Bizarre night of pain and sufferings on the hottest day

A man sleeping on the rooftop as there was no electricity in A block of Nobodoy Housing for almost seven hoursProthom Alo

It was the night of "Nababarsha", an age-old cultural tradition of celebrating the first day of the Bengali calendar. It was also the 22th night of the holy month of Ramadan. Ahead of the biggest religious festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, the Nababarsha celebration this year was the beginning of a nationwide festivity.

It was like a fresh start for the people, especially after the long hard days of restrictions and lockdowns due to the pandemic. In Bengali culture too, it is believed that starting the year well will ensure a good year overall and people try to spend the Nababarsha in the best possible way.

However, the residents of Block-A of the Nabodoy Housing in the capital’s Mohammadpur area had a completely different experience altogether on the night of the first day of the Bengali year. For them, it was a bizarre night full of sufferings and being 'boiled' in darkness due to a power cut that lasted almost seven hours on the day that also recorded the highest ever temperature in Dhaka in 54 years. Amid this searing heat, the power cut appeared as a nightmare to the people in the area as they couldn’t sleep, couldn’t have a proper Sahri and had to pass the night under the sky.

What happened?

Hasan Shahriar (pseudonym), a banker by profession, lives on the sixth floor of house 1 on road 9 of Nabodoy housing with his wife Fabiha Wasif (pseudonym), who is a service holder at a private firm. The couple had invited a few friends for Sahri on Pahela Baishakh to celebrate the return of one of their friends from abroad after a long time. Together with friends, they were preparing the food for Sahri when they heard a loud blast at around 11:45 pm. All the lights and fans went off with the blast and they had to take a pause.

Later, it was found that the transformer supplying electricity in the block has burst, which is very common. It usually takes five to ten minutes to resume the electricity supply in case the transformer blows off. However, that was not the case on the day of record temperature in Dhaka in years.

The Nobodoy Housing falls in the area under the Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC). But there was no one from the company to resume the electricity supply even after an hour of the blast.

Meanwhile, people in the block took resort to the rooftops as it was impossible to remain in rooms without ceiling fans and light due to intolerable heat. Shahriar and his friends also went to the rooftop after waiting for an hour for electricity and found other families living in the building were there too.

The scenario was almost the same in all other buildings in the block. There were people on the roof of every house in the block. They were all waiting for people from the DPDC, who had been called an hour ago.

Parvez Anwar, a resident of house 9 on road 9 of Nobodoy Housing, took to the roof with his wife, her sister and his 5-year-old son Aryan Ahmed after the power cut.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “We went out to celebrate Pahela Baishakh and had just returned. Although we were tired, it was not possible to stay inside amid this intolerable heat. Without the ceiling fans running, it’s like breathing fire in darkness. So we came up and now are waiting for electricity. The level of suffering cannot be described in words.”

Meanwhile, little Aryan had already become restless and was asking his father when they would return to their flat while he was talking to this correspondent. Already an hour and a half had passed since the power cut, yet there was no one from the DPDC to resume the supply.

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After a while, the technicians from the DPDC finally reached the spot at around 1:30 am. Asked about the delay, one of the technicians said on condition of anonymity that they had been informed late. They told Prothom Alo that usually there are two transformers for every block in the Nobodoy Housing area. If one goes off, the other should resume electricity within minutes. So they will check the alternate transformer here.

In the meantime, people in the block were already seeing the end of these miserable hours as the technicians started working on the second transformer. After a while the technicians told the people to get away from the transformer that they were working on. They also took position at a safe distance and contacted the power station and asked to connect the transformer. As soon as the connection was given, that alternative transformer burst too.

Following that, the technicians started packing their stuff instead of trying to fix the problem. They were in a hurry for the Sahri. However, they didn’t seem to bother about the fact that there were a number of people who would be fasting the next day and had been waiting for them to get things back to normal before having Sahri after a sleepless night on the hottest day in 54 years. They left without even giving any update on the issue.

Meanwhile, the transformer, which blew off first, caught fire all of a sudden and chaos erupted as people started running in panic. With the DPDC technicians already gone, it was up to only the residents of the block to douse the fire. However, they were scared to spray water on an electrical transformer on fire. Fortunately, a brave man came forward and poured water over the transformer from the roof of a building and the fire was doused minutes later.

However, the electricity supply was yet to resume. The residents, by then, already had realised that there was no chance of electricity being resumed before morning. Therefore, they started preparing the Sahri in darkness and amidst searing heat.

Shahriar’s wife Fabiha, who had invited their friends for Sahri, had fallen sick due to extreme heat in the kitchen. Instead of preparing the Sahri, the couple’s friends were busy taking care of Fabiha.  

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Shahriar said, “It’s an absolute mess here. The technicians could have been more careful. They did not seem to bother about the sufferings we are going through without electricity. I have never faced any situation like this. Nobody in the block can sleep due to hours of load shedding on such a day of extreme heat.”

A group of four friends, who live in a rented flat in the block, were seen going out on motorcycles at around 3.30am. Sanjay Nandi, one of the peers, told Prothom Alo, “We cannot take it anymore. It’s impossible to stay in the room with no electricity on such a hot day. We are going out and will return after the power resumes.”

Amid all these, the Imam of the nearby mosque announced that it’s time for Sahri. After Sahri, the sleepless people of the block were seen taking their beddings on the roof in their effort to get some sleep before going out for work in the morning. The roofs of each building in the block were occupied by families from different flats.

This correspondent went up to the roof of a building taking permission from the owner. The four corners of the roof were occupied by four families. Three of the families, including children and women, were already asleep while another family was preparing their beds for getting some sleep under the sky. It was the same on all the other rooftops in the block.

Speaking regarding this, Md Ashrafuzzaman, owner of a building in block-A and member of Mohammadia Housing House Owners Association, said, “We haven’t slept for even a second after the power cut. We have contacted the concerned authorities to solve the problem immediately. However, they are yet to come.”

Bhola Biswas, caretaker of a building, said, “I haven’t seen anything like this. Families from almost all the floors are sleeping on the roof. It’s too hot to stay in the rooms. I will remember the night for a long time for the sufferings we are enduring.”

As the sun rose, the families sleeping on the roof had to leave the roof as well. They went back to their rooms and took resort in front of the windows in search of air. The electricity was yet to resume.

After a while, another team of technicians arrived around 6.45am on 15 April. They fixed the problems within a few minutes and the electricity resumed in the area at 6.57am. It could have been done hours earlier. A little bit of consideration was needed for that.

This happened a few days after the country announced the generation of 14,800 megawatt electricity in one day, the highest in the country’s history. The question remains as to what is the benefit of that if the service is like this. As a country we have achieved so many things over the past decade. But are we capable of fully realising these achievements?