Adrienne Carlisle and David Macgregor
A POPULAR Grahamstown greengrocer burnt to death yesterday when he was trapped by fire inside his historic settler home.
As word of the fire spread through the City of Saints, worried friends and family gathered outside the New Street home in the hope that retired businessman Jayanty Naran, 72, would somehow survive the blaze.
His charred body was found after firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze before it spread to neighbouring buildings.
The Narans are one of the city’s most revered families and dozens of people gazed in horror at the sight of the old house going up in flames.
One onlooker described the house – a converted orphanage thought to be well over 100 years old – as a “tinderbox”.
The old Settler-type homes in New Street are filled with Oregon pine and yellowwood fixtures and fittings.
The Narans’ house also had wooden balconies at the front and back.
Ian Currie, who owns the adjoining Ruanthai restaurant, where he also lives, said he woke up when he heard Naran’s wife, Shushila, calling for help in the street early yesterday.
He said he could smell the smoke and when he rushed outside, the house was already engulfed in flames.
A frantic Shushila told him her husband was still inside, but the heat was already too intense and there was little hope that anyone could survive.
The Narans are well-liked in Grahamstown and known for their compassion and kindness.
The family arrived penniless in South Africa from India in the late 1920s and built up a laundry and greengrocer businesses that became landmarks in Grahamstown.
The Naran brothers, Jayanty and Tharkor, ran the popular Naran’s greengrocer side of the business for 48 years, before retiring in 2008.
Grahamstown mayor Zamuxolo Peter was also outside the home yesterday and offered his sympathies to the family.
He said the Narans were down-to-earth people who had always offered assistance to those less fortunate.
Although it was claimed that Jayanty had been seen rushing back into the burning home to retrieve personal items, friends and family had earlier hoped he had maybe left for his early morning walk instead. Their hopes were dashed when his body was found in the house.
Police spokesman Captain Mali Govender said the cause of the fire was not yet known, but forensic experts would investigate.