Indian playback singer left room where daughter was watching TV for just a few minutes to take a shower but the child opened a door and wandered outside to pool where she drowned, says family friend.
KS Chitra's daughter died 'within minutes'
What happened next left thousands of the popular Indian playback singer's fans in mourning for the eight-year-old girl, who drowned on Thursday after wandering outside the private villa at Emirates Hills where they were staying, and falling into a swimming pool.
"The bedroom door, which leads to the swimming pool, was closed but not locked," said Deepak Dev, a well-known music director and the family's neighbour in Chennai, who heard the tragic story from Chitra. "She opened the door and let herself out.
"She was very fond of the water and has apparently gone swimming in that pool several times in the past, whenever they stayed at the friend's place. Somebody was always there to watch over," he said.
"But this time, nobody noticed her approaching the pool. Chitra told us that everything happened in a span of 10 minutes," said Mr Dev, who has known the family for the past 10 years and has worked with the singer on many occasions.
KS Chitra's daughter drowns in Dubai pool
KS Chitra daughter's drowning promts pool warnings
"She is slowly recovering from the accident and is accepting the facts. She has finally started eating again. But I doubt she'll be the same person again," he said.
He described Nandana, a child with special needs, as an "affectionate" and endearing girl who quickly won hearts.
"I have known her since she was born. Her qualities brought her close to everyone. Chitra had dedicated her life to the child and always wanted a normal upbringing for her," he said.
It was apparently too late to save Nandana after she was pulled out of the pool.
When the child arrived at the hospital in Jebel Ali where she was taken, her lungs were full of water, the hospital said yesterday in a statement.
"When the drowned child arrived at our emergency room at 10am, she was already dead," Prof Dr Guenther Kieninger, the medical director of Cedars Jebel Ali International Hospital, said in a press statement yesterday.
"There was cardiac arrest and no breathing. The pupils were maximally dilated and showed no reaction to light, proving cerebral death. Putting a tube into the windpipe revealed lungs full of water," Dr Kieninger said.
The family had arrived in the Emirates with Chitra, who was scheduled to perform at a tribute concert, A R Rahman Special Hits, in Sharjah last Thursday evening. The family had opted to stay at the villa instead of a hotel in Bur Dubai, where the organisers had lodged other singers. Chitra and her husband, Vijaya Shankar, flew back to India with their daughter's body on Thursday night, after the Indian consulate helped complete the necessary formalities.
The funeral took place on Friday.
Thousands of fans, friends, relatives and members of the Indian film fraternity arrived at the singer's residence, named Shruthi, to pay their respects to the inconsolable mother.
Social networking sites were full of condolence messages for the singer, who had given birth to Nandana after several years of marriage.
Although she did not perform at the Thursday concert, other singers - A?R Rahman's sisters, Hariharan, Naresh Iyer, Sadhna Sargam and Benny Dayal - went ahead as scheduled. As a tribute to Nandana, the troupe offered a silent prayer before performing at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
The concert, however, was not well attended. "Many people thought the show had been cancelled," said Rashmi Vijayan, who attended the concert. "There were a lot of empty chairs. Playback singer Hariharan spoke about the incident and said all the singers had been through a trying day. The show was incomplete without Chitra, and her absence was felt that evening."
Sha Mohammed, the creative director of Media Factory, the show's organisers, said: "There was some confusion and the turnout was lesser than expected."
The company had received numerous calls before the concert to inquire if the show was on schedule.
Heralded as the "nightingale of South India" because of her melodious voice, Chitra has lent her voice to over 10 Indian languages and has recorded more than 15,000 songs.
She has received six national film awards from the Indian government and several other film awards. Chitra began her music career in 1983.