Dharavi may have lost its ignoble status of being Asia’s largest slum but it still hosts the hazards that a chaotic mass of shacks leaning in on each other pose to the safety of its residents.After 4 am on Friday, a fire broke out at Nayanagar slum in Mahim, along the Dharavi-Sion Link Road, gutting over 50 of the illegally erected structures, and charring six people while leaving eight others to nurse severe burn injuries.
The flames splayed out while rising vertically up, catching on to the plastic and synthetic sheets draping adjoining structures sometimes one- or two-storeys high. As people ran pell-mell to save their skin and belongings, a 45-year-old vegetable vendor made an overnight local legend in his effort to save his wife and five kids, but only posthumously.
In a blaze of glory
On Thursday, Chand Mohammad Babu returned home with his eldest son Mohammad Irshad (16) around 10 pm, when their neighbours were preparing to celebrate Eid-e-Milad the next day. As was the family’s routine, they went to sleep after dinner.
Around 4 am, Irshad’s sleep was interrupted by a harsh glow and an overpowering smell of something burning. He opened his eyes to witness an orange flame enveloping the hutment. He awakened his father next to him. His mother and four siblings were sleeping in the attic above.
Babu asked Irshad to leave the shanty, which he realised had already caught fire. He climbed the iron ladder to save his wife Hasina Begam (40) and children, and managed to get her and three of his kids, Asif (10), Naushad (12) and Dilshad (14) out of the shanty.
He went in again to bring his youngest, Emran (8), out. He was on his way out to safety when things went awry. The attic and the iron ladder leading up to it caved in on his back. Afire, he struggled to get his kid out and succeeded. But could not save himself.
Locals said that the bruised family members scrambled helplessly as they watched Babu getting buried under the weight of the flaming debris. “My father saved our lives but lost his own in front of our eyes. No one came to help us,” said a shocked Irshad. Later, Babu was taken to hospital along with others injured in the incident, but he was dead by then. His devastated family said they had no one to look after them, as Babu was the only earning member in the household.