It used to be a booming market in Burrabazar, but today there is hardly any sign of business activity. The Jenana Bari, at the rear of the building, was the permanent address of 40 families. But the happy homes have given way to makeshift arrangements, and instead of the domestic hustle-bustle, a strange silence engulfs the place.
Life has changed completely in Ludhiana Building, on 171/A, Mahatma Gandhi Road, in the past four months since the December 21 fire gutted hundreds of shops and damaged the residential part of the building. Umesh Sharma, who lost his job and home in the flames, is still in search of a job and a roof overhead for his family. “Kahin kuch baat hi nahi ban rahi hai,” he laments, on a lazy April afternoon. Sharma and his family still live in the building.
Sharma doesn’t have a clue to his future. Similarly, a cloud of confusion shrouds the future of the fire-ravaged building, with burnt electric wires dangling and damaged iron beams jutting out dangerously from the ceilings and walls.
“We don’t know whether the building will be repaired or reconstructed,” adds Sharma. In the past four months, the authorities have done nothing, except declaring the building unsafe and bringing out a report on what caused the fire.
“They didn’t even clear the debris. Since we come here regularly and spend some time in the building, we are doing it on our own,” said Ram Ratan Singhania, who had a telephone booth in the building. He also criticised police for not initiating any action against Diptimal Agarwal, the landlord. “Everyone knows he set the building on fire. The fire department’s report also mentioned that, but Agarwal is still scot-free,” he added.
The apathy has resulted in defiance, and both traders and residents are back in the fire-ravaged building. Despite the warnings from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, four shops in the front of the building have reopened and six families — with no other place to go — are staying on, without electricity and water, in the building.
“How long can I survive without work' Besides, the new academic session starts now, and books will be in demand. So, I had to open shop again,” says Praveen Mehrotra, a shopowner. The middle-aged trader lost everything in the fire but since the state fire department is yet to give him a certificate, he can’t submit his claim for insurance. “I arranged some money to start afresh. But there is hardly any business, as we have lost our customers to other markets,” he added.
The hosiery trade — for which the building is known — is also affected. “Koi dhanda nahi hai, sir. Kya karen'” said the man at the counter of Quality Manufacturing.