BY THE time night fell Monday, Damu Nagar residents were already living their worst nightmare. Hours after a fire destroyed over 2,000 shanties in the Kandivali East slum, residents hung on to whatever they could salvage, and prepared for the morning.
Standing on top of a watchtower used by forest department officials in the hilly area, Ankush Langde said, “Hamein kal subah ka dar lag raha hain, yeh andhera hi behtar hai (We are afraid of tomorrow morning, this darkness is better).” A local of Damu Nagar for the last 40 years, Langde pointed out his residence — he had erected a pole with a shirt hoisted on top to help him, his family and any likely encroachers identify the space as their home, even from a distance.
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For Monday night, authorities had brought in power generators to light up part of the slum. About 300 homes at the foot of the hillock had some light while the rest were in darkness.
“We don’t need four walls to stop calling this our home,” said Ravindra Salve, sweeping the floor of ash and charred leftovers of his belongings to make space for his family to sleep. While the Salves slept on the floor, others in the slum were seen sleeping on almirahs that had toppled over. Steel or iron furniture were the only items that survived the fire. Sitting under a torched banyan tree was 25-year-old Ratnagar Gaikwad, who ushered in people with his smartphone’s torch through the new routes carved into the slum colony. “This used to be my home and this was the point from where people either took a left or a right. The lanes are now covered in rubble,” said Gaikwad.
Through the night, the restlessness among the locals was evident. Rajendra Marble, 45, could not stop pacing up and down a 30-metre patch.
“I only have Rs 250 in my pocket. I have been segregating the burnt items to see what can be sold. I don’t have much,” Marble said, pointing at utensils and his son’s half-burnt cycle that he intends to sell as scrap.
Marble said he went to his employer earlier in the evening, asked for Rs 1,000 for his last job and then packed off his three children and wife to a relative’s home in Jogeshwari. “For me, having balance on my phone is the most important thing because now I will have to call people for money,” Marble said. He had already paid Rs 250 for his family’s travel and Rs 500 for his phone recharge.Four families, which had a wedding coming up in the house, were the most affected.
Kishor Maske, who was to get married to his 24-year-old fiancee Kavita, said he contemplated cancelling the wedding throughout Monday. Once the fire brigade doused the flames, Maske with his family members and friends tried to look for any gold that he had in his home at the time of the fire.“We could not find anything. No gold, no clothes. My haldi was going on when the fire happened, we survived the fire but with nothing in hand,” he said.
The wedding took place Tuesday morning at a marriage hall nearby.
Between 6 pm on Monday and 1.30 am on Tuesday, local residents from nearby buildings and some politicians as well as civic officials arrived with aid material.
Pravin Kedar and three of his friends from nearby Ram Nagar slums went around checking if there were any cylinders that were still vulnerable to explode. “This might have been checked by officials but we are just double checking. It is the only way we can help,” he said.
Accommodations were arranged in the area by several authorities, one in the heart of the Lokhandwala Complex in Kandivali where the Lokhandwala Foundation School has a ground.
By 3 am, 102 families arrived to sleep there, a majority of them mothers with little girls still dressed in school uniforms. The other two shelters were a large tent for about 250 people and the Gautam Nagar bus terminal.