Mumbai building collapse: The Gujjars are yet to get back to their daily routine

With the collapse killing 61 people,no one talks about forthcoming festival season.

Written by Sharvari Patwa | Published: October 6, 2013 3:02 am

In the course of a minute,the Gujjars lost their second-hand car. When the Babu Genu Market Building II at Dockyard Road in Mumbai came crashing down at 5.45 am on September 27,it also reduced to rubble their Maruti Esteem,bought with money saved over 14 years. They parked it in a spot in the compound that was common to Baba Genu Market Building II and their own,the Building I.

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It could have been worse,says Alka Gujjar,37. Her 15-year-old daughter Roshani always checked on the car each day around that time. “It was her ritual. She would go at 6.45 am and then head to school,” shudders Alka.

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The Gujjars,who live in a 180-sq-ft apartment in Babu Genu Market Building I,have lost sense of time since that morning. With the collapse killing 61 people and leaving 33 injured—many of them friends—any semblance of a daily ritual has been lost.

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An early riser,Alka remembers the building falling down like a “house of cards”. “When I heard the noise and rushed towards the common balcony,I thought it was the building behind us that had collapsed,” she says.

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The memory keeps her and her husband Hanmant,47,awake at night. “We fight sleep. I fear our building may collapse at night,” she admits.

A peon at Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s Crawford Market office,Hanmant returned home during work hours on two consecutive days last week. “He was worried sick,” says Alka.

They are not alone in their unease. Usually a noisy neighbourhood during this festive time of the year,it is now enveloped in gloom. “On a regular day,our building would be bustling with activity. Children from nearby buildings would come over to play,” recalls Alka.

There is no talk about the Navaratras or Diwali,she adds. “We either talk about how desperately our building needs repairs or about the victims and survivors.”

Roshani lost several of her closest friends in the collapse. Her best friend Simran,who lost her entire family,is being treated for shock at J J Hospital.

A black-belt in karate,Roshani says she plans to use it in case something similar happens to their building. “I have told my mother to rush towards one corner of the room and curl up as we were taught in karate class,” she says.

While relatives have been telling them to shift to their home,Alka says they can’t afford it as Roshni is preparing for her Class X board exams. “Both her schools and tuition classes are nearby.”

Asked why they won’t move to transit camps set up for those living in unsafe buildings,Alka says,“We keep hearing about the poor conditions there. We do not want to live in shanty-like structures.”

Talking about the empty BMC staff quarters elsewhere in the city,particularly Worli,she says: “Why doesn’t the BMC shift us there?”

At the back of her mind though,remains the thought that their building is at least seven years older than the one that collapsed. The 40-year-old four-storey structure shows signs of age,with cracks snaking along the walls. On the ground floor is a market,where Alka goes to shop for groceries. There are schools on the first and second floor and eight apartments on the top floors.

The BMC has now shifted the schools. “If they know that this building is not safe for children,then how is it safe for us?” questions Roshani.

It was as a newlywed bride that Alka moved into the building in 1997. “The people in the other building were the only faces I saw,the only faces I knew,” she says. “They’ve put up pictures of those who died.”

Since that black Friday,she has not ventured towards that corner. “I dread looking at the empty space.”

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