Ravaged by fire, buried in despair | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 18, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:50 AM, August 18, 2019

Ravaged by fire, buried in despair

The scenes at Chalantika slum resemble those from a wasteland in a dystopia.

Surrounded by tall buildings in a strange juxtaposition of the sheltered and ones that are not, thousands of people pick through the remains of what used to be their entire lives, salvaging charred valuables and fragments of once-happy memories. 

Friday night’s fire in Mirpur’s Chalantika slum did not just raze houses, it engulfed the dreams of a people, most of them marginalised. 

Soheli Begum, in her 50s, came to the slum in Dhaka around 27 years ago with her husband and four children. They were picking up their lives after their home in Bhola was eroded by the river.

Hard work changed their luck and despite the loss of her husband a decade and a half ago, Soheli felt that she was ready to beat all odds. 

But one single fire took away everything they had, including their prized possessions such as the grocery shop Soheli used to run, two fridges, a television, a showcase, almirahs and whatever cash they barely managed to save.

“I have grown old. All our savings are gone. Now how will my family survive?” Soheli said. 

Of the around 3,000 families affected according to locals, the anxiety over what the future may hold is shared by almost every one of them. 

Three siblings -- Dulal, 55, Rafique, 40 and Liton, 35 -- who arrived at the slum from Barguna 30 years back, had just begun seeing better days.

Dulal used to work as a carpenter with his father Salam Musalli. Later, the three joined the same profession and built three shanties of their own.

Days before Eid-ul-Azha on Monday, all three brothers put new corrugated tins worth around Tk 20,000 on their houses. The shiny new additions were something that reminded them of how far they had come. 

But within days, the last vestige of their successful struggle turned to ashes.

“I loaned money from people. How will I pay them back now? Where will we even stay?” Dulal, who had a sleepless night, said.

He was still staring at the burnt remains of what once was their home. 

Md Mamun, 30, a garbage van puller, had lived there since childhood. He said he had furniture worth around Tk 60,000 in his two rented rooms, where he lived with his wife and two-and-half-year-old son.

He sold the charred remains of his belongings at Tk 1,200 to a scrap collector.

“I still feel blessed that we are alive and could come out of the devastating blaze,” Mamun said.

 

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