When I visit India, I usually end up visiting a bunch of friends, uncles, aunties and cousins. Some of them live in modern apartment complexes, towers, as they call them. Taking the elevator and, on occasion, the stairs, I can’t help but think “Where is the fucking fire escape?”. Chided, I am, for such thoughts. “You have become American”, “If there is a fire, we will just run downstairs”, “Lord Ayyappa will not let anything happen to us” are among the myriad responses I’ve gotten. And then something like this happens. [NYT]
But early on Friday the hospital, known as Amri, confronted an emergency for which it seemed to have no plan: an inferno in its basement that transformed the entire hermetically sealed and air-conditioned building into a giant chimney for a searing, smoky fire.
When the smoke cleared, 94 people were dead, scores more were injured and a nation was left asking: Is nowhere, even an expensive, privately run hospital designed for the country’s upwardly mobile classes, safe from the disaster that seems to lurk on every railway line, highway on-ramp and festival ground?
The most revealing comment, at least one by a famous person, on this topic:
Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, summed up the mood when he sent this message on Twitter: “Every time I see incidents like #AMRI I’m convinced we really are a 3rd world nation with delusions of greatness.”
Indian cities, over the last 20 years in particular, have sought to model themselves after the West; swanky malls, ritzy apartment complexes and state-of-the-art hospitals and medical care; for all this prosperity and opulence, safety and concern for human lives is still a “phoren” concept.