“Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove.” ― P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves!
A few minutes past the midnight hour, when the world slept, we awoke and ran for our lives. Our tryst with destiny was too hot for comfort. 'Whew', I believe is the mot juste.
At 12:30AM on 5th October. I woke up from sleep with a start due to a loud sound like the bursting of a firecracker. For some reason, my eyes went to the AC and I could see some sort of glow near it. I made aa sound to call Uma (about whom I had written earlier) who got up immediately. She switched on the light and asked, 'Was there some sound?'
She had been woken up by the sound and was wondering whether it was from inside the house or outside it. She was confused by the fact that there is a transformer in the street outside which makes a similar sound when it develops a short circuit. When I called, she suspected that the sound may have been from inside the house.
The fact that the sound had woken her up helped me to call her easily. If she had been fast asleep, I would have had to put more effort to produce a louder sound and call a few more times. After waking her up, I would have had to dictate to her letter by letter what I thought had happened. All this would have taken a few minutes. In the ultimate analysis, saving these few minutes may have proved important in the story that followed.
Uma saw me looking at the AC and she also looked at it and saw some smoke coming out of it. She switched off the AC, opened the windows and doors and ran to call Jaya who was sleeping in the adjoining room with her father and Sujit. When Jaya got the information, she woke up Sujit and came to my room. By now the smoke in my room had thickened, there were sparks coming from the AC and there was the acrid smell of burnt wire.
She quickly woke up her mother (who was sleeping in my room) and told her to leave immediately. She told Sujit to shift me and ran to wake up her father. She also called up her brother in Chennai to ask him about safety precautions to be taken. He told her to switch off the mains. She then turned off the gas.
Meanwhile, Uma pulled the head-end of my cot away from the AC and got my wheelchair ready. She fixed one footrest to the wheelchair but before she could fix the other, Sujit said that I have to be shifted immediately; the fire was looking too menacing. She and Sujit shifted me to the wheelchair and I was rushed out of the room sitting awkwardly and covered only with a bedspread.
When I reached the front hall, I saw that some neighbours had woken up and had come to enquire what had happened. By now Jaya realised that the situation was beyond our control and she told Sujit to call the police and the fire brigade. She then told Uma to take me to a neighbour's house where my position on the wheelchair was corrected. Then I heard that the fire brigade had arrived.
Jaya then decided that I should go to another neighbour's house two floors below. Here I saw more neighbours, some of whom I have never met before. They must have been tenants who keep to themselves. There was nothing to do now but wait. I was afraid of getting a lot of cough which would make my body stiff. This would make it difficult for others to control me since I didn't have on me all my wheelchair accessories.
After what seemed like an eternity (but what in reality was about an hour), I was told that the firemen had left. I heard that the house was totally wet and there was no question of going back that night. Our next door neighbour had given us their house keys before going to Bangalore. They got to know of the incident, rang up Jaya and told us to use their house till they came back.
Some time after the firemen had left, Jaya came to the house where many of us were sitting and gave a laugh of relief and everyone joined in. When a family friend called after a couple of days, she said, 'Uncle, we had a big, early Diwali celebration in Suresh's room.' What causes a potentially disastrous situation to be viewed with humour?
I remember reading something about this by the neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. If your friend slips on a banana skin and falls in an ungainly heap on the floor, you start laughing but if you see that he has broken a leg, your laughter will cease. So if a situation ends without anyone getting hurt, you will laugh, else you will be glum. It was a miracle that all of us escaped unharmed, hence the laughter of relief inspite of the material damage.
It was past 3 AM before we turned in for the night. Obviously, none of us had much sleep that night. I snoozed for all of about ten minutes.