An evening of chaos among
By Lakna Paranamanna
It was Friday, February 20, 2009. To be precise, it was the
second launch day of the Colombo Fashion Week (CFW) 2009.
Assigned to cover the event, along with my colleague Nizla, I
was making my way to the venue, Taj Samudra. The ride from
office to Taj, which usually takes only about 10 minutes, took
nearly 30 minutes that day, due to intensive checking, and also
with a new driver who was completely lost in the roads of
Colombo. Once he got onto the streets, he was clueless, with
absolutely no sense of direction. Great! A ride around Colombo
was exactly what we needed to catch up with the already delayed
Somehow, after an ample energy waste of shouting, rolling eyes
and clenching teeth, to direct him onto the correct roads, we
finally arrived at the lobby of Taj Samudra. Forgetting the
tedious drive, we made our way through the crowd gathered.
Bright lights that lit up the lobby were not as bright as the
stars that graced the occasion. Some of the most prominent
personalities of the Fashion Industry, including Bibi Russell,
Manoviraj Khosla and Shoba De were present, along with some
local stars. The rest of the participants, most of them members
of Colombo’s social elite decked in their lovely outfits,
adorned with sparkling stones, looking flawless as ever.
The event was held at the Samudra Ballroom (location –rooftop).
We entered the hall, gleaming in dark blue lights, loud music
was booming away from the back of the hall, and the catwalk on
which would feature the lovely collections of these fashionistas,
stood right in the middle, quite prominently. We hurriedly
grabbed our prestigious seats saved for the local media, located
right in front facing the catwalk. The fashion enthusiasts
gathered, embracing and mingling with each other, and gradually
the seats were filled.
The event commenced, and a sudden stillness fell over the
audience. The music livened up; booming louder than ever, the
cameras clicked away sending out bright flashes in the darkness.
The event heated up as, one by one, the models festooned the
catwalk, featuring the most exclusive designs of pure, supple
silks and richly coloured chiffons, decked with sequins and
stones, plunging necklines and beautifully tapered gowns,
stylish shirts and contrasting ties.
Suddenly, just as the show was reaching its climax, it came to a
halt; the music stopped, lights went out casting the hall ink
black, and the models stood still on the catwalk. The stillness
of the crowds stirred, whispers popped from here and there in
the room. “What the hell is happening?” I asked from Nizla. As
my eyes got accustomed to the darkness, I could see Nizla’s
face, she looked lost and looked around at the pitch black room,
hoping for a rational explanation to pop up. Just then, we
noticed that the power cut was not only in the hotel, but the
surroundings were dark too, since not a single light was to be
spotted outside. The whispers gradually built into a buzz of
voices, when someone from the crowd announced, “Please do not
worry. There seems to be a blackout in all of Colombo, as a
precautionary move taken by the Defence Ministry to ensure the
safety of the city.” Some heaved a sigh, but some others
continued their discussions. Somehow, I did not want to believe
that it was only a precautionary measure. “I think something’s
on,” I whispered to Nizla, she nodded. “Ah, I can feel the A/C
now,” began the announcer, indicating that the power was
returning. The show resumed; ‘Oh well, it was nothing….’ I
Not even half-an-hour passed, the power went out again. “Oh, oh…
not good,” I said turning to Nizla, giggling. But my giggle was
not for long, ‘BOOM’, the entire hotel shuddered and the glass
rattled. “WHAT WAS THAT?” the crowd that was still, suddenly
started screaming and jumping up from their seats, headed
towards the elevator. Unable to figure out what was going on,
Nizla and I held hands, afraid of getting lost in the stampede.
Now, the firing of guns was audible, which triggered panic. We
were swept along by the crowd pushing towards the elevator.
“Let’s get to the fire exit. It is dangerous to go in the
elevator now,” I suggested, to which my companion readily
agreed. So we headed to the fire exit. It was thronged with
people trying to get downstairs. Some were arguing whether to
take the elevator or the stairs, some others were busy on their
mobile phones trying to get details of what was happening out
there, and others looked terrified, almost on the verge of
tears. Making our way through the endless hullabaloo, we slowly
started descending the stairs at tortoise speed, as it was pitch
black and the display lights of the mobile phones was the only
source of light that provided a sense of direction.
We both heaved a sigh of relief as we stepped onto the ground
floor, where some of the employees were holding candles to light
the way. We headed to the lobby which was dark, except for the
light from a few candles lit here and there. The lovely area I
saw about an hour back dazzling with lights, was now overcrowded
with people and suddenly seemed wee. The crowds that were
adorned in the loveliest of outfits were looking distressed and
disturbed, their hair messed up and the outfits ruffled.
The heat became unbearable and pespiration started dripping from
our faces. I took out my notebook and started fanning myself.
After answering the endless stream of calls from concerned
family and friends, we hovered around, trying to locate a place
to sit down and rest our feet. “Galadari is on fire! I saw it
with my own eyes, it is on fire!” said a model, coming between
Nizla and me, still wearing the shades (which was part of his
outfit before), his eyes open wide with fear. “No, it cannot be.
One of our friends called from Galadari and she seemed perfectly
unharmed. Must be some place else,” I responded. He nodded like
a zombie and turned back to his friends, who were consoling some
of their friends. On the other corner, another astounded looking
designer kept on repeating, “I feel very uncomfortable here. Can
we go to the basement?” Nizla, the kind soul, gave her
sympathetic glances, but knowing that there was nothing anyone
could possibly do to help this situation, simultaneously found
it very funny.
Gradually the blackout and the sudden explosion became evident.
Two LTTE aircrafts had entered the city of Colombo and thus the
defence system was alerted. A building in Colombo had been
damaged as a plane had crashed into it. Sensing safety, we both
resumed our hunt for a place to sit until the electricity came
back. We wanted to head home, now that hopes of enjoying the
most awaited collections of Bibi Russell and Shobha De was
crashed. Eventually, the power returned, the roads were cleared
and vehicles were allowed in and we headed home after an
unexpected, frantic, but unforgettable experience.
Yes, the experience was heart-stopping and frantic. I was
expecting to enjoy the most happening Fashion event of the year,
and ended up experiencing a moment that I might not have lived
to tell, if things had been different. It is surprising, the
fact that I remained calm, when everyone else was panicking,
because I am usually the one that panics for the slightest
cause. Whether it was because I never grasped the gravity of the
situation or whether it was because my inner mind had realised
that there was no point in panicking, that I remained calm, I do
not know to this day.
However, it is important that people are educated on how to
manage similar situations, and learn not to panic, because it is
imperative to realise that panicking cannot help in any way, but
worsen the situation and cause further damage.