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Movers and Shakers in a Divided City

By Tanvir Siddiqui

In Gujarat, they say, normalcy has been restored. A look at the traffic jams leads one to believe that as well. Yes, physically speaking, everything seems normal. Even the burnt down houses of Hindus and Muslims have been rebuilt and their inhabitants (almost) rehabilitated.

But the subtle divide between communities remains. It’s like a mirror with a hairline crack in it. The mirror looks okay until you locate the crack. Two incidents I experienced personally should explain this better. The first shook me, the other left me moved.

It was a leisurely Sunday afternoon and there I was, sitting with a gentleman in his nineties. I had gone to interview him on his memories of the historic Dandi march, which had taken place before his very eyes, since his home was located in the region. The old man was affection personified, as if he was talking to a grandson. After the interview, he asked me about my background. I told him where I was from, details of my education, and so on. Then he asked me my name. Then my surname. After that he wanted to know my residential address. My answer obviously came as bombshell because it was in a minority-dominated locality. “So you belong to the M-class?” asked the grandfatherly figure, with a sneer. All the bonhomie of the earlier session had evaporated. There was hostility in his gaze.

Though this sudden change in behaviour came as a big shock to me, little did I know that a bigger shock was in store. This man, who claimed to belong to the fast vanishing breed of freedom fighters, shook my hand very reluctantly. No, he just touched three of his fingers to my extended hand.

Two months later, I had a very different experience. It was around 11.30 pm when I was returning home one day. Some four kilometres into my journey and I discovered I had an empty tank. The wide, 120-ft Ring Road on which I was appeared deserted. All the shops were shut and the next petrol pump—even if it was open—was at least a couple of kilometres away.

Since I had no option, I started walking towards it, wheeling my scooter along. A few moments later, a scooterist passed by, went ahead, and returned. He asked me what the matter was. When I explained the problem, he offered to give my vehicle a push till the next petrol pump. The gentleman spoke in Hindi. He may have concluded from my beard that I was a Muslim. As we reached the pump, we found it closed. Anyway, we parted ways as we were heading in different directions. He did not ask my name despite the fact that I had told him where I lived.

So there I was, pushing the vehicle again, when two young men passed by, crossed me and then returned, wanting to know what had happened. They, too, offered to push the vehicle. The next two pumps were also closed. Ultimately, a few kilometres later, a third pump was found open. The Good Samaritans bade me farewell, and disappeared into the darkness.