KARACHI: Tariq sits in an empty plot, which reeks of ash, amid charred remains of bamboo, melted drums meant to hold water and trunks, while clothes lay strewn about. Wearing a somber look, he is oblivious to what is happening around him, instead stares at a half-burnt bat.
“This was the bat that Sarfaraz and I would fight over,” he says, clutching the bat tightly. “Not anymore,” he whispers.
An elderly woman, a newly-wed woman, a seven-year-old boy and two teenagers — a boy and a girl — were burnt to death when a fire broke out in their make-shift abodes in Block 2 of Gulistan-e-Jauhar on Thursday evening. The shanties were located on a vacant 600-square-yard plot. According to witnesses and fire department officials, the fire erupted in one of the huts and spread so quickly that the residents had barely any time to react.
Tariq remembers how he ran towards the huts to save his friends and family and arranged water to extinguish the fire. “All my efforts were in vain,” he laments. “If only the fire brigade had arrived on time, lives could have been saved,” he criticises.
Minutes after the first fire erupted, another blaze started at the shanty town in Block-8 of Gulistan-e-Jauhar, destroying at least 35 huts and wounding three occupants. Yet another fire broke out in Block-7 of Gulistan-e-Jauhar, destroying three huts.
Sadiq, 26, also standing at one corner of the plot looks fanatically at the charred land, holding the ashy remains of Rs50,000 cash and jewellery, bound together by a piece of cloth.
“Fire has taken away everything,” he says. “My cousins have died.” He says that they had been living in the plot for 13 years and no one ever asked them to vacate it.
Showing the burnt currency notes and gold and silver ornaments, which, according to him, were worth Rs200,000, he urged the government to at least exchange the burnt currency bills and provide them with new ones. “This would at least provide us a bit of solace,” he says.
Gesturing towards the remains of a burned hen, he says that their six hens and one goat also burned to death in the incident. The next day when the sun rose, the family members searched through the debris and found a human limb.
He says the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) officials came but did not even help them clean the place. The bodies, according to him, have been moved to Rahim Yar Khan in a bus, arranged by the KMC, but some pieces of the bodies are still here.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2015.