Dipped in Witriol
Was the big fire in Mantralaya, the headquarters of the Maharashtra Government in Mumbai, an accident or sabotage? Several TV news channels were quick to allege (on the day the fire broke out on June 21) that it was the handiwork of the State government which wanted several files of the Adarsh Housing Society scam kept in the offices of the Urban Development Department oxidized to cinder. Were the journalists merely adding two plus two to arrive at such a bizarre conclusion or was there more to it than conjecture? A diary seized by the state CID from a young lady in Colaba (“of very much elegant (sic)” as the inspector noted in his report) has some startling revelations. So, over to the diary:
Thursday, June 21: This is the first time that I am putting my thoughts on paper. So I guess I must introduce myself. I am Short Circuit. In Electricity Land they call me Pagal Bijlee (Ms. Mad Electricity) because I’m the one held responsible for most mishaps, including fires. I guess I have the habit of creating paths of least resistance in a circuit leading to a surge of current from one point to the other causing a high generation of heat which can sometimes have dangerous fallout. But why blame me? Blame the bijlee.
Anyway, I started this afternoon in a foul mood. I had taken on the persona of a 20-something girl (I can change my body and shape at will) and had gone for a drink at one of those bars near where I stay as a paying guest in Colaba. I had asked for a Vodka and fresh lime but was served a lime cordial with soda minus any alcohol. I left in a huff and walked towards Nariman Point for no rhyme, filmy song, or reason. Anyway, passing by Mantralaya I saw one of those wires on the fourth floor, a horrendous street-side Romeo-type you see in movies, trying to draw my attention with a series of wolf whistles. I thought I must teach this male chauvinist pig a lesson and walked into the building and lured him down a path of low resistance. What transpired is what you have been seeing on TV. I’m sure it will be in tomorrow morning’s papers too.
Once I saw the fire had broken out, I caught a cab back home. I felt my anger recede as I sat next to my favourite plug point and heard Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix all over again since it soothes my nerves. I was almost dozing off when the phone rang. It was Rustum, a bijlee meter from the other end of Colaba. “Hey Pagal, you know that journalist buddy of mine who interviewed me for that expose on how ministers pay less and consume more power, wants to desperately meet you. I guess it must be about that fire in Mantralaya. Can you meet him for coffee at Shamiana, the restaurant at the Taj?” I looked at my watch. Shucks! It was 4 and time for tea and scones. I told Rustum I would meet his friend in half an hour.
I quickly slipped into my Thursday best and sauntered across to the Taj. In the distance I could see smoke billowing out of the Mantralaya building. I wondered if I had gone overboard. But what the heck, that cheap guy who fancied he was a live wire had it coming! Anyway, that aside, I looked forward to my chai and some story telling…
Rustum’s friend was exactly what I expected him to be--a gullible bespectacled man who is thrown off guard by young women. “Miss Pagal,” he said effusively, “I’m so glad you have come! I think you will make my day.” I assured him I would try my best to help.
Like all journalists he seemed to be a man in a hurry and desperately in search of conspiracy theories. “Miss Pagal,” he said in a conspiratorial tone, “Was the fire an accident or sabotage?” I admitted that it was sabotage and I was saying the truth. The only thing I kept back was the fact that I was solely behind the act since I didn’t want TV channels and the press to flash the news that Pagal Bijlee enticed an innocent wire by offering low resistance and burnt down three floors of the Mantralaya.
Thankfully, such a possibility eluded Mr. Gullible who wrote sabotage in capitals in his note pad. “Madam,” he said underlining the S word twice, “Can you tell me who was behind this err… sabotage?”
“The government. Who else?” I said keeping a straight face.
“You mean Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan organised the fire!”
“No. It’s not the CM, but somebody who wanted files of the Adarsh scam destroyed. They set a fire to raze a file.” I sure was beginning to enjoy this.
“Miss Pagal, can I quote you on this,” Mr. G said like a typical hack.
“No you can’t. But you can say that when contacted I expressed shock at what happened at Mantralaya. Also, I believe the building needed a makeover and that will have to happen now. So, there are some positives.”
The gentleman sitting across the table religiously took the quotable quote down. “Some builder will surely benefit from all this…” he said thinking aloud.
“Builders build, and, fires often build them,” I remarked cryptically and downed my tea. I then bid him farewell but not before reminding him to share the sabotage angle with friends in the media.
When I reached home I switched on the TV. My conspiracy theory was already making news and had electrified the coverage of the fire. Debates and discussions followed. I was thrilled no end!
Rustum rung up and congratulated me for spinning such a fantastic yarn. I tried to play it down by pointing out that reporters are always looking for something new to say—a new angle. “You see, Rustum, what they need is a very good story,” Incidentally, cooking up tall tales has been my forte ever since I was a chit of a circuit…