Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tales of Soot and Silences at Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers, Bangalore. Day 4. Investigation was still on, though police was letting in people.
Appeared in Times of India issue dated Feb 27, 2010.

A cacophony of silences of different kinds. That is the face Carlton Towers puts up now to the tragedy tourists who inevitably pass by slower, heads turned up, tch-tching at the broken window panes, at the scenes of people jumping down to their deaths replaying once more in their minds.

On Friday, the police finally began to let in employees to retrieve their documents and computers. There was a steady line along the entrance all day long where police officers were letting in people after registering their names. Harrowed groups of employees walk up the narrow flights of stairs, stepping gingerly across the odd slipper and a shoe that is still strewn around. There is a policeman at every office, making a list of every item that the employees are taking. In pockets of the long and now almost pitch dark corridor, stray conversation seeps in, people discussing what to take with them, what to leave behind. Conversations which break the noise of the other silences.

M Manjunath, sub-inspector, now with the Mahadevapura police station, shows around every floor. There are still boot marks where the police first broke in, on doors of emergency exits that were locked. What is tragic is that from some offices, the stairs were just about an exact four steps away.

Each of the seven floors is almost in sepia now, abandoned, destroyed, a far cry from the sophistication that plywood and glass had bestowed on the spaces till just a few days ago.

Power is off the entire building and employees have to navigate their way around with the light from mobile phones and the flashes of press cameras. Some offices are completely destroyed, some not at all. Some are being cleared out, some are locked, some are still open and no one is in yet to claim the files, the papers and account books. Several laptops are still switched on, a green light blinking without respite under the black soot that covers everything. Several UPS machines, annoyingly, beep loudly. In the interludes of these, there is the cacophony of silence.

The Chespeake company on the 7th floor is the worst affected. This was where some of the victims that the accident claimed for itself worked. Chairs are strewn around and there is a deep sheet of soot. Even the name plate of the office is under a sheet of black. It is the accident's Midas touch, everything you see, all that you touch is soot, on the walls, on the floor, on the machines, on the bags and the papers.

From another office space, Manjunath points to a window from where a woman was just about to jump when he barged in and stopped her. Her plain blue saree that she had tied as a feeble escape means lies six floors below. Single slippers, shoes, socks lay around, a bottle of water here, papers, all those bits of normalcy, abandoned at when the unthinkable happened.

The floors of Carlton Towers have many unclaimed wallets still lying about. Predictably, none of them have any money left in them, not even loose change. Some lunch bags are still open, one has a packed bag of puffed rice, maybe meant for home, maybe for an evening snack.
Employees file down the stairs continuously with their belongings. They will continue to do so for the next two days. From Monday the building is expected to open again. But offices are already making plans to lock up and leave.

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