27 April, 2009

The Fire That Plagued Our Lives Forever

5th November 2007, it was 9:00 pm when I, along with my family, watched an Indian soap opera. My house had been undergoing renovation since 15 days. From furniture to wall paints, everything was being changed. Recently it was the lounge which was being painted, so the whole house appeared messy and disorganized, which irritated me! And to add on to my frustration, I hadn’t learnt a word of the test I had the next day. It was the 3rd hourly of my community service course which had a lot of theory to memorize. So, as a trailer broke the continuity of the show, I left dad’s room; where everyone was watching TV, and headed towards my own room. The internet was not working so I had to feed all the test data onto my cell phone. My frustration was growing proportionally with the passage of time - after all I was a 'freshie' first year student, and the number of competitive cells in my blood still outranked the number of slacking cells within me. I was trying to learn the hourly content from my phone when mum came to my room to give me dinner. It was mince meat; I didn’t like it. I made a face which showed my distaste and refused to eat. She forced me that I had to eat some of it, and placing the plate on my bedside table, she left. I went back to reading the text on my phone.

I could hear the twins in the kitchen, asking mum if they could eat their Cornetto’s then. I didn’t hear mum’s reply but I am guessing she must have agreed, for the next thing I heard was mum blaring from the kitchen, asking me if I wanted my ice-cream now or latter. I replied that I didn’t want it now. The soap opera had ended till that time and I could hear its ending melody loud and clear. I also heard dad asking mum for a cup of tea. It was a conventional practice in my house to take tea after dinner, though there were only two people who would consume it at that hour, and it was me and dad. Mum never asked me for tea; the muddy beverage was what coursed through my veins, she knew very well. Yet she came, to see if I had eaten. Her face fell once she saw the untouched plate.
"I dont want to eat!" I shouted, irritated, "Leave me alone!"
"What’s the purpose of making so much food when no one wants to eat it?" She mumbled, taking away the plate. I made an I-don’t-care face as mum left my room. Really, if you ask me now, I really don’t know what was wrong with me; evidently I was mean and self-centered, but more than that, I was a person who took everything for granted. At this point, let me assure you, it was not a war-like situation there. It was normal; I skipped meals all the time, so it wasn’t something unusual. As she left the room I continued to stare at my cell phone. I had an earphone plugged into one of my ears whose other end was attached to my brand new radio device which mum had gifted to me. As soon as the Bryan Adam’s ‘Summer of 69’ ended, the next thing I heard was a blood-curdling scream from a voice which was doubtlessly my mother’s.

If memory serves me right, then I’d say that only half a minute must have passed from the time mum left my room to the time I heard the scream. The voice grew louder as I jumped to my feet– dropping my phone on the floor, separating its battery and back cover from its thick black body. I didn’t stop to pick it up, I just ran out of the room, and as I reached near the kitchen, it seemed like my heart stopped at the sight before my eyes. What happens with me is that my mind tends to stop working in traumatic situations. I don’t understand, don’t register anything at all. So for 2 seconds I stood there absolutely numb! My body was rock hard and ice cold; as if I was paralyzed. Then suddenly I felt my senses rushing back to life. Clearly, my dad and my brother had responded to the screams quicker than I had, as they had reached before me. I saw three people in that place, just outside the kitchen arch. The air was thick with carbon, and a massive fire was smoldering before my eyes, burning the flesh of my mother. I still remember what she was wearing that day. The blue-coloured nylon surrounding her body was melting away quickly; like plastic. My brother and dad were trying to extinguish the fire with a huge red velvet blanket. I hastily grabbed one end of the blanket and helped in putting out the fire which was spreading quickly through out my mother’s body. At that moment, I saw from the corner of my eye that my eleven-year-old twin sisters were trying to approach us. I shouted at them to get back. At the same time dad also ordered them to stand far away, so they did as they were asked to do.

The fire was uncontrollable but after constant struggle of the three of us, we were able to snuff it out. As soon as we did that, mum collapsed on the blanket that we just dropped on the floor. She was silent but conscious. I saw myself falling on my knees, uttering incomplete questions, one after the other, in such urgency that it was incomprehensible. My brother ran downstairs to back the car out of the driveway so that we could go to the hospital, while dad reached out for his phone to ask my grandparents to urgently reach at the hospital where we were headed. The only hope which filled my heart at that moment was the idea that my mum was conscious and speaking to me. She didn’t answer to any of the questions I had asked, instead she told me to bring her a night suit which was loose enough to not touch her damaged skin. I ran into her room, towards the closet, but none of my senses were functioning properly. I was looking straight at the night suit section of her closet but I could not seem to spot any. I repeated again and again, ‘I can’t find it… I can’t find it’, until I found one. I then helped her change in a sitting position at the very place she had falled; under the archway of my kitchen entrance. The parts of the nylon dress which had caught fire appeared like remains of melted plastic, so hard and stiff on her skin that I had to use a pair of scissor to separate it from my mother’s body. It was the last time I felt my mother's fragile body, the last time I helped her in a task, a task which was ever so painful. After I changed her, I helped her up on her feet to leave for the hospital. She placed her hand around my wobbly shoulder and we walked the last walk of our lives, together. I thought to myself; it was wrong, she was too young, young enough to stand on her own feet and guide me through life. she still had a long way to go, I would always be there for her but right now she had to be there for me. Indeed she was damaged; her skin was torn in patches, exposing her bare, skinless, pink flesh. It was bad, very bad, but not so bad that I would even think of questioning her survival. I was absolutely sure that she is going to recover from the burns and it’s just a matter of time till everything is back to normal. I was not being hopeful, I was being realistic, because from what I saw she was superficially burnt but her internal organs appeared fine.

She walked till the car, all the while talking to me, she was breathing fine and nothing internally seemed to be wrong. We reached the Agha khan hospital and she was taken inside the ward in a wheel chair. Every passers by was staring at her. My mother, who was the pageant of beauty a few hours ago, was being stared at for the artifical ugliness of her burnt skin. But that was less heartbreaking than what I overheard a doctor say to another. According to him, that day was a drama day, as their hospital was receiving so many dramatic cases. That smirk which the two doctors exchanged forced me to believe how my mother was being an object of entertainment for others. Anyway, my fingers were burnt too, from snuffing out the fire that plagued our lives, they did not look as bad as my dad’s fingers though. Those fingers were swelling quickly, and so was my mother’s body inside the emergency ward; unattended and alone. It was after several hours that the hospital management told us that they don’t have a burn’s unit, and all this time, they were just providing my mother a mere first aid. Furious but helpless, we shifted her to Patel Hospital, which we later discovered specialized in treating burnt patients. My mother was unconscious by that time and was transported to the other hospital in an ambulance. I sat at the front seat of the ambulance with my mother laying at the back. Everything had settled into my mind by then, I was prepared for what was coming; which according to me was dressing and undressing my mother, helping her eat, drink and walk all her life. I was prepared to give up on everything, whatever it took, to help her get back to life again, but I never got that chance. She passed away after struggling for a day and a half at Patel hospital, where we were told by the doctors that the internal burning of my mother’s lungs was supposed to be stopped right away. Had we not wasted precious hours at Agha khan and brought her straight to their hospital, a life would have been saved, my mother would have been saved, but we wasted a lot of time and it was too late.

Ever since the night I left my house, with my mother’s hand on my shoulder, I don’t find any traits of my old self with in me. After the funeral when I came back to the house, I realized how much everything had changed. I felt like a stranger in my own house. I didn’t know anything, yet I was questioned for everything. I had no idea how to react; the sudden change from being a kid to being a motherly figure didn’t seem to settle in my mind, although the circumstance made sure that it settles in my mind rather quickly. My little sisters looked up to me and from being a person taking everything as granted, I found myself being taken as granted. I was transformed completely, from being loved to being an embodiment of love for others, from being selfish to being selfless, from being careless to being a care giver. The minced meat dinner which was handed to me in my room was the last of its kind. After that day, all my dinners were cooked and severed to me by myself, and I was sure to hear no voice forcing me to have my dinners, even if I starved myself to death. My mother’s death reshaped my whole life.


Anonymous Kharboozi said...

I loved your story. Honestly, i don't see how you could get anything less than a 19 out of 20.
It beat the hell out of my story, that's for sure! lol =P

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Batool said...

*snif* *snif* ur essay made me cry.
n beleve me evn Ms Bina will cry,u have mentioned da whole incident beautifully.
i luved it.

11:47 PM  
Blogger anum said...

hmm zainab am just spech less yarr seriously, its really heart killing yaar. i just dnt no yaar wht 2 say, iam just speechless:'( b8 i must say that some incidents change ones lyf completely.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Batool said...

nice pic zaini
i like it :-) it i sreally cool.

11:57 PM  
Blogger vinay said...


1:46 PM  
Blogger Talking To My Soul said...

Heyy Zainab,

You visual imagery is tremendously powerful. Very impressive, I say.

Thanks for coming over to my blog. Do return.


12:53 AM  
Blogger Keshi said...

Zainab dear u had me crying at my office desk reading this post! Im sorry I hv no words of comfort cos a loss like this can never be comforted. plz tell me this is just a story and not ur real life story! Im hoping against hope that this is just a story.

**Ever since the night I left my house, with my mother’s hand on my shoulder, I don’t find any traits of my old self with in me.

I broke down in tears when I read that!

My life story is similar to ur's...but it's not my mother, it's my father's death that SHAPED me into a completely different person. I hv written abt it alot in the past, in my blog.

but this post made me VERY SAD...its ur MOTHER...and to witness something like that happening to ur mum, and to think of all the what-ifs must be very hard on ya. Im so very sorry darling HUGGGGGGGGGGGZ!


6:23 AM  
Blogger Zainab Dhanji said...

@ Kharboozi/Kiran: it beated the hell out of me too.. left me beaten!

@ Batool: Hey thanks Batu, this pic is from my collection...

@ Vinay: :)

@ TTMS: TY, WC and surely i'll return to yours =)

@ Keshi: Im hoping against hope that this is just a story.After reading such lines from u.. i really dont want to delude ur hopes but...

I am a thread too slender
To suspend all this reality...
~Phillip Pulfrey


1:29 PM  
Blogger DPhatsez said...

Dear Zainab

A splendid read. I didn't want to comment for fear of offending you as i don't know you but here goes: I'm not ashamed to admit this despite being a guy. I was so moved by your words that my eyes became moist.
I lost a teacher who succumbed to her burns. It was traumatic getting over it.
The loss of a loved one is hard. You witnessed it upfront and the guilt at having your last words with her harshly must've hurt real bad.

May you and your family find peace and happiness.
If you want to see a lighter side of life, feel free to drop by my blog. You'll definitely smile, if not laugh :)


3:32 PM  
Blogger Keshi said...


I really didnt want it to be ur life story. HUGZ! I cannot even imagine ur pain Zainab. Im so very sorry!

*lotsa tearz*

12:55 PM  
Blogger Manish Kumar said...

Tumse kitni baar ye sawal poocha tha ki ye sab kaise hua.. us waqt man yahi sochta raha ki burning ke case mein jab log wahan ho to death kaise ho sakti hai, par aaj sab kuch saaf hua...shayad agar hospital wale tum logon ko waqt par salah dete specialised hospital mein shift karne ki to shayad hum sab ye padhne ki halat mein nahin hote...

Sach hai kuch ghatnayein humare personality ko badal deti hain hum jis terah sochte hain hum jis terah samajhte hain cheezon ko. Bahut kuch sochne samjhne ko mazboor karti hai tumhari ye post...

6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have not visited your blog if only I knew that this is what lies ahead..hmmm

I am really touched and also remember your mother once talked to me.

Oh my little friend....tell me...is there anything I can do for you?

What a lovely family you used to be....hmmm.....I am really sorry to hear that.

I deeply...felt the pain.


5:09 PM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

zainab my dear....mujhe yaad hai tumne yehi sab mujhe bataya tha...jab meine poocha tha!!! Lekin alwaaz jis tarah se dil ko cheer kar nikal gaye hein...sach bataon jaan rula diya mujhe!!! Mein hamesha tumhein khush dekhne aur muskuraate huye rehane ke liye kehati hoon lekin aaj....mein khud!!!!!

Zindagi insaan ko kitni jaldi badal deta hai....ye sach hai aur meine haal hee mein dekha bhi! Ek dost jo ki 2 bacchon ki maan hai bacche bhi kya ek 4 saal ki beti aur beta 6 saal ka.
Ose aisa cancer hua hai jo ke 4 million mein 1 ya 2 ko hua ho! Ye muscles ka cancer hai...isiliye kaheen bhi kabhi bhi aa sakta hai! Behad shaanth ....kisam ki aur har kisi ke dil ko bhalene wali jo ke 32 saal ki hai...jaane kaise ooske ghar mein sab jee rahe hein!
Mein hamesha oonka housla badhane ki koshish karti hoon chat ke zariye ya email ke...! Ke maut se lado aur ose harane ki koshish karo kam se kam apne liye na sahi bacchon ke liye....
aaj oosne haqiqat ko apna to liya hai lekin oonke husband aaj bhi jis andruni dard se gujar rahe hein ye to wohi jaante hein na?
Sach mein to kahoon kisi per bhi aisee naubat na aaye ke oos se ooska bachpan cheen liya jaaye!!!

Jaana I just want to hug you tight...nothing else...as I dont have words to say probably my hug will try to convey how I want to take all your pain and release it away

May Allah bless you and your family. And give strength to you to take care of everyone yet not to loose yourself in all this - ameen
luv u my dear!

6:04 AM  
Blogger Suresh Kumar said...

First I thought it was a story, but reading the comments, realized that its the tragedy that happened in your lives...
Hope you have been able to come over it by now.

It seems to me a clear case of medical negligence at the Aga Khan hospital... Doctors are given the powers of God and they abuse it easily

5:28 PM  
Blogger KJ786 said...

I read ur blogs earlier and it is now 2 in the morning here and i can't sleep so i had to write...
Zainab, i lost my dad when i was 18 and it was tough, but i can't even imagine what you have been through losing a mom and taking over so many responsibilities...

I wish there was something I could do to help but unfortunately i can only offer some words ...
All i can say from my experience is that I came out a much stronger and wiser person after the incident. I can say this 10 years later but i certainly would not have believed it if someone told me this a few years after he passed. Things will get easier and ofcourse are family and dear ones are irreplacable but isn't it funny how much more we respect, understand and appreciate them when they are not here???
If there is anything i can do at all even if it means unloading to me on an email please do so...
Many many duas and a big hug,
Kulsoom (Kunni)

11:54 AM  
Blogger .sarilicious. said...

Aw my God. I'm so sorry for your loss. So sorry. InshaAllah you're mum's in a better place. (: May Allah grant her a place in Jannah Ameen.
This was a sad story, I may add. How lives change by just a minute of disturbance.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Dee.Dee said...

My heartbeat stopped several times reading this post.

I'm speechless.

6:32 PM  

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