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When the going gets tough: The Chetna

'They just couldn't walk away,' said Mahesh as he remembered the screams and scuttling of people and the blinding smoke that engulfed the entire Kamala mills compound. With no time for contemplation the first thought that occurred to them was that the only exit doors were crammed with store room deposits and the only alternative door was shut, even if those trapped could break the door down, they wouldn't find the way out of the interconnected compound. The horror of the casualty and stampede that would ensue jerked them into action almost instantly. This was stuff that movies are made out of only there you receive a standing ovation but here our real-life heroes were forgotten after their initial un-negotiated claim to fame.

Courage in the face of fear
Last month when bail was granted to the owners of the two pubs responsible for endangering the lives of almost 200 people by unashamedly flouting all civic body rules of construction, we dug out information on the two guards who risked their lives not once, not twice but repeatedly that night until they were sure that there was no one else still struggling with the flames that gobbled up 14 lives on that fateful day.

Lost in oblivion after having been followed everywhere by paparazzi for days after the fire, these heroes, we believe, need to be idolized forever. "The smoke in the restaurant was black, so thick and pungent that one couldn't breathe for even two minutes. I covered my nose with my shirt and just went in and then I kept pushing people to the exit," recalls Mahesh who was struggling to find a job at the time of interview, despite his bravery and recognition during the course of a year after the dreadful day.

Suraj Giri with his quick thinking assumed the duty of a navigator and directed people out with the best escape routes and helped alleviate an escalating stampede. Suraj Giri called the police and the fire brigade and helped these two teams with the site plan and facilitated the rescue operation. Later they went into their own newsroom and rescued the staff there who were completely unaware of the danger outside. The security guards posted on duty at the two restaurants were the first to scoot at the threat of peril, but not these brave hearts who jumped without a second thought to save those clamouring for their lives.

As the facility was housing 2 restaurants and several offices, there were a lot of gas cylinders lined up and the assessing the gravity of the situation, Suraj removed the cylinders out of the way to prevent further disaster. Till hours later either of the two still hadn't called back home to confirm their family of their well-being amidst this tragedy, till hours later this thought for self preservation hadn't occurred to them.

Faded glory
Today in all humility they remember the many parents, friends and relatives of the survivors who had subsequently visited them to thank them and who hugged them crying tears of gratitude. They also shrugged their shoulders in despondence when asked about any special favours or privileges that were granted to them. Some of the survivors came back to thank Mahesh and Suraj and those are the memories that they hold dear.

Stoically Suraj says that every news is celebrated for just about a week and their hour of glory was rather short lived. Both Mahesh and Suraj have moved on from their jobs at the Times Now office but every detail of that gory night is etched clearly in their minds as their brave spirits and kind souls continue to rule the hearts of the many lucky survivors that lived to tell the tale.


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