We held each other’s hands and cowered in fear. We could hear the Shilwants crying for help. Ayush, the little sweet boy, was crying for his mother who was away. His aunt, Poornima, was consoling him and discussing ways of getting out of the flat,” said Gavai.
“Try and break the steel barricades. Get water from the tap. Here is the bucket full of water…we all were hearing Poornima shout all this. The water supply stops in SRA buildings after evening and comes only twice a day. But they were still trying,” said Gavai.
“I was feeling so helpless. My three brothers and I were clueless. We were going blank. We searched for blankets but could see nothing as there was no light,” said Siddharth Govai, Subhash’s son.
After merely 15 minutes of their search, they started screaming in pain. “They were being roasted alive. Gautam, Poornima, Ayush, Vishal- we could hear everyone shouting in pain. We knew that this was their end and were sure that it was our turn next,” said Gavai, coughing black soot.
“We knew that next was our turn,” said Siddharth.
“All of us were sitting in the window grill. Siddharth was desperately showing the bleak light of his cell phone’s torch hoping that someone would spot them. The smoke was choking them.. After around 45 minutes, Pratap, my other son, collapsed. We were so tense but did not have the alertness to act. We were also very drowsy,” said Gavai.
“After an hour, all of us fell unconscious. We do not know when the fire brigade officials came and rescued us. Doctors say that a five minute delay would have been fatal for us,” said Nirvan (18), Gavai’s youngest son.
The Gavais and Shilvants were neighbours for more than nine years in this building. Earlier too, they were neighbours in a slum for 16 years.
“I cannot talk more. I have lost my trust in the government, in the builders. There is absolutely no one for the poor. Why did they relocate us. We were happy in the slum. The builder has to be blamed for the fire,” said Gavai.
All those injured in the fire are out of danger and recuperating at Sion Hospital.

Swati Jha

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