CHENNAI: Meenatchi Velu, a short woman, crouches. She bends beneath a sign board on South Usman Road, bypasses a barricade silently and begins to jog to avoid the eyes of the police.
A 200-m radius that has been evacuated around Chennai Silks, the building burnt down in T Nagar, is guarded by scores of police officers who bar the entry of public to ensure safety.
Meenatchi Velu, however, found a way to dodge these vigilant eyes. She quickly ducks behind the wooden skeletons of streetside shops, as if she was playing hide-and-seek with someone. She dips her hand in her purple rexin bag that seems familiar with the platforms of T Nagar. She pulls out a pink slip from her bag.
“Now why is Kumaran Stores still closed?” she sighs standing outside the shop that has its shutters down. “My effort went in vain. Before I could pay and pick what I want, they evacuated us yesterday (Wednesday),” she adds. The disappointed Meenatchi now walks curiously toward the burnt building.”
"Will they let me in?” she mumbles to herself as she walks towards the inner circle of police officers closer to the building. She begins to limp a little. The man in khaki asks, “Where do you want to go, madame?” and adds that the road ahead is blocked. She puts up a pity face and says, “I’m old and I can’t walk. Can I use this route to go to the bus stop please?” she asks.
Jagdish N, a tall, well-built young man, radiated confidence. He looked like a policeman in mufti with his neatly ironed kakhi pants. Jagdish, who resides in Ambattur, is on a day tour to T Nagar. “I was tired of watching it burn on TV. I had a day off and I thought I’ll watch it live and give updates on Facebook,” he said.
Around the charred building, there’s a constant thunder. The rumbling doesn’t stop. It comes from the earth movers drilling the walls, the JCB that piles rubbles to build a ramp, the collapsing parts of the building, the lorries, jaw cutters and police vehicles moving on the crammed streets.
A narrow passage beside a tiny independent house on Pinchala Subramaniyam Street leads to a three-storey building. A maze of cemented staircase, lined with splatters of chewed tobacco, leads to one storey after another with one common hall in each floor. Boys and young men lie on the floor everywhere. About 15 of them are all sleeping in each of the three storeys. “The shops we work in are closed. Where do we go? We don’t have friends in the city and we don’t have money to spend. We can sleep in peace instead,” says Kumar Raju, who works at a jewellery shop that remains closed.