Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A City I remember

ABHISHEK SHARAN, Special Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Hours after the bombs went off on September 8, 2006, in Malegaon, I had set off to the city.

It is a city that raises images of rickety power-loom units and communal riots, to outsiders. Having spent three days there on the reporting assignment, I found that there was much more to the city than the bland, ill-informed popular perceptions about it.

Along the way, as our Qualis had made its way through bumpy roads that day, I pored through pages of information on Malegaon---on its demography, topography and its tryst with violence and fundamentalism. I had got plenty of data, often conflicting and confusing, about incidents there, including a rally to ‘support Osama Bin Laden and Afghanistan’.

But I did not get a word about the people who called it their home. The people, as I realised, held key to Malegaon---its present and future.

I had met a ‘Hindu’ auto-rickshaw driver who refused to take me to the ‘Muslim’ section of the city. He said, something bad could happen ‘that side’ especially on ‘Fridays’. The auto-driver in the ‘Muslim’ section had the same sort of suspicion of the ‘other side’.

The ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ sections stand vertically separated, literally, by a river.

The ‘Hindu’ fort, with Saffron flags atop it, lies in the Muslim section and is looked after well by the locals.

At the blast-spots, in the Muslim section, I could see poor victims (Muslims) who were mourning for their departed ones. These were families whose 24 hours were spent struggling to lead a respectable living where the life’s basic needs were available. They had no idea who the blasts’ perpetrators were or why they had targeted them.

I met groups of residents---students, clerics, police officers, victims’ families and the anonymous men loitering on the streets. While a cloud of mistrust hung over the city, one of its traits was unmistakable---the locals offered friendship and help to any stranger, such as me.

Poverty, lack of access to modern education and basic urban amenities, and the fear of the known and unknown defined the city as well.

Days, and months after, the friends I made in that city would keep calling me periodically. I was Abhishek ‘bhai’ to them; I would call them ‘bhai’ too.

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