| A survivor at the Uluberia Sub-divisional Hospital on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Baripada, Jan. 29: Navratan Bothra was asked to identify a mangled heap of bones and charred flesh at the stadium here today. It could be his father.
As flames from the two pyres at Barauni Ghat leapt to kiss the sky, Bothra tried hard — to recognise his father, to not break into tears.
When the body of Mangatram Bothra was torched at the mass cremation, his 20-year-old college-going son finally broke down.
Mangatram was among the 37 killed when a Calcutta-bound bus from the town hit a vehicle laden with paints in Panchla on National Highway 6 yesterday, burst into flames and plunged into a ditch.
In 30 minutes, the bus was consumed. Little remained of it and the death-trapped passengers. Only 13 people survived.
“He was supposed to travel to Howrah on Sunday night to purchase readymade clothes for his shop at the busy Barrabazar area of the town. He postponed his plan because of the strike called by the SUCI on Monday,” said Mangatram’s brother, Prakash.
One by one, 28 bodies were lit in the two pyres. A sea of humanity had silently followed the shrouded, marigold-draped bodies in three trucks from Baripada stadium to Barauni Ghat.
Two-year-old Anjana Bindhani and 42-year-old Mangatram Bothra had their second encounter with a blaze in two days — one in life, the other in death.
At the far end of the ghat, six-year-old Chandrika Mohanty was still trying to comprehend why she could not see her father again. The seniors in her family were still not sure whether what went to the pyre was the body of Ajay, a dealer in automobile spares.
Mohanty’s wife, Annapurna, passed out as the charred body was lifted on the pyre. He was the lone bread-earner in the family.
“The town is grieving today,” said Pratap Biswas, a trader who lent a hand in burning the dead, many of who were his colleagues. There was a spontaneous bandh in the town. Even the North Orissa Electricity Supply Company didn’t enforce the mandatory 90-minute load-shedding this evening.
Kisan Agrawalla didn’t shed a tear when the body of his nephew, Binay Sonthalia, 20, was brought to the stadium. Agrawalla, too, was not sure if what he was seeing was Binay.
“Half body ho gaya. Kitna lamba tha. (He was so tall. His body has shrunk),” Agrawalla said disbelievingly.
Like most of the passengers headed for Calcutta in the ill-fated bus that left the town well past 11 on Monday night, Binay was a garment trader going to the weekly Mangla haat in Howrah to buy clothes.
“He had started just two years ago,” said one of his cousins.
The Modis left early. Cousins Chinmay, 25, and Anil, 23, were seated side by side in the bus. They grew up together and refused to part ways in death.
Bus driver serious
Relatives claimed 34 bodies from the morgue at Howrah General Hospital today, says a staff reporter.
Officials said three bodies were still lying unclaimed.
The driver of the bus, Achyutananda Sarangi, who was shifted to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital from Howrah general last night, was said to be in a critical state. The condition of the 12 admitted to the Uluberia Sub-divisional Hospital is improving, the Howrah administration said today. A team of specialists has been sent to the Uluberia hospital.
Though the district administration had called off the search operation yesterday itself, the local people did not relent. By this evening, they had recovered three burnt bones and tit bits.