At least 12 hours after a massive fire killed 14 people and gutted two rooftop restaurants in the Kamala Mills Compound in Mumbai’s Lower Parel on Thursday night, the entertainment hub was buzzing with patrons and customers, who wanted to celebrate the last weekend of the year.
Three of the five restaurants on the lane that houses the Trade House building, which caught fire around 12.30 am on Thursday, were open for business soon after they were granted permission by the authorities. That the stretch was covered in debris and soot from the night before did not deter patrons from flocking the restaurants.
Right opposite the Trade House building stands the Delhi Heights Cafe, which opened its doors to customers by 2 pm. The restaurant, which opened only in September this year, maintained that all fire safety norms were followed. “We followed all the protocol and waited till we were given permission from the authorities to open the restaurant,” said a representative of the restaurant. Other restaurants on the lane — South High and Shiv Sagar — too were open for lunch.
Behind the Trade House building, it was business as usual for Bombay Canteen and Pop Tate’s. Business was hardly impacted in any of the constellation of restaurants and pubs in the annex Oasis City. “Mumbai has seen bigger catastrophes in the past and moved on. People here are not bothered by accidents,” said a guest at one restaurants, who did not wish to be named.
Some restaurants in the vicinity, however, decided to shut operations for the day as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives in the incident. Others such as the Farzi Cafe only opened up for guests in the afternoon. By then, the Kamala Mills compound had already filled up with people ready to welcome the last weekend of the year.
Kamala Mills compound in central Mumbai is a 37-acre textile mill land that has now transformed into an entertainment hub. Apart from several commercial buildings and offices, the compound houses 36 eateries and a 2.75-acre gaming arena. The central location and ease of access makes it one of the most sought after hangout destinations in the neighbourhood. “ If one or two restaurants catch fire, it does not mean that all other restaurants face the same risk. I still want to go out and enjoy at one of the pubs here,” said Farhad Qureshi, as she walked out of Starbucks, a few blocks away from the accident spot.
Qureshi, who works in a private company in Lower Parel, said, “It does not matter to many of us who just want to have a good time.”
That “spirit” was reflected in the expectations of restaurants and eateries for the New Year. “We’ve had usual business today despite the fire. The accident will not dampen New Year celebrations. People will still want to ring in the New Year with celebrations,” said Aditya Raut, the operations manager of Lady Baga, a beach-themed restaurant.
However, Thursday’s fire accident has come a reality check for the restaurant management. “We couldn’t have imagined that an accident of this magnitude was possible here. It has come as a shock to us,” said the manager of Shiv Sagar restaurant, which is on the same lane as the Trade House.
While almost each by-lane inside Kamala Mills compound is lined with a string of restaurants, there is no unified body of restaurateurs within the premises. “There is barely any transparency in the processes of BMC. The management of Kamala Mills should also come up with strict guidelines and ensure adherence,” said Joseph Machado, manager at Grandmama’s Cafe in Oasis City.
While most restaurants said they had clear fire safety procedures and equipment, they said that the Mill compound management must also take responsibility. “The Kamala Mills management should also conduct mock drills and place clear guidelines for emergencies,” said Machado.