A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai

i

Photo: Aslam Syed

BROKEN HOMES

A Charred Future: the graphic aftermath of Mumbai's horrific Kandivali fire

Aslam Saiyad

Less than a week ago, multiple gas cylinder explosions coupled with a vicious wind burned down 2,000 at the Damu Nagar slum in Kandivali (East).

To most of us, the loss of a slum is meaningless - maybe even a blessing.

To 2,000 families - migrant workers, daily wage labourers, the maids who do your dishes and swab your floors - this was home.

An ugly, filthy hellhole of a place, maybe, but still somewhere to put themselves and their children to bed each night.

Photographer Aslam Syed, who lives in the area, received a call from his wife Yafta at about 4.50 pm just as he was readying to leave his office in Andheri. She was calling to tell him about the massive fire that had just broken out in their vicinity.

Aslam documents what he saw:

"I rode from Andheri to Kandivali, grabbed my camera from home, and reached the spot. As I was nearing the spot the crowds were already large, residents, bystanders, firefighters. The sun had set, and so had the fire, which the exhausted firemen had managed to tame.

What they could not tame - the devastation. Everywhere I looked, I saw rubble and burnt houses. Nothing left, no walls, no rooms, no structures; only burnt bicycles, mangled metal cots and ash-smeared utensils. A massive, charred junkyard. These are tiny, cramped, densely-built homes of tin. A cylinder blast was all it needed; the first fire triggered more blasts as it engulfed more huts, a chain reaction of explosions that took on a life of its own. I stumbled in the dark, unable to focus my lens, unable almost to shoot.

I saw women sitting on the floor where their burnt rooms used to be, utensils smeared with ash, metal skeletons of furniture surrounding them like morbid art. Bicycles whose tyres had burnt. Schoolchildren, dazed, wandering aimlessly in sooty school uniforms.

I walked through the rubble, downhill, past people in skullcaps and pagdis distributing food.

It was eerily quiet, the voice seeming to have been snuffed out of those who had survived.

I came back the next morning, and found I had underestimated the horror. It was the most surreal sight I had ever seen. Two children in school uniform, which they were wearing since the previous night, sitting still under an imaginary roof with no walls.

A cat frozen on the wall, charred to death.

One resident, Subhadra, told me they'd had pukka homes 2005 but recently the forest department had broken their homes, so they were living in shanties.

Another, Shanta bai, had room to look beyond her own loss; she pointed at her beloved cat and its kitten, both charred to death. "See the mother's love for the kitten, both died together."

Aslam Saiyad