It has now been two years since a devastating blaze ravaged the bustling Churihatta intersection in Old Dhaka's Chawbazar

The inferno on Feb 20, 2019, claimed 71 lives and left lasting scars – both physical and psychological – on those who survived the tragedy.

The fire broke originated in Wahed Mansion, a four-storey building in Churihatta intersection before spread spreading across the neighbourhood.

The place crammed with buildings that housed plastic, perfume factories and shops storing a lot of flammable chemicals in them helped the fire to spread quickly. Some of the people were simply charred before they could realise what had happened. The fire dented shops and melted cars and rickshaws.

Saturday marks the second anniversary of the tragedy with the bereaved families set to mourn the loss of their loved ones through prayer services. But for Mohammed Liton, sleep – as elusive as it is – appears to be the only reprieve from the haunting memories of that night.

He runs a small grocer’s called ‘Lamia Store’ at the road on west side of Wahed Mansion. Having narrowly escaped with his life from the shop, he is now battling to save his livelihood.

“Even after two years, it is still very difficult to sleep. The horrors of that night flash back over and over again,” Liton said.

“I get exhausted from staying awake and that’s when the sleep comes. I can’t sleep normally while my business is not the same as before,” he added with a sigh.

On why his business is struggling, Liton explained that most of the victims of the fire were his customers while people are not visiting the area as much because Wahid Mansion is yet to reopen,

Recounting the moments leading up to the incident two years ago, Liton recalled that he was in the shop with a customer. But just as he placed his wallet on the cashbox after handing over the change, he heard a sudden, unusual noise that shook the showcase.

“Before I could realise what had happened, I saw the fire spreading rapidly,” he said.

He believes he would not have survived had he not ran away from the shop that night.
‘PAIN TO LAST A HUNDRED YEARS’

Fatematuz Zohra Brishti and Rehnuma Tarannum Dola were childhood who tragically lost their lives in the incident.

Initially, they were reported missing after the incident but later, the CID identified their bodies through DNA tests and handed over their remains to their families.

Two years on, Dola’s father Dalilur Rahman Dulal is still reeling from the pain of losing his eldest daughter. “Even in a hundred years, it won’t be possible to forget the way I lose my daughter. There was a time when I couldn’t even blink an eye but even if that has changed now, the pain in the heart won’t ease in any way.”

Brishti, who lived in Rahim Box Lane, was a student of the Child Care Department in Home Economics College. Dola, a law student at the University of Professionals, resided in Sheikh Shaheb Bazar Road.

Brishti’s mother Shamsunnahar said the family continues to live in their rented house in a bid to hold on to her memory.

"I am still staying at Haji Rahim Box Lane in Old Dhaka to cling on to the memory of my daughter.

“I can still feel her moving around the house from one room to another,” she said.

Among the 70 people killed in the fire were two brothers, Masud Rana, 38, and Mahbubur Rahman Raju, 34.

They owned the shop ‘MR Telecom Centre’ on the ground floor of Wahed Bhaban.

The brothers hailed from Ghoshkamta village in Sonaimuri, Noakhali. Raju got married just 26 days before his death and left behind an infant son, Habibur Rahman Abraz.

Elderly father Mohammad Shahbullah was kept away from the business almost by force so that he could focus on his religious faith.

But Shahbullah has now resigned himself to fate and spends his days mostly in silence. Rana’s uncle Md Rahim is loath to see his brother suffer from the pain of losing his sons at this age. As such, he mostly stays in the vicinity of Wahed Mansion while his home is a short distance away from Churihatta in Chandnighat’s KB Rudra Road.

“I look for the memories of my nephews here,” he said, adding that a prayer service will be held in front of Wahed Mansion on Saturday.

BACK TO NORMAL

Two years after the blaze, life in the Churihatta intersection has returned to normal. The streets are dotted with rickshaw and cars with the usual hubbub of traders and ordinary people.

In the morning, several fishmongers can be found in front of the fragile building north of the road opposite Wahed Mansion. The area is abuzz with people browsing the different varieties of fish on offer.

‘Sujan’, a resident, said the situation in Churihatta is the same as before. Wahed Mansion has been rebuilt and the shops could open at any time.

The old building on the northern side of the road is also being revamped.

In the morning, a large crowd can be seen at the Raj Mahal Hotel, to the east of Wahid Mansion.
Asked if the blaze from two years ago has any bearing on everyday life in Churihatta, a customer of Raj Mahal said the incident mostly affects those who lost loved ones.

Chawkbazar Police Inspector Md Kabir Hossain Hawlader said the final report on the case over the incident would be submitted ‘soon’. According to him, the report had been held up by the delays in getting a few test reports.