And then it spread. Orange flames rose up to lick the dried leaves into glowing grey embers. People were running downstairs carrying buckets of water and desperately throwing it into the spreading fire. Thick black smoke spiralled up and filled my floor reducing my visibility to nearly half. The fire was like an enraged serpent hissing and sputtering its way into the hillside dangerously close to my building.
Two parallel thoughts wrestled with each other inside me. Help them in this losing battle or flee. There was still time to make away with a few things before the flames swallowed the buildings and trees. I ran around the house like a trapped animal, now gathering my stuff and now returning to the balcony to stupidly throw coffee mugs after coffee mugs of water into the sputtering flames below. It was as if my mind was split into two each grappling to take control of the body.
And suddenly someone ran down with a large water hose and started spraying pressured jets of water into the fire. For the first time, it displayed some signs of recession. About fifteen-twenty minutes of spraying two tanks of water, the maddened creature disappeared into the blackened soot leaving an emasculated smoke that smelt of defeat.
With a thumping heart, I went inside the house to slump onto the sofa and closed my eyes for a while. When I opened it, through the smoke-induced tears, I saw the bags I had packed. Certificates, laptop and some books. Weirdly, books. The possessions that might have defined my life had the fire ate the rest.
I remembered Frances Harrison’s narration of the civilians caught in the final battle between the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan Army in 2009. With indiscriminate shelling all around them, they moved from one "so called" safe zone to the other with their belongings as the war progressed. There were bags full of certificates which were thrown away along with the other things in their order of priority in the course of their exodus to death.
Life, defined by one’s instant possessions.
Image courtesy: wallpapercave.com