A different kind of tension hounded four girls from Shastrinagar No 3, a slum in Bandra (West), a day before their Std X board exams. They were among the many victims whose homes were destroyed in a fire early yesterday morning. However, the blaze that turned their homes and belongings to ash could not break the will of these teenagers. Even after losing their hall tickets and books, the fifteen-year-olds appeared for their English exam.
The slum caught fire around 2 am yesterday. Around 150 shanties were gutted and residents faced heavy losses, a senior fire official said, “We are yet to get the report of the cause of the blaze. According to locals, the fire started from the meter box that we still have to look into. Approximately 150 shanties were burnt and 17 people injured. Out of them, 12 were treated on OPD basis and discharged.”
Shirin Firoz Khan, Sabina Chand Mohammad Sheikh, and Gulshan Ansari were three students who lost everything in the fire from their homes and clothes to their textbooks and hall tickets. They did not even have a pen to write their exams. Ansari, a student of Petit School said, “I went for my exam in whatever clothes I had gone to bed in and had to borrow a pen from my friends. Whatever little money we had at home was burnt so we can’t even buy new books. Not even our chappals remain.”
Despite being disturbed by the events, the girls are confident that their paper went well. “I kept thinking about what was going on while writing the exam, but I had to complete my paper. If I don’t do my best, the entire year would go to waste. Moreover, the syllabus is changing next year. This is what motivated me to appear for the exam and to answer every question,” said Khan, a student of Awami Urdu High School in Bandra. “And I will pass,” she added confidently.
With two papers down, the girls are worried about the remaining seven. “While two of my guides burnt to ashes in the fire, the remaining books got soaked when firemen doused my house with water. Even if I manage to get hold of some notes, we have no electricity and I will have to study by candlelight,” said Pooja Vishwakarma, a student of Apostolic Carmel Convent School. Her house was saved, but she lost her books.
“At least my original hall ticket was saved thanks to my mother and cousin who made their way inside the house once firemen had doused the flames. It was wet, but we dried it on the windshield of a rickshaw,” she added. “The teachers made arrangements for us at the centre and we were allowed to write our exams with a photocopy of our hall ticket. They have given us a few books but we will have to make arrangements for the rest, said Sheikh.
While Khan’s aunt, Shabana Khan (30), encouraged the three girls to make the most of the situation when they go for tuitions and to study from their friend’s notes during the three hours, Vishwakarma says her mother and four sisters have given her courage and are supporting her.