Mumbai hotel blaze: A terrible tragedy that could've been worse

Eight young lives were lost to callousness in Saturday's Kurla restaurant blaze; an urgent college project submission proved a blessing for their friends, who were about to join them for lunch

"As soon as we heard about the fire at the restaurant, we realised our friends were there. That is where we went every day, during lunch break and after classes. In fact, we were about to head there ourselves but we heard about the fire," said a student from Don Bosco College, located 100 metres from City Kinara restaurant, the site of a fire yesterday. Suspected to be the result of a gas leak at the restaurant, the fire killed eight people. Seven of them were students at Don Bosco.

Also read: Eight killed in cylinder blast at Mumbai hotel; 5 students missing

(From left) Friends Sharjeel Shaikh, Bryan Fernando, Sajid Chowdhari and Akash Thapar died in the blaze, as did Taha Shaikh and Arvind Kanojia (not in pic)
(From left) Friends Sharjeel Shaikh, Bryan Fernando, Sajid Chowdhari and Akash Thapar died in the blaze, as did Taha Shaikh and Arvind Kanojia (not in pic)

Ask any of the students, though, and they will say that the tragedy could have been worse. The ground-plus-one-storey restaurant was old, dingy and crowded, but its inexpensive menu appealed to most students struggling with shoestring budgets.

rip: BMM students Erwin D’Souza and Bernadette D’Souza
RIP: BMM students Erwin D’Souza and Bernadette D’Souza 

In fact, at least 20 other students had planned to go there for lunch that afternoon, but were delayed because of a project submission. Around 1.30 pm, the students heard about the blast.

Also read: Kurla hotel blaze - 'False ceiling collapsed on diners'

Kurla fire
Loved ones gather outside the Kurla restaurant as police scan the site (above). PICS/DATTA KUMBHAR

"Our project submissions were on, and so attendance wasn’t as strict as it usually is. Our whole group of friends, all from different divisions, had decided to meet at the restaurant. Some of our friends were already there. But just as we were about to head there, we heard about the blast and that victims had been taken to Rajawadi Hospital. We rushed there too," said another student.

The hospital authorities informed them that eight people had died in the incident. Slowly, the bodies were identified by ID cards or other documents on their person, or with the help of families. Of the seven students, five were third-year students of IT Engineering, while two were third-year BMM students.

Many students stayed beyond college hours, anxiously waiting for news of their classmates. The worried faces of students and teachers filled the corridors of the college, as the police briefed the administration. "I taught them for three years," said a teary-eyed teacher about the deceased.

Kurla FireFriends and family of the victims in mourning. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Friends in mourning

Some of the students realised their friends were missing and began to look for them, already dreading that they had fallen victim to the fire. "We knew there was no where else they would have gone. We saw their bikes outside the restaurant. Our friend Akash Thapar was finally identified as one of those who died in the blast," said an IT Engineering student, Vicky.

Kurla FireThe roof of the hotel which was ablaze

Canteen woes
It was the one day Akash’s mother had not packed his tiffin, and the third-year student of IT Engineering decided to join his gang of friends at City Kinara. It is a fact that haunts his mother, Rekha.

Kurla FireThe hotel City Kinara at Kurla.

Also read: Kurla hotel fire - Identifying victims was a big challenge

"I pack his tiffin box every day, especially because recently, he had been complaining about how expensive the canteen food is. But today, I gave him R100 to eat outside. I can’t believe we have lost him," she said.

Expensive food at the canteen had, in fact, pushed many other students to eat at the more economical City Kinara.

 

"A couple of weeks ago, the management of the college canteen changed. Since then, the food there had become too expensive for us, and we began to visit City Kinara more frequently," said Akash’s classmate.

Deceased
IT engineering students
Sharjeel Shaikh (Kurla)
Akash Thapar (Sion)
Taha Shaikh (Kurla)
Bryan Fernando, (Matunga)
Sajid Chowdhri (Bhiwandi)

BMM students
Erwin D’souza (Malad)
Bernadette D’souza (Sion)

Eighth victim
Arvind Kanojia, a corporate employee, was among the eight who died in the fire. His colleagues heard about the fire and noticed that he never made it back from lunch. They went to Rajawadi Hospital, to learn that he was one of the victims. Arvind’s body was the first to be identified.

“We met Bernadette and Erwin (right) in college around 11 am, and had planned to go to City Kinara for lunch once our submissions were done. Everyone went to different laboratories for their project submissions. Erwin and Bernadette left for the restaurant, but the rest of us got late, since we hadn’t finished our submissions,” said a classmate of Bernadette and Erwin, two BMM students who perished in the fire yesterday.

Another classmate said, “When we heard about the blasts, everyone asked about Bernadette and Erwin (D’Souza), since they would visit City Kinara often. The joint is a dingy and crammed fast food eatery. Usually, another friend of theirs used to hang out with them there, but he had left early. He has stopped talking since he found out about the incident. The three of them had been close friends since the first year of college.”
— Inputs by Maleeva Rebello

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