Renewal at Nimtoli | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 15, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 15, 2011

Tangents

Renewal at Nimtoli

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Nimtoli Barber Shop 1. After Fire and 2. Rebuilt Today. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

On June 1, 2010, a deadly fire in Dhaka's Nimtoli took over 140 lives. It started when flammable chemicals stored in a garage were inadvertently heated during a cookout for an engagement dinner. This released vapours which ignited, spewing flaming chemicals and creating an inferno that engulfed several buildings and roads, trapping the victims.
The Nimtoli I knew from earlier photographic trips was a lively, happy neighbourhood. When I visited after the fire, I saw it reeling from disaster. People going about their daily lives suddenly found themselves in an ocean of pain, losing not just loved ones, but also their homes and, for many, their livelihood. I met stunned survivors and photographed the devastation.
Six months have elapsed. Wanting to see how they were faring, I returned to Nimtoli recently. I was unsure of what to expect. Would it prove resilient and, like Phoenix, rise from its ashes? Or would it buckle under the pain?
My first surprise: the burnt building where the fire originated looks new. A layer of fresh cement has replaced the charred black exterior, giving it an almost-finished look. I was told the flats will be rented out soon.
Across the street was a laundry whose blind and elderly owner had perished in the fire. His son, Mr. Arshad, has opened a Cyber Cafe in place of the laundry. That fateful evening, he had gone for a haircut leaving his father alone in the laundry. “His blindness trapped him. If only I was here I could have escorted him to safety,” he lamented.
A burned barber shop has reopened. It is doing brisk business in a shiny new interior. A grocery store across the street, where the owner and two children had died, is fully stocked once again, the dead owner's brother now running it.
Next to the grocery is a restaurant. After the fire, its pots still had held charred dal and unrecognizable curry; from its ceiling dangled the spindle of a fan whose blades had melted. Today it hums along, busily serving freshly cooked food to its customers.
A few yards from the laundry, a Bakhorkhani shop had six people inside when the fire started. They had pulled the aluminium shutter to save themselves, but it became their death trap. The house behind lost the entire family in the fire. Both shop and house wait to be restored.
I met Mr. Muslim, who lost three family members in the fire. He was lucky to have survived, but even a two-month hospital stay has not alleviated the pain from his burn wounds. Another neighbour told me proudly that chemical storage had been banned from the neighbourhood.
Thanks to help from many sources, the resilient people of Nimtoli have their livelihoods back on track. Burnt brick and concrete have been repaired, walls repainted, shops reopened. Life has found its rhythm. But... scars of the soul? They will take longer to heal.

ihtishamkabir@yahoo.com
The Daily Star

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