Verse could be the refuge of those who have survived one of the worst fires in Mumbai’s recent history. Just as the staff of the fire-damaged Mantralaya resumed duties on Monday after a gap of three days, some took to poetry to articulate their feelings about the massive fire that upturned their lives on an unsuspecting June afternoon.
|PTI / Shashank Parade
While some couplets express sheer shock at the loss of files and computers lost in the blaze, most others are rhyming accounts of the random evacuations in the event of a systemic collapse. Some are tributes to the human lives lost in the blaze. One is a refusal to accept the charred remains of what once was a lively seven-storeyed secure environment housing 6,000-plus employees.
Above: Repair and renovation underway at the Mantralaya in Mumbai after the massive fire that gutted four floors; L-R: Aniruddha Ashtapure, Shamsundar Sonar, Yogini Surve who have written poems on the fire and Mohan More, who lost his life
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s Public Relations Officer Aniruddha Ashtaputre, who was injured during the evacuation, has paid a lyrical homage to his colleague Mohan More who managed the visitors in the CM’s sixth floor office. “Toh ata disnar nahin…, Mantralayatil property kahi mahinyat ubhi rahil, pan ha asset matra milnar nahi…”
(He will not be seen behind the CM’s chair, neither will he ever remind the CM of the lunch time; the physical property will be reinstated in a few months, but this ‘asset’ named More will not be seen).
Ashtaputre’s remembrance of More has found many echoes on his Facebook page. Many other colleagues have remembered More as an irreplaceable support who lived and died while going beyond the call of his duty in the CM’s office.
The fire has affected many government employees at a very subconscious level. Meenakshi Patil, Secretary, State Board of Literature and Culture, who is a poet and a painter, says she does not wish to visit the building for a few days at least.
She worked in the Revenue and Forest departments of the building for 14 years. “Thank God I am based in the Ravindra Natya Mandir for a while,” she says while sharing her poem: Jalalech nahi mantralya ase mala vatate, swapna asel te kadachit… navhe swapnach te tharave.”
(Mantralaya has not been gutted in a fire. No, I feel that should have been a bad dream… No it must be one.) She says the theme of fire is likely to emerge in her paintings and writings in the days to come.
For Thane district’s Tehsildar, Yogini Surve, the fire has triggered her sweet associations with the building: her first appointment in the building, the first day of service, the waiting in the corridors of minister’s offices, the tea served by unknown peons and janitors, the first letter of appreciation, the first phone to her mother after the first promotion — all lost in a dark nebulous zone.
She says, “Karpoon gela mazhahi man, kajali dharlelya tya Mantralayasarkhe (My soul is also burnt, just like that dark black burnt down Mantralaya).
Interestingly, the Maharashtra government’s Lokrajya magazine will not be able to accommodate the lyrical contributions of its inmates, because the July issue is already in the pipeline. According to some unnamed sources in the editorial board, there will be a feature on the restoration of the building. However, the tenor of the magazine does not allow space for soulful poetic works.
Mediapersons who witnessed the fire were also bitten by the poetry bug. Shamsundar Sonar, ‘covering’ Mantralaya for 10 years for different Marathi dailies, conveys his sentiments thus: “Jithe hota Jansevecha Mandav, Tithe dekhile Aagiche Tandav, Mantri Nete ani Sarkari Bandhav, Palata Dekhile Sairavaira” (The Sanctum Santorum of public service was gutted down in a fire, Oh I saw my brethren, my ministers and my government colleagues running for life.)
He questions further: “Punha Mantralaya gazbazu lagel, Punha fili tayaar hotel, 25 lakhachya madatine, kay geleli manase parat yetil” (Mantralaya will restart soon, soon the newer files will be prepared, but will the Rs 25 lakh compensation bring back the lost lives?”) A point (rather a poem) to be noted.