After finishing her lunch of pulao and bananas, Kaushalya Kamble rummaged through a small bag to take out a newly bought packet of soap.
Kamble’s family is one of the three families who spent Saturday night at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)-run school in Goregaon’s Unnat Nagar after a blaze engulfed their building on Friday.
Seven people, including two minors, were killed and 69 others were injured after a major fire ripped through their seven-storey Jay Bhavani residential building, a Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) structure, in Mumbai’s Goregaon West.
To wash off this marker of the tragedy, the family has bought two packets of soap and coconut oil, which they will use to scrub off the soot.
Pointing towards her soot-covered palms and feet, Kamble said, “Since the time the fire broke out, we have not taken a bath or even cleaned ourselves properly. While this BMC school has put a roof over our heads and we are provided with food, there is no bathroom facility here. There are washbasins but there is not even a bucket which we can fill up to wash ourselves. Even now, my body is covered in soot and dirt.”
On Friday, Rajesh Akre, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, had told The Indian Express the residents of the building were being rehabilitated in the municipal school for the time being. The BMC is also offering food to all survivors who are knocking on the school’s door.
Responding to questions, Akre said, “Even though some may choose to not stay at the school, the facility is open to all survivors who come here”.
Many questions, no answers
Only three families, including Kamble’s, chose to avail of the BMC provision after the fire.
Comprising four members, all members of the Kamble family managed to survive the tragedy. The family recounted they chose to remain inside their room when the building was ablaze as there was intense smoke and confusion. It was only after the fire was doused that they were rescued.
Rajesh Kamble, Kaushalya’s son, said, “Today, we were allowed to go to our homes. I brought some clothes back from the home but they are all covered in soot. How will we wash these clothes? There is neither soap nor a space for drying them.”
Sleeping a few beds away from the Kamble family is Murlidhar Mallah’s. The eight members of the Mallah family, who survived the fire, said they came to the school as they have no other relatives in the city.
While they praised the civic efforts, women members said the absence of bathrooms has been an issue. Dhanwanti Mallah told the Express, “There are no bathrooms. Even the washroom stalls have no latch”.
“Every other arrangement is good. But there is a lot of uncertainty. We don’t know when we will go back to our homes. For how long will the BMC let us stay here.. we have many questions but no answers,” said Mallah, adding they had lost two bikes in the fire.
Meanwhile, even as several other survivors came to the school to eat dinner on Friday night, they opted to live with their families and friends.
Among them is Preeti Kumari and her family. After a harrowing escape, Kumari, her husband, Bikas Kumar, and her two-year-old daughter Harshita headed to their friend’s place to clean themselves and later, decided to stay with them.
On why he did not opt for the school, Bikas Kumar said he was not aware of this provision. He added, “Because we left the spot very early, we did not know that BMC was providing accommodation facilities”.
Meanwhile, Seema Ale, who lost her mother to the fire, has been living at her uncle’s home in Goregaon, along with her father and sibling.
Her cousin, Laxmi said, “We had not informed Seema about her mother’s death until this morning. After Seema received her discharge from the hospital, we brought her to her uncle’s place where we will carry out the final rites today”.
With the SRA undertaking the Panchnama-related process on Saturday morning, many survivors gathered outside the building. They told the Express they chose to stay with their relatives as their children were getting restless inside the unfamiliar and confined space of the school.