Basundhara Fire

By Fariha Karim

Security men of Basundhara Shopping Complex crying as they pray for the fire to stop. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 13th February 2009. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Shards of glass and charred window frames lie scattered across the pavement. The burnt out front page of an exercise book blows gently in the breeze on the footpath below. And thousands of imploring faces look anxiously above as flames lick the top three floors of Bangladesh?s biggest shopping mall with thick black clouds of smoke furiously bellowing out.
It?s just over a fortnight since the bloody rebellion at the headquarters of the Bangladesh Rifles shook the country. Now, the television channels are rolling again with hours of news. This time, it?s footage of the devastating fire engulfing Basundhara City that flashes on the screen, with the tragic news that security guard Baki Billah has died of multiple burn injuries. A further 17 people are being treated in Dhaka Combined Military Hospital.
Nearly two hundred firefighters battle against the flames, trying to reach the towering inferno from a hoist, adding to their water supplies from the fountains outside.
Once again, troops are back on duty. A green army helicopter winches a survivor to safety from the verandah on the 17th floor, while on the ground, soldiers try and control the crowds growing outside.
Down below, a worker from the 12th floor cried with grief. “It’s all gone, it’s all gone. I had kept my files, my valuables here in case they were stolen from the house. They were here for my safety. Now it will all be finished.”
Others plead with firefighters to be allowed up on the hoist to try and put the fire out themselves. “If they put us up there, we could have put water. Hurry up, hurry up!”
Several hours of hard graft, and it appears the firefighters are able to bring the blaze under control, after it has spread from the 20th to the 12th floor and the back of the building.
?I am worried about Bangladesh,? rickshaw driver Mahmud says. ?All those people killed at BDR, and now this fire. It is not good for the country.?
The owners of Basundara City, opened in August 2004, claim it is South Asia?s largest shopping mall, and the 12th biggest in the world. It?s a twenty storey building, with more than 2,000 retail outlets and cafes. Normally, around 5,000 workers are expected to work in the building, a sizeable number in the top three floors of corporate office space.
The cause of the fire is yet to be established. The government has already convened a three-member committee to investigate, led by joint secretary to the home ministry Abdus Sobhan Sikder.
But one thing is for sure, and that is the sense of relief that it?s a Friday, when offices are closed. Meanwhile, the teams of fire-fighters carry on with dedication and diligence, working late into the night to rescue what they can of the most iconic of Dhaka?s sprawling shopping malls. Resilience, once again, kicks in, leaving people safe in the knowledge the flames will be extinguished before long.
Still photographs and videos

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

2 thoughts on “Basundhara Fire”

  1. Kolkata i amra purono barite agun laga dekhte avyosto. Kono agun nebebar byabostha nei. Tobe shopping mall e ekhono kono baro dharoner agun lage ni. Beshir bhag khheter dekhechhi j eiagun guli ichchhakrito bhabe lagano. Hoi notunbahutal tolar janno, ba asat kaj dhamachapa debar janno. Kato khete khaoa manushe r j sarbonash hoye jai, tar keu khabor rakhe?

  2. i think i agree with mr.durgadas most cases the people who owns this kind of possessions wants to hide actual acts they do to attract the sympathy of the common people.
    everyone know the case of bashubhara,how they make money.branded as’vhumidosshu’,theseland grabbibng business conglomerate have faced severe corruption charges along with a number of other cases during the last interim government of which is a murder case for which they bribed the then home minister of the country.
    so,these unscrupulas people would surely try to get the sympathy of the common people for thei misdids.that’s why it’s not unrealistic to think that they can do it deliberately.cases like this happened in the past.after some days past,it was disclosed some how that,the fire was part of a plot,planned by these unscrupulus people.

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