Amid the charred remains of what used to be his home, a desperate 14-year-old searches for his belongings. His face grim and his hands shaking. Just two days ago, he had filled the form for Class X board exam, which is likely to be held in June this year.
“I lost that form, my admit card and books everything,” says Rahul Bhuiya with his voice trembling.
“First it was pandemic and now this fire. I don’t know how will I manage to cope up with this loss. I don’t know from where to arrange books. I have lost all my notes too,” he says.
Rahul, a student of Bagbazar High School in Kolkata, lost his home in Wednesday night fire that engulfed the entire slum, leaving over 100 families homeless in few hours.
“I was playing a game on my mobile phone when suddenly I saw smoke billowing out of one of the house. Before I could crossroad, the fire had spread and cylinders started exploding. Today, when we were allowed to go inside, we could find nothing but ashes,” he says. His father, Sukumar Bhuiyan, is suffering from a kidney ailment and is admitted at RG Kar Hospital for the past two months.
Rahul was not the only one desperately looking for their belongings in the pile of charred rubble.
Located on Kshirode Vidyavinode Avenue beside the Bagbazar Women’s College near Chitpore Lock Gate Bridge, the slum that housed 107 families looks like a wasteland with torched walls of a handful of houses standing. There were exploded cans of LPG cylinders strewn around and a bunch of utensils.
“I have lived here all my life. My son has three daughters. All the gold jewellery that we had saved for their marriage have been lost. We can’t think of starting our life again from scratch. I cried whole night thinking about our dark future,” says a sobbing 60-year-old Sarati Mondal.
According to Sarati, she was watching TV with her nine-year-old granddaughter Sushmita sleeping on her side when the fire broke out.
Susmita is suffering from fever for the last few days. Her mother had consulted a doctor and bought medicines but now she has requested the local volunteers to arrange the medicines for her daughter as they have no money to buy them.
“I was playing outside the home when suddenly there was a loud noise of a cylinder blast. The fire was gulping everything it could, and the high flames and smoke covered the whole sky. I had never seen such a sight in my life. When I saw my sister, I was relieved that she was unhurt,” says 11-year- old Pallavi Das.
The slum dwellers used everything they could to douse the fire.
“The fire left nothing. It took me nearly three years to save Rs 30,000, and after lockdown, I was worried since my husband had no work for a long time. I stand here today without a single rupee. Thankfully, my two children are fine. But now life seems even more difficult than death,” a grief-stricken Uma Gayen says.
Though the cause of the fire has not been ascertained, residents suspect sabotage behind the blaze.
“This slum is here for more than 50 years. We had received threats from several promoters to vacate the place in the past. There could be a conspiracy behind the fire,” says Kakoli Payen standing amid the debris of her house.
Though the state government has arranged a temporary shelter for them at the adjoining college campus and volunteers have been providing them with food and clothes but the slum dwellers are anxious staring at the bleak future.
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