Stories from Trivandrum Medical College where several burns victims have been admitted

Death politics and selfies Hope and despair fill hospital with Kollam fire victims
news Kollam Fire Monday, April 11, 2016 - 08:33

Outside the gate which leads to the burns ward and mortuary at the Trivandrum Medical college, a large group of people had gathered, waiting with their phone cameras switched on, focused at a car that was slowly driving out. Around 7.00 PM, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped out, after interacting with families whose loved ones had died or were injured in the fire that took more than 100 lives at the Kollam Puttingal Devi temple. Cries of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ filled the air.

Soon, senior BJP leader O Rajagopal walked out, silently. The man who walked out next, cricketer turned politician Sreesanth, was not met with silence, flanked with people who wanted to click selfies with him. The BJP candidate looked flummoxed at the crowd that wanted selfies taken just outside a mortuary where families were in deep mourning, unable to come to terms with their loss.

The 126 victims brought to the medical college since Sunday morning had been admitted to about ten wards. The medical college’s burns ICU had 12 critically injured people by around 8.00 PM, three people admitted to this ward had died during the day.

As I reached the ward, a man was sobbing outside, a small crowd intently watching him. He looked at a relative and asked him to go see the patient one last time. When asked who had been admitted, he said, “My brother Sathyan is 55 years old. I just saw him. What's the point of him living like this now?” he asked. 

Sathyan like all the other victims in the ICU had severe burns and was also crushed under a building that collapsed.

As the man moved away, a woman started weeping loudly. “What will I do now? Will my son live? What wrong did I do?”

A man nearby snapped at her, asking her to move away from the ward if she wanted to cry. The lady’s name was Shakunthala, and she had come to stay with her sister in a village in Kollam for a few days when her two sons decided to go for the temple festival. Her 14-year-old son Sabari was barely alive inside the ICU. “He is only 14. I did not even know that he went for the festival. His elder brother left the spot just before the fire. Sabari was sitting on a house’s rooftop. I saw my son, do you think he will live? Can you do something?” she asked.

Sabari had inhaled the deadly fumes of the fire and doctors were hoping for a miracle.

“My husband abandoned me. My older son stopped going to school. Sabari was my hope. He will live right?” she asked again.

Shakunthala and her family had no ties to the temple, and the two boys had decided to go there just for fun, but Asokan, who lay in ward no. 18 had been to the festival without fail for years.

“We go for the festival every year. We never imagined something like this would happen. I don't think the fireworks will happen next year. Many of my neighbours died,” said Anil, Asokan’s brother.

Asokan who was left unconscious after a stone hit his head, and was put in a bus along with many others and taken to a hospital. His brother, who had returned home just 15 minutes before the blast, had struggled to find him.

Outside ward no. 18, a group of youngsters approached a TV reporter with a passport size photograph of a man. “We have been to 7 hospitals and haven’t found him. His name is Ajay,” they said.

The name did not match with anyone in the burns ICU, the only place left to search. But they soon left, to search again in other wards as patients were still being brought in from private hospitals.

Once again, there was a flurry of activity as Union Health minister JP Nadda, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, AK Antony and others started their 'rounds’.

Leaders of the Muslim League started an impromptu prayer just outside a ward.

As the VIPs left in a tearing hurry, the families that had been waiting outside the burns ward slowly came back to their positions. Shakunthala was now sitting on the ledge of a window, “I don't think my son is going to die. The doctors would have told me then,” she assured herself.

While walking out of the hospital block, the groups of youngsters who had been searching for their relative came in sight again. They had found him. “He was not able to recollect his name, that's why he was not on the list in his name. We found him,” one of them said, with a sense of relief.

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