“IT was her birthday today,” was the hushed whisper that went through the crowd of mourners assembled at the Chandanwadi crematorium on Friday afternoon as 28-year-old Khushbu Bhansali’s grandfather and then her uncle lit her pyre.
Khushbu Bhansali, from Sanchore village in Rajasthan, was bringing in her birthday with cousins and friends when the fire broke out in the 1Above pub and restaurant. Hours after they retrieved the bodies of Khushbu and her relative Kinjal from the washroom of the eatery, relatives were left with “whats-ifs” and “if-onlys,” for their birthday celebration had been a last-minute decision.
“There were no plans for the party. Khushbu, who was turning 28 on Friday, and her husband Jayesh decided suddenly that they could not bring in her birthday without a celebration. So she called up several friends including Kinjal, a relative, who also lost her life in the blaze,” said Ravindra Angara, a distant relative of Kinjal.
In fact, when Khushbu called, Kinjal and her husband Jayesh were already asleep. “They did not even answer the phone a couple of times. It was only on the fourth call that Kinjal answered and told Khushbu she didn’t want to go alone. But Khushbu insisted and Kinjal did not want to break her heart. She along with Jayesh then headed to 1Above.”
A relative said that the choice of restaurant was an easy one. For 1Above was popular with youngsters who wanted quality vegetarian food as well as some drinks and the ambience. The Bhansalis and their friends dined here frequently. Angara added: “Maut ka bulawa aaya tha to kya kar sakte hain. (What can one do if death comes calling.)
Khushbu, the eldest of five siblings, had a special bond with Kinjal, relatives say. “Both girls got married the same date two years back.” Another relative said that Khushbu graduated in commerce from HR College in south Mumbai. “After marriage, while she was not employed, she was interested in fashion designing and would take contracts for bridal dresses. She was an extrovert and an intelligent girl,” the relative added.
Khushboo’s maternal grandfather and uncle lit the pyre around 2.45 pm. Her husband, also named Jayesh, was too disturbed to attend, a relative said. “He is too shaken. He told us that when the fire broke out, he held her hand and tried to guide her out of the place. However, because of the pushing and shoving, he lost his grip on her hand. That was the last that he saw of her. We were told she rushed to the washroom where she eventually succumbed due to suffocation,” Angara said.
Another relative added that Khushbu’s younger sister Cherry was also celebrating with them but was able to escape. “She is still recovering and every time she wakes up and asks about Khushbu, we tell her she is also recuperating. It is going to be hard on her,” Angara said. Bhansali’s grandfather Babulal Mehta broke down after the pyre was lit. He alleged there were no proper facilities to take care of his granddaughter. “There were no oxygen masks in the ambulance. There were no proper facilities at the hospital too.”
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Recounting what was told to him about the incident, Mehta said, “Suddenly there was the sound of a blast, due to which everyone got scared and started running towards the exit. After the place caught fire, Khushbu’s husband Jayesh managed to get out but realised his wife was missing. He couldn’t locate her afterwards.”
The majority of those assembled at the funeral from Sanchore reside in the Khetwadi area of south Mumbai. “We are a small community and all of us are related to one another. It has come as a shock for the entire community. We have lost two of our daughters, Khushbu and Kinjal today,” said Yash Kanungo. Jetmal Bothra, Khushbu’s uncle, added, “I rushed to KEM Hospital as soon as I got a call. Her friends told me there was no fire exit, due to which many people rushed into the toilet and died of suffocation. The whole family is shocked at the news.”