A fiery campus romance

How’s this for a campus Valentines Day story? Sumbul Sarwan was a writing and philosophy student at Manchester Metropolitan University, in a little village called Alsagia where there was little more to do than ‘drink at the pub’ or ‘hang out at the graveyard’.

She and her posse of five boys and five girls lived on campus in the halls of residence. Everyone in the group was single on Valentines Day, in the year 2000.

One of the boys, Gully, mysteriously requested all the girls hand over their dorm room keys. Suspecting trouble, Sumbal initially refused before eventually handing it over after lobbying from one of the females in the group.

Gully hung back while the group embarked on the familiar trek to the pub where the proceeded to indulge themselves prolifically. They were all very much well on the way when Sumbul received a phone call.

“My friend rang me and said my rooms on fire – I was so tipsy I just started laughing.”

Not believing it for a second, Sumbal and her friends continued to indulge for a further 10 or so minutes until fire engines roared past the pub.

“We all just looked at each other,” she says.

Upon hurriedly returning to campus, she sent into ‘complete meltdown’ when she realised that he room was, indeed, engulfed in flame. All of Sumbal’s work for the entire year had been destroyed, along with her furniture and many irreplaceable personal items.

Gully, with the best of intentions, had placed a lit candle, a card and a rose on the chair in each of the girl’s bedrooms. This had somehow ignited the many colourful yet flammable materials Sumbal had used to decorate her dorm room (she was a ‘bit of a hippy’ in her student days).

“The room was burnt to a crisp. From the outside you could see it… smoke flames and everything was charred. The windows were smashed through.”

Luckily for the arsonist, the victim had a kind and forgiving nature.

“Gully was crying his eyes out. I couldn’t even shout at him. I just looked at him and gave him a cuddle.

“It was a lovely gesture. Even now (15 years later) he’s still mortified.”

But all’s well that ends well. Luckily, Sumbal’s parent’s insurance policy paid out £10,000, which she used to buy a car and pay off her student loan.

A year later, the arsonist and the victim started dating.