A FIRE that gutted a historic Grahamstown building on Monday claimed the life of well-known greengrocer Jayanti Naran, 72.
DEADLY BLAZE: The "Naran's building”, one of the oldest buildings in Grahamstown, was gutted by fire early on Monday morning. Long-time greengrocer Jayanti Naran died in the blaze Picture: JO FITZHENRY
Jayanti and his older brother Tharkor owned and operated the greengrocer store Naran & Sons at the corner of Hill and New Streets for decades until they retired four years ago.
The fire occurred in the familiar building in New Street, across the road from the Victoria Hotel, that had a wooden balcony overhanging the pavement. Jayanti lived in the building with his wife Shushila and four Rhodes students.
It is speculated Jayanti went back into the building to ensure that his wife and the students were safely outside.
The cause of the blaze is still unknown, but forensic experts are investigating, according to police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender.
The old settler building was filled with wooden fixtures.
The fire started at about 6am and despite a quick response from the Makana fire department there was initially only one hose being used to battle the blaze from the New Street side.
Later more firefighters started dousing the fire from the rear of the property.
"By 9am I saw the military base fire engine there as well,” said TotT correspondent Sid Penney.
The Naran family were associated with the building for more than four decades.
Penney said he had known the Naran family well for over 40 years, and interviewed them for astory about four years ago.
Prior to Jayanti and Tharkor taking over, their father owned and operated the business, but the entire family pitched in. At its busiest, before the supermarket chains moved in, the greengrocer store would open at 7am and close at 9pm, with family members working shifts, said Penney.
The family also ran a laundry, situated a couple of doors down from the building that burned down. The laundry closed before the greengrocer store.
"The entire Naran family is well respected in town – and has been for decades – and many residents were disappointed and even shattered when they finally closed their business,” said Penney.
"Jayanti and I often met in the street and had chats while we were out walking. Jayanti loved his walks during his retirement years, and was very friendly and was well acquainted with a wide section of the community.”
Narans was also known as a meeting place for farmers and residents where they could share news and stories.
The building formerly housed Bethlehem Home for orphaned children.