AMRI fire: Victims' kin, survivors still in shock (One year after)
Dhananjoy Pal, who lost his teenaged daughter this day a year ago in the AMRI hospital fire, laments why it was his "little girl" and not he who was choked to death.
"I wish I was admitted instead of my daughter. Then she would still be alive," said Pal, the father of 15-year-old Prakriti.
Ninety-four people were killed in the fire that ravaged the seven-storey centrally air-conditioned annexe at the premier private hospital in the city
The spark started in the wee hours of the morning of Dec 9 in the hospital's basement and left behind death and devastation as the resulting flames and fumes spread to the upper storeys.
Most of the victims - seriously ill patients too infirm to move - died a slow and painful death inhaling toxic fumes.
For their near and dear ones, several of whom were witnesses to the tragedy, life changed forever.
Pal's daughter was scheduled to be discharged a day later. But the father could never imagine what fate had in store for his family. The parents now live with memories of Prakriti.
"She was an all-rounder. She painted beautifully and had she been with us, she would be preparing for her board exams. We took her there (AMRI) because we wanted her to get the best treatment, but she never came back," said Pal, whose daughter was in the building's third floor following a head injury.
"Her mother has never really stopped crying," said Pal.
Rangan Dey, 25, whose father was among the fire victims, says it has been a "drastic change" overnight.
"It was a shock. We are still coming to terms with his loss. My mother is still broken," said Dey, whose father too was to be discharged the next day.
For Alok Chakraborty, coping with the absence of his 67-year-old brother-in-law, Jawahar Lal Ganguly, and picking up the threads of life again has proved to be a "slow" process.
Ganguly had been admitted to hospital after tests showed signs of cerebral attack. He had begun responding to medication following admission.
"We are going about our daily life but mentally we are still struggling. We are trying to move on but life has been slow," said Chakraborty, vice president of the Human Health Right Forum, a group formed by relatives of the fire victims.
But for Pal, letting go and moving on seems impossible.
"How can I let go? She was just a teenager. I was there right from the time the fire broke to the time I cremated her body. Every night, the image of her body being consumed by the flames flashes before me."
Ahana Chatterjee, 88, was one of the lucky few who managed to escape the inferno.
According to her grandson Abhrodip Ganguly, she has not spoken about that night since then.
"Although she was lucky to have survived, she is not the same woman. She used to walk around and go to the kitchen to cook, but now she is not that active. It's emotional trauma.
"It's hard to believe the authorities were so callous. They played with so many lives," said Ganguly.
A year after, the kith and kin of the departed and those who were lucky enough to be saved live for a cause.
"The thought that drives me to live every day is that no one else's daughter should suffer the same fate. If I can prevent such a thing from happening again, I will fight till the end," said Pal.
(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)