by Khalid Bashir Gura
SRINAGAR: A narrow alley leads to the fire devoured old, rundown Kashmiri home of Javaid Hakak in the old city at Khanyar.
Blackened wooden windows and cantilevered balcony, smouldering old bricks, and grey smoke silently emanated from the house and roof. That was the scene by afternoon, many hours after the conflagration.
The people of the locality are silent and mournful. The visitors leave sighs and moved around with teary eyes.
Hakak, 40, his wife Sofiya, 38, and daughter Hafsa, 4, died when their home, located in the Sheeshgari Mohalla, caught fire and consumed them. The only survivor is their elder daughter Soheda Javid, 7. Hakak was a daily-wager in the government and managing some medical agency in spare time. His wife, basically a resident of Pampore, was running a local Anganwadi centre.
The little girl who is now the only surviving member of the ill-fated home is currently living with Hakak’s sister who is married and settled in Lal Bazar. Hakak’s neighbour has opened his doors to where the people are coming to offer their condolences. Hakak’s parents, Mrs and Mr Ali Mohammad Hakak, have expired many years back.
Neighbours said Soheda, the ill-fated couple’s elder daughter survived because she recalls being rescued by her father, before himself being charred to death.
Abdul Majeed Sofi, who was at the spot during a fire and rescue recalls distressing scenes.
“We were deluded by the fact that since the elder daughter of Javid Hakak was safe in the lawn of the house, all the family must be around,” Sofi said. “But it didn’t turn out to be so. As the fire was being doused, the youth jumped inside the house to avert further damage to the surrounding congested locality. But what surprised them was when they stumbled upon three bodies burn beyond recognition.”
“It was a huge fire though localised,” one witness said. “The first firefighters’ canons couldn’t douse the flames of 15 feet high house.”
Zubair Ahmed, one of Hakkak’s neighbours said that he was at Hazratbal to attend his friend’s sisters’ engagement but the happiness was consumed by the news of the fire.
“It took me six minutes from Dargah Hazrat Bal to reach the spot but the fire brigade which is a couple of minutes away was still nowhere,” said an angry Ahmed with eyes full of tears. “No one from them came forward to rescue or to go inside the house. We carried even trolleys for them.”
Another neighbour with a lump in his throat said that they had dialled the number of fire services but weren’t reciprocated. Later they rushed to the police station from where they rang up to the fight-fighters again.
The fire was first noticed by the immediate neighbours of Hakak. “It was the dead of the night, and everything was invisible. By the time we could do anything the fire had engulfed the house,” said neighbours.
As fire brigade doused flames, locals looked for couple and daughter. With the help of a wooden stair, they managed to get inside the house. The three burnt dead bodies were floating in the water that cannons had pumped over the burning house. “It was distressing and heartbreaking. It smelt of burnt flesh. We couldn’t bear seeing three coffins leaving the alley in a row. Two big, one small,” said an elderly neighbour guarding the crowd of incoming visitors to the burnt site.
Police are investigating the incident. Parvaiz Ahmad, who heads the Khanyar police station said the preliminary investigation suggests the fire seems to have been caused by a short circuit, but further investigation will reveal more. The police have registered a case and the probe is ongoing.”
Meanwhile, the Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary led a delegation of the district administration to the spot of the fire. He announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 15 lakh in favour of the lone survivor. The amount will be kept in a joint fixed account in the name of the minor survivor and the Deputy Commissioner Srinagar. She will access the deposit when she turns a major, almost 10 years later. The amount will earn some interest on it as well. The government will also bear education and the other expenses of the girl child, Choudhary said.