An evening of chaos among fashionistas

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 time.

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 thought.

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.