At 4.30 am on Sunday, elder brother Mayur Kallur was the last one in the family to speak with Pooja Kallur, six hours before her death due to asphyxiation in Russia’s hostel of Smolensk State Medical University which caught fire while she and her roommate Karishma Bhosale were asleep when the evacuation procedure was underway.
Pooja (22), the youngest amongst the nine siblings living in a 2-BHK flat in Navi Mumbai, was the first in the family to go abroad for further education. She was living in Russia for four years and had plans to pursue Masters in Science from the United States.
In the early hours on Sunday, at 7.15 am (MSK), fire had erupted in her adjoining room on the fourth floor of the university’s Indian hostel. An external heater, allegedly kept on bed of the occupants had sparked the fire which had spread on the bedsheet.
According to Kallur, Pooja’s friends informed him that the occupants in the adjoining room rushed out and an alarm was raised.
“Everyone was evacuated. But the two of them kept sleeping and five hours after the fire began, the fire brigade was able to break open their door,” Kallur said.
Pooja and her roommate Karishma sustained no burn injuries, their post mortem report claims there are no other physical injuries. Neither did their room catch fire. According to medical reports, they succumbed to asphyxiation after smoke filled the enclosed room in the six-storey hostel. The temperature outside was beyond -20 degree Celsius and students often used external heater when the hostel’s heater did not function well.
The hostel was home to foreign students studying at the Smolensk State Medical University, located about 400 km from Moscow, and 60 students were saved after the fire broke.
The Kallur family came to know about the mishap at 2 pm on Sunday after Pooja’s friend’s mother rang them up. “We made frantic calls to her, the Indian counsellor and friends. We came to know about her death much later,” Kallur said. As the family waits for her body to arrive from Moscow, where it is under the care of two Indian embassy officials, they discuss how bright and hardworking the 22-year-old was.
“She always wanted to become a doctor. I could not afford the donations required in private colleges in India. So she decided to study in Russia,” said Siddappa Kallur, a retired Air India official who has been spending Rs eight lakhs every year on her medical degree. While the family was initially wary of sending her, they later agreed when she told them that there was a hostel for Indian students studying there.
Pooja had last visited her family in July, 2015, during her elder sister’s wedding. She had plans to meet her family in May this year before her exams in June.
“She was already taking permissions for leave,” said her father. Her mother, Kanta Kallur, has been waiting to see her daughter’s body. The family was contacted by an Indian embassy official on Monday evening and informed that the body will be flown from Moscow on Tuesday.
Kallur completed her education from St Xaviers College in South Mumbai and had secured 94 percentage in Std X. “When we spoke last, she was discussing about the arrangements to make for our nephew who was going to study in Germany,” Kallur recalls.