Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The fire...

Kaya tried to move closer to the hotel, but her progress was hampered by the enormous crowd. Every inch that she moved closer to the burning building, her feeling of dread deepened. There was chaos all around her. Finally, she managed to reach the edge of the crowd, and was as close to the building as the fire fighters allowed. A frantic activity was in progress. The fire fighters had managed to bring the fire under some control, but it still threatened to engulf the adjacent building. The residential building had been evacuated by the police, and all the residents stood by, helplessly watching the raging battle before them, hoping that the fire loses, and their homes and belongings remain safe. But the glowing beast had no intentions of losing. Slowly, but steadily, it began approaching the residential building, and before the eyes of the entire crowd, the top storey caught fire. Suddenly, a piercing wail shot through the night, audible above the noise and chaos, and it caught the attention of the crowd as well as the firefighters. The crowd because of the extreme anguish in it, and the fire fighters because of the originator. Apparently, a young woman had sneaked past the authorities and had entered gotten too close to the entrance of the building. A burning block had landed on her foot and he resulting scream had everyone’s attention. She was whisked away from the scene and the police suddenly put up ropes barricading the area. Every one of the by-standers was being driven away by the policemen, and Kaya had no choice but to leave.

Kaya moved in the general direction the crowd seemed to be moving, with her mind in a daze, she moved on and on, until she suddenly realized that the crowd surrounding her had dwindled a great deal. She looked around her, trying to guess where she was, trying to fathom her next move. She had no money, no credit cards, and no papers with her at the moment, for her purse had been taken to the hotel by Kajri. A while later she saw a dharamshala, a small neat looking structure, and a small crowd outside its door. As Kaya moved towards it, she heard the quiet murmurs and the soft sobs that came from the crowd. They all stood facing an aristocratic looking man, who somehow seemed familiar to Kaya. He stood listening to them with a sympathetic look on his face and as Kaya neared the group, he turned to talk to the man standing next to him. The man next to Kaya said,
“Balwant Babu is so generous. He has opened the doors of his dharamshala for all the people affected by the fire today”
“Yes, at least our families have a place to spend the night. We don’t have to worry about that.”
Kaya knew she should’ve felt relieved at that, but somehow she didn’t.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Its about to end!

They shopped for clothes and laden with bags, they made there way back. The Diwali festivities were picking up all around them. People were pouring on to the streets, some to light the firecrackers and some to watch the display. Still others were making their way to the banks of the holy Ganga to pray.
Suddenly, Kaya had this urge to go to the riverside. She felt as if the river was calling out to her. She knew that the arti would begin in a few minutes. She wanted to be there and join the masses in offering prayers. She wanted to pray for peace. Peace for her deceased family’s souls, peace for her own soul. She wanted strength to go through this time. She wanted a direction to make the correct choices.
“I want to go to the river bank and join in the arti. Do you want to come?”, she asked Kajri.
“No, you go. This is the river in which my dadi drowned. I am never at peace on its banks”
“Very well”, Kaya said and turned to leave.
“Give me your packets”, she called out “I’ll take them to your room”
Kaya handed all her bags to Kajri and moved to the riverbank. The arti began almost as soon as she reached the Har ki Paudi. The prayers went on for the good part of an hour, and as soon as it ended, a magnificent display of fireworks erupted across the evening sky. In spite of herself, Kaya enjoyed watching them. Kaya sat on the riverbank for a long time, gazing at the river, as if trying to seek the answers of the questions that bothered her. She shut out all the sounds in her surroundings, and recounted the events of the last two days. She pondered over each event, thought and re-thought about every thing that bothered her. She must have sat there for hours, and would have sat through the night had the sudden noise not broken her reverie.
She snapped out of her trance when she heard it. It sounded like dozens of sirens blaring together. Turning back towards the market, Kaya saw a near pandemonium. Dozens of vehicles were blaring past – police cars, ambulances and fire engines. People were running about in all the directions. She stepped on the street, trying to make her way past the crowd, the sinking sensation greater than ever. She turned around a corner and gasped. Her feet were rooted to the ground and the sight in front of her would be stamped in her memory forever. A four-story building engulfed in towering flames. The building where Kaya would have been had she not gone to the attend the arti. The realization hit hard, and along with it came another one. Kajri was still in the building! Kaya tried to move closer to the hotel, but her progress was hampered by the enormous crowd.