Astroworld: ‘People were running around, kids were crying, people were barefoot’

Ritu Jha-

Bhagu Shahani, father of Bharti, who died in the Astroworld tragedy, tells the worst story a father can tell

“She was like my son. I used to call her Guddu. She was my Guddu.”

Bharti(left) with her mother Karishma, sister Ria and Namrata and her father Bhagu’Sunny’ Shahani. Photo courtesy: Shahani family.

That was Bhagu “Sunny” Shahani, father of Bharti Shahani, one of the nine people who died when the crowd ran amok at the Travis Scott concert at the Astroworld Festival held at NGR Park in Houston, Texas, November 10.

Shahani told indica that, like any father, he was concerned about her daughters’ first visit to a concert. Bharti, 22, was the eldest daughter in the Shahani’s family, one loved and pampered as the
first child.

As Shahani put it, she was chubby, loved chocolates, cookies, and her husky dog Blue. She was soft at heart and spoke fluent Sindhi, thanks to her grandparents, who used to take care of her while her parents were at work. Bharti was also a student close to graduating from the Texas A&M University.

Shahani, 59, came to the U.S. a year after his parents and seven sisters migrated in 1989, from Gandhidham in Kutch, Gujarat. Then 30, he had left a job as a customs agent, and had difficulty finding a job until he was hired by an Indian in the garment business who mentored him to set up his own venture.

Shahani said that Mohit, Bharti’s first cousin, had attended the festival twice before. Fans of the singers who performed, the cousins finally bought tickets for $430 each two months before the event. They also booked a hotel nearby to avoid the crowds after the concert ended late at night.

Shahani paused for a moment as he described his concern as he saw on television the crowd breaking through the VIP gate. That was around 2 p.m.

“That was the indication for them [the festival organizers] to cancel the concert,” Shahani said. “Lots of people without tickets were entering the show, and I called my daughter to tell her again not to go. She said ‘Daddy, we will go later.’ They left the hotel around 4 p.m. and walked to the concert at 6 p.m. She called to say she was going inside, that they she, Mohit and her younger sister Namrata] were eating pizza for dinner and that it will be tough to talk once inside the stadium.”

“Whatever you want, we can text message,” she wrote, to assuage his concerns.

After the first show, at 7:45 p.m, she texted again to say they were fine while waiting for the next artist to come on, and that they hoped to be out by 10:15 p.m. at which time she would call him again.

That was the last word they had from Bharti.

Even when Bharti texted to reassure them at 7:45 p.m., Shahani said the family was concerned. He and his wife returned from work, had dinner at 9:30 p.m. and dropped their youngest daughter Ria at Mohit’s place since his mother was alone there, his dad being in India.

Bharti loved dogs, but though she used to take care of Blue, that day Shahani boiled chicken to feed him.

As Shahani described it, “It was around 10:45 pm while I was feeding Blue that Namrata called my wife, saying, ‘Mom, I lost my phone. Bharti’s phone is ringing but she is not picking up…. It’s too crowded and people are pushing each other.’ She could not remember Mohit’s number.”

Sunny was speaking on with deliberate calm, but he paused as he added, “They… all three got separated.”

He called Mohit and made it a three-way call with Namrata to ensure the cousins got together.

Namrata, injured in the leg and whose neck has been choked in the melee, was taking medication.

The cousins told him they were right at the back, and nowhere near the stage where the crowd was most volatile. They had recorded a clip on video that showed where they stood.

Shahani left home in his shorts, but heavy traffic made the 30-minute drive to the stadium last more than an hour and a half.

“Kids were running on the street, I can’t even forget that night,” he said.

At the stadium, Shahani was bereft.

“We kept looking for her and asking the officers,” he said “They asked us to search at the medical camp. I was not able to find the camp,” Blinded by worry and fear, Shahani asked them where it was, and the officers assured him that his daughter would get back to him.

“We were going crazy… [We had] wild thoughts. She was lost… or in the hands of somebody… We hear so many bad things,” Shahani said.

“The whole atmosphere (at the stadium) was scary,” he said. “I cannot forget it. People were running around, kids were crying, people were barefoot. Both my daughters lost their shoes and cell phones.”

As an afterthought, he added vaguely, “Luckily, her purse was there since she carried it across the shoulder. That was there.”

“I found her in hospital at 2.30 a.m.,” Shahani said. “After that text at 7:45 p.m. we never spoke…..”

His daughter was bleeding, brain dead, and on a ventilator at the Houston Methodist Hospital. She had suffered multiple heart attacks from the trauma she had endured.

Sounding angry about the way the concert was managed, Shahani pointed out that while there were more than 50,000 people at the event, there were only 750 security guards to manage the crowd.

“My daughter [Namrata] saw one of the guys giving CPR to a person, and he was pressing the stomach instead of the chest. It was a completely mismanaged concert,” Shahani said.

He also described how he had tried to dissuade Bharti from going.

“`I told her to sell you a ticket, ‘and you buy what you want,’” Shahani said. “But she said, no, we want to go. Bharti promised she would not go to any more concerts. [It was] the first time she had asked, so we let her,” Sunny said, adding that his children were generally conservative.

“My daughters had all the Indian sanskars,” he said.

Shahani has also filed a $20 million case that has “Bharti Shahani” as plaintiff against the promoter of the Astroworld Festival, Live Host Entertainment, Mark Miller (the general manager of NRG
Park), and performer Travis Scott.

According to court documents, at the Astroworld Festival in 2019, a similar lack of crowd control had resulted in fans breaching security barriers and trampling over one another, resulting in injuries.