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'I have lost my daughter, but I'm proud of her'
July 17, 2004 15:52 IST
A pall of gloom has descended on the temple town of Kumbakonam where 90 lives were snuffed out in a devastating fire in a school complex yesterday.
The scenes in the town this morning are too horrendous for words.
The old Palakkarai area in particular is steeped in grief, as 12 of the 90 children who were charred to death came from the locality. The scene at Kallar street, which lost four children in the tragedy, is similar.
Though most of the bodies were given out to the parents last night itself, some were handed over this morning for the last rites. It was a heart-rending sight as parents carried the bodies of their loved ones from the hospital to their homes. At the Perumandi funeral grounds, it was a scene of mass cremation and burial.
Often the young bodies did not need a pall, the parents mostly carried them in a 'thooli' (cloth cradle) to the cremation ghats. Nor did the usual final rites matter. "When the fire had swallowed my daughter, why should I bother about the rites? She is gone, never to return," said a coolie, Raju, who had lost his eight-year-old daughter in the tragedy.
Even in his grief, Bharathidasan, father of Tharanika, a nine-year-old girl who lost her life, felt proud of his dead daughter.
"We live on the next street... as soon as the news about the tragedy reached our ears my younger brother, Rajaguru, rushed to the school to save my daughter. He managed to get in and even found my daughter battling for life in the fire. He carried her away. She was in a state of shock and was badly injured.
"Even then, she requested my brother to save her friends trapped inside, giving out names like Gayathri, Priyadarshini. But after saying this, she breathed her last just outside the school," the site of the inferno.
Bharathidasan said his brother honoured her last wish and saved some of the children. But he is in a state of terrible shock now and is receiving treatment at the hospital. "I have lost my daughter, but I am proud of her and my brother," he said, amid tears.
A farmer in Koranattu Karuppur village near here, Thangaraj, who lost his nine-year-old son Marimuthu, said he had struggled in life as an agricultural labourer and it was his wish that his only son should lead a different life.
"I was prepared to do anything for him as he was good in his studies and I was hoping he will do well his life, but fate willed otherwise. I cannot believe he is no more. Yesterday I saw him off to school, today he is dead. Greedy Yama [god of death in the Hindu pantheon] has taken his life."
Manjula, who lost her son, is still to recover from the shock. A resident of Kasiraman street where the school is situated, she had as usual sent her two children, a son and daughter, to school just a few metres away.
"Some time later, I heard the cries of students. I rushed there only to find the top of the building in flames. I saw my daughter running out of the school unhurt. But the happiness was shortlived as my son, Jayaprakash, was trapped inside and done to death by the fire."
"I have lost my only son," a weeping Manjula said. Her daughter, Gayathri, is sorry she could not save her brother to whom she was very attached. "My brother is not there anymore. I could not save him, though I was very much in the same campus," she lamented.
The tragedy also brought to the fore man's inherent nature, as locals and strangers stood as one, assisting the victims' families in all possible manner -- like the autorickshaw drivers ferrying the injured to hospitals free of cost.
The town is full of posters condoling the tragedy. The Tamil Nadu Brahmins Association has made arrangements for lighting 'moksha deepam' in all temples tonight for the departed souls.
Meanwhile, the school presents a scene of pathos with charred books, school bags and tiffin boxes, slippers and shoes lying scattered all over.