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T Nagar on Tinder

Yet another tragedy has hit Chennai. I am doubtless referring to the huge fire that has brought down the 8-storeyed ‘The Chennai Silks’ building in T Nagar. But Chennaiites once again showed that regardless of where the mishap was and no matter how enormous it was, you could trust them to rise up to the occasion, make a beeline to the spot of trouble and, in a spirit of human bondage, take lots of selfies there.

Selfies at monuments, at tourist spots, with celebrities, unless otherwise they are contestants of the Bigg Boss show, are absolutely understandable. But this morbid fascination for selfies at accident locations and places of strife is plain bizarre. Just as well there were no cell phones and cameras back then, otherwise this would have happened:

Captain (of Titanic): (In a voice of extreme panic) AHOY! Watch out! Massive iceberg ahead on the port side.

Massive tumult in the ship.Sensible folks on ship scramble for the emergency boats. But the majority run towards the port side for that proper frame which will have them at the centre with the iceberg in the background just seconds before it smashes into the ship.

On Wednesday afternoon, when the blaze was still to be controlled, people were standing on the Usman Road flyover and snapping pictures of themselves with thick smoke billowing out of the building in the backdrop. But there was one man, bless him, who seemed to be against this selfie culture. He never once tried a selfie with the camera in his hand. On the contrary, he courageously walked up to a cop standing around and — why not? —  disarmingly asked him to snap a photo of his along with the blazing building.

These events were a big distraction not just for the police personnel but as well for the media people who too were there in huge numbers trying to report on the incident that was tailor-made for TV news, which is mostly defined as anything that you can take a picture of with the reporter standing in front of.

The Usman Road flyover — it was constructed keeping in mind the traffic mess on the South Usman Road side. Once it opened for public, guess what, there was traffic mess on the North Usman Road side too. This is what we call as equitable urban city planning — finally found good use as the TV news channels used its height to get the right elevation to their shots of the inferno.

You have a huge structure of concrete and steel that is being gutted, and you have live pictures of it with never-ending captions scrolling up, down, across and every where on the screen, but still most of your TV news reporters will never stop mentioning the same breathlessly. This is how many of them were reporting it:

“As I speak, you can see behind me ‘The Chennai Silks’ building on fire. The blaze broke out in the building, the live pictures of which are what you are seeing now, in the early hours of this morning. The fire, which our cameraperson is right now showing, was triggered by an electrical short-circuit at the basement of the building that is in the backdrop now. Police sources say there is no human casualty in the tragedy that is unfolding right behind us. More than hundred fire service personnel are at the site, from the foreground of which I am reporting now. They are trying to douse the flames for the last 8 hours using high-end equipment that you can spot right beside the building in the back. Now back to the studios from the site of The Chennai Silks fire.

(The anchor at the studios): Those were the live pictures of the fire at ‘The Chennai Silks’ building from where our correspondent was reporting live saying the same thing again and again as it was her own backside that was on fire.

Aside from TV reporting, the mishap does raise important questions on safety in the high-rise textile and jewellery establishments that dot the ever-crowded T Nagar shopping hub. At any given point, there should be more than 10,000 people, and that is just on one floor of Saravana Stores, and those would be just its employees. Shoppers, on the other hand, who went in for last Deepavali purchase are reportedly still stuck there unable to find their way out.

Most of the T Nagar shops don’t have emergency fire exits, they boast of few parking spaces (those who have managed to get a parking spot are those who came to the shop on the day of its inauguration) and, as it is emerging, most shops don’t have formal governmental approval for construction itself.

Despite all these negatives, why do people still throng the shops in T Nagar?  Quite evidently, most shops provide the one thing that most discerning people these days look for — a good backdrop for selfies.


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