They held one another’s hand and waited. Not a word could reach them.
At the summit of Mantralaya, seven staff members in charge of the national flag, perched themselves to keep a vigil on the tricolour when the whole building was engulfed by raging flames.
“The flames were lashing out of the floors. Smoke billowed out of the windows, and down below on the ground, a sea of humanity had gathered. We knew the Mantralaya was empty and we were up here,” Rajendra Kanade, a flag in-charge told The Hindu.
“Protecting the flag was on our mind. We had to wait for orders, but when we thought they wouldn’t come, we took the call to take it down. Usually you need written orders to bring down the flag before the slated time, but obviously, in that situation, written orders couldn’t have come to us. Instead of allowing the disgrace of the flag getting burnt, we decided to take it down.” Mr. Kanade said.
As chaos and commotion reigned all around, a quiet little ceremony was held atop Mantralaya. As per the protocol, six persons ceremoniously folded the 14×21-feet national flag eight times, and kept it in a case in the designated room.
“We could have left, too, when we saw people rushing down, but we had to protect the flag. Had it burnt, it would have been an insult,” said another flag in-charge.
Didn’t they get scared? Where did they find the nerve?
“We were together,” said a flag in-charge. “We were giving strength to one another. Our families kept calling us on the cell, but we couldn’t attend their calls as we were constantly in touch with our supervisors. When we saw people crowding near the lift and staircases were jammed with people, we thought of our duty to the flag. It had to be done. We removed the flag to safety.”
After a three-hour wait, the employees were rescued by the fire brigade. Despite the media attention, no one from the government has made a simple phone call to appreciate the efforts of the seven members.
“In fact, we were awake the whole of Thursday night, because the next day we had to raise the flag again. We sent a colleague to buy a flag and hoisted it in the Secretariat premises on Friday morning,” said a flag in-charge.
Though the Mantralaya’s ravaged edifice stands abandoned, it retains a measure of dignity thanks to the exemplary sense of duty of the seven caretakers.
Keywords: Mantralaya fire tragedy
Article source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article3563444.ece