The atmosphere was grim outside the mortuary in Bengaluru’s Victoria Hospital on Monday morning. Family members of the five victims who died in the fire in Kailash Bar and Restaurant wept for their loved ones as they waited for the autopsies to be completed.
Sitting on the stone pavement outside the mortuary, Praveen, a cousin of Swami and Prasad, two of the deceased, held his head in his hand as he cried for his brothers.
“Both Swami and Prasad were my cousins. They were still so young. Our family members used to ask Swami when he would get married. He would always say that he was working hard so he could become financially stable. It had been six years since he joined the bar. He was finally telling us that he was happy about reaching his goal. Now all of a sudden he is no more,” Praveen says.
Relatives of the other deceased stand outside the mortuary door, their expressions showing their sorrow and helplessness.
Speaking to TNM, Puttaswamy, a cousin of another of the deceased Mahesh, says that his brother had taken a two-week break from work and visited his hometown Mukkikere in Hassan district to spend time with his brother and niece.
“He came back to Bengaluru yesterday (Sunday) from Mukkikere to get money for his niece’s birthday. She was turning 2 on January 16 and he was planning a function in our village on the occasion. He loved her a lot. Mahesh was not married and did not have kids of his own. He treated his niece like his own daughter. He was so excited about the birthday. Now it is hard to believe that he is never coming back,” Puttaswamy says.
While the relatives of the deceased consoled each other, a brother of one of the deceased Manjunath, also named Manjunath, was wandering in the area around the mortuary asking for the hospital staff to let him have a glimpse of his brother.
“I just want to see my brother. His wife is diabetic and she is unwell. My brother used to work very hard so that he could send some money home. He has two children – an 18-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. The boy studies at the Tiptur Government School in Tumakuru. My niece is turning 19 in a few months and he was planning her wedding. He was looking for grooms and just two days ago he told me of all the grand plans he had in mind for his daughter’s wedding. The children are devastated. He was the only one earning in the family,” Manjunath’s brother told TNM.
Two of the deceased – Prasad and Swami – were cousins. Their uncle Ramachandra works as the cashier at the same bar and restaurant which went up in flames. Ramachandra was alerted by Cheluvakumar, the owner of a shop opposite the bar, about fumes coming out of the building early on Monday morning.
“I received a call at around 2.45 am that there was a lot of smoke coming out of the building. I immediately called Prasad to alert the men inside of the fire. I could talk to Prasad for only about a minute or so. They were very scared and they said that there was a fire. I was telling them to crawl out of the place but the call got cut and I could not connect again. I also called the police. The five men rushed into the bathroom in the first floor. But they could not be saved – they had terrible burns and three of them had choked on the smoke,” a teary-eyed Ramachandra says.
Meanwhile, Kiran, brother of Keerthi, who also died in the fire, says that his brother had joined the job at the bar only a month ago.
“I work at Udupi Hotel in Balepete in Bangalore. Keerthi was also working with me but one month ago, he joined the bar as it payed more. We live in a joint family in Mandya and all my cousins are doing odd jobs so that we can provide for the family as farming is not yielding much income. Keerthi started working in Udupi Hotel when he was 14 years old. He was a hard worker and only 18 years old. This is so unfortunate,” Kiran adds.
While the Kalasipalya Police arrested the bar owner Dayashankar, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the family members. Chamarajapete MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan has taken charge of transporting the bodies of the deceased after the autopsy to their villages.
The Police Commissioner, BBMP and the Labour Department have begun independent investigations into the incident as a preliminary probe revealed that labour laws and fire safety norms were violated.