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WHEN A MASSIVE FIRE ERUPTED at Mantralaya, the headquarters of the Maharashtra state government in Mumbai, shortly before 3 pm on 21 June, national news channels interrupted their broadcasts with live coverage of the blaze. Producers at Times Now, which calls itself “India’s most-watched English news channel”, borrowed footage from a Hindi channel until their broadcast vans reached the place at 3.20 pm, and the channel’s reporters and cameramen began to record pictures and describe the scene. A jittery camera found frightened people inching away from blazing windows on a ledge high above. A man dressed in white, just out of reach of the firemen, swung down from an air conditioner’s holding cage, put one foot on an open window frame a floor below, and gingerly reached out to another window, a few feet away, with the toes of his other foot. Nothing but the ground lay beneath. His desperate bid to stay alive replayed every few minutes, looped on a split screen alongside live images of the spreading flames.
Rahul Bhatia is a reporter. He previously worked for Open magazine, Mint, ESPN Cricinfo and The Caravan, among other places, and his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal.