Father’s love conquers inferno | Sunday Observer

Father’s love conquers inferno

While the duplicitous politicians shed crocodile tears in the name of ‘reconciliation’, the people of Kandy taught them a lesson in brotherhood and true reconciliation when a four storey building was gutted in a fire last week, trapping a family with three young kids.

The father of Tamil origin put his hands together in reverence and respect towards Sinhala and Muslim brothers in Yatinuwara for saving his offspring from the raging fire that reduced to ashes his temporary dwelling and small shop.

The father Ramaraj choking with emotion said, “I believe those who saved my family are living gods,”soon after the ‘drama which in rea life’ could well have been a tragedy if not for his timely actions, came to a happy ending.

It was a ‘sign’ the country had been waiting for, after nearly three decades of bloody war and a decade of troublesome post war period. A ‘sign’ to affirm that despite all that happened in the past and coloured speeches by time serving politicians, the communities stand as one when there is a grave need, and that the feelings of brotherhood are never forgotten.

In fact the recent floods in the Northern parts proved this fact beyond doubt, before the Kandy incident, with people from all over the country getting together to supply relief goods to the flood-affected in Kilinochchi, who were mostly Tamils.

“First we heard sounds of glass being shattered as if someone was smashing things around in the Salon downstairs. I tried to have a look but was scared that I might too come under attack.A little later, my wife said there was smoke coming through the door. I opened it thinking that we might have to vacate the premises. As I opened the door a terribly hot gush of black smoke hit my face,” the heroic father, Ramaraj who saved his family through his timely actions told the Sunday Observer.

Speaking to us from his hospital bed on Thursday the thirty- six year old said, “I knew there was no way out from the stairs, I could not think straight, I opened the window and threw out the mattress that we used to sleep. My hope was to jump from the window with the family. It got stuck halfway, then I threw out the bed sheet. It was an extra -large sheet my mother bought in the Middle East.”

Ramaraj, originally from Bandarawela has been struggling to make a living for years but nothing worked. He opened a shop of rolled-gold jewellery in Bandarawela in 2010. Since he could not earn a decent income he moved to Kandy in 2013. For two years he struggled there with his business of gilding jewellery, mostly Kandyan bridal sets and returned to his hometown in 2015.

Then again in December 2017 he came back alone on the invitation of his friends who promised to find work for him.His wife stayed back with the three children as the two older sons were schooling in Bandarawela by then.

The building where his shop, ‘Raju Gold Plating’ was located and where he found temporary accommodation was owned by a relative.

“You could not possibly think of my state of mind, the older children were crying and pleading when they saw me preparing to drop them out of the window. My wife and I were in a state of panic, we knew that any moment the flames will reach our room. It was getting terribly hot. Our only hope was to save the children.”

His three children are aged eight, six and three. Ramaraj and his wife planned to shift them to a Tamil school in Kandy, because he wanted the family to live under one roof. He had got the children’s leaving certificates from their Bandarawela school a few days before and brought the family to Kandy just six hours before their harrowing experience.

“It was 1.00 am in the night when we returned. We were very tired. I woke up around 6.30 am to move my three-wheeler from where it was parked on the road. As I returned to our room I saw a man standing in the doorway of the salon, I suspected it was a burglar. He had his back to me.”

Ramraj had called several people including the building owner to tell them what he saw. Being too early in the day he could only get through to a businessman who was running a shop next to the salon. The calls were made after they heard the crashing sounds.When they were sure the building was on fire, and realised there was no escape route Ramaraj and the wife became desperate.

He had been terrified to drop the children down but the people gathered on the street below, encouraged him. “I prayed and dropped my smallest child first. And they caught him safely. Seeing this I became confident, and I dropped the second and the third children without hesitation. Those people are living gods, my family is safe because of them, I will never forget this,“ an eternally grateful Ramaraj said through tears.

The men waiting to help were ready to catch the children with their bare hands but he dropped the bedsheet, thinking that was a safer way. “Since I was too heavy to be dropped like the children, my husband climbed out of the window, he wanted me to come out,hang on to an iron pole below and then jump off. I lost my grip as I was climbing out of the window, I fell and my husband grabbed me momentarily and I landed safely, even though it was not the way he intended,” his wife, Thangawel Radika, said. She has a fractured leg. Ramaraj had surgery to remove glass splints from his hand and leg but the children did not suffer any physical injuries.

A resident of Castle Street, S.S.Nazeer who was one of the volunteers present when the children were saved said, that they were overwhelmed by the incident and about 25 people were waiting on the street to catch the children safely when Ramaraj dropped them. “We folded the bed sheet and made a safety net for them to jump,” he said describing the unexpected rescue operation.

“I don’t know when the Fire Brigade was tipped off, but the rescue operation was over when they reached the site,” Nazeer said. He was appreciative of the role played by the Army and the policemen when the incident occurred.

There is another twist to the harrowing story. The Kandy Fire Brigade came under criticism for not being there on time to douse the flames. But Lake House Kandy office colleagues who rushed to the scene within minutes said that by 7.50 a. m. the fire was completely doused by firemen. The fire had started around 7.00 a.m. Yet by the time three floors of the building was completely gutted.

The building where the family lived was connected to two streets, Castle Street and Yatinuwara Weediya. The room where the family was living, had its windows opening to Castle Street but the Fire Engine could not reach there due to a tangled mesh of telecom wires overhead – it is a sight of a tragedy in waiting. The firemen were operating from Yatinuwara Weediya. There had been only one stairway to the five storey building and the city is dotted with such unsafe office cum residential dwellings. The authorities must realise that next time the victims in such unsafe environments would not be so lucky like the young family of Ramaraj.

Ramaraj and his family who has lost all their material belongings left the hospital on Thursday and was provided temporary accommodation in a hostel run by a not-for-profit organisation in Kandy. Earlier, the family paid an emotional visit to the fire gutted building which once had been Ramaraj’s residing place, looked at the window that saved their lives and identified the charred remains of his client’s jewellery.

The investigations are still on going to ascertain whether if the fire was caused deliberately by someone or if it was an accident. The Government Annalyst’s Department officials have collected samples from the fire site for examination and the report is due shortly, the Police said.

Pix: by Ruwan Meegammana