The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hopeless day, endless night
- Relief elusive, tragedy bonds shopowners with residents

For shopowners at Satyanarayan Park AC Market, clinging on to strands of hope of salvaging their means of livelihood, it was a long day’s journey into a night with no end.

Deepak Soni was one of them. He hadn’t had a bite or caught a wink since Tuesday morning. Desperate to figure out whether his two jewellery shops, on the upper basement of the underground market, had survived the blaze, Soni was seen pleading with some fire-fighters, around 11.30 pm on Tuesday, to let him enter the underground furnace.

Finally, at 5.30 am, Soni managed to descend to the upper basement, accompanied by firemen, and see for himself the devastation. “I have lost everything. There is no point in going home now. I will stay here till the end,” he mumbled, pacing up and down the dug-up park.

This was 30 hours after the fire was first detected and another day devoid of relief. Another night with no rest yawned ahead.

Just like Tuesday night, when the 300-odd shopowners, with friends and family, kept vigil by the park. Defying the billowing smoke that hid the starlit April sky, Rajesh Goel, owner of Garima Boutique, “official designer of several beauty pageants”, stood by the air-conditioning plant, exhorting the fire-fighters to turn the pipes towards it. “If the AC ducts helped spread the flames so fast, the same ducts will carry water to the shops inside. Why don’t you flood the AC plant with water'” pleaded Goel. Early on Wednesday, the fire-fighters finally obliged.

But long before that, Goel, a resident of Lake Town, and a few other shopowners had swung into action. At around 1 am, they grabbed some bamboo poles and began smashing away at a portion of the air-handling unit on the rooftop garden. “The firemen do not have the equipment, we must help them create more openings,” they declared.

It was not just the shopowners who spent a sleepless night. The thick smoke over the area and the futile fire-fight kept residents of Kalakar Street, Cotton Street and Burtolla Street wide awake. “My five-year-old daughter was coughing till 2 in the morning. We could not shut the windows, as it was so hot,” said Swati Gupta, of Burtolla Street.

At about 3.30 am, Ashok Agarwal, owner of Pradhan Vatika, on the upper basement, managed to reach his shop, which had “miraculously survived” the blaze. “There was very little smoke then, but after 6 am, the smoke started thickening again,” he said, wondering what fate would befall his shop the day after.

People tried to pitch in by distributing roti, achaar and sabzi among the shopowners. “No one in and around Satyanarayan Park market will sleep for the next few nights,” said Mohan Agarwal. “So, we must help keep each other going through this ordeal.”

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