Nasreen Aunty & My Spare Key
And so a certain revered political gent is threatening to call it quits. All his supporters chanting, “Please don’t resign, sir,” in desperate subservience. All his detractors chanting, “Please don’t resign, sir,” in deceitful two facedness. But for all his new found moderateness, this is the man who 20 odd years ago, set the hardline approach with his nationwide yatra. Dude, sadly one’s past is often one’s legacy. Later amiable avuncularity doesn’t cut it, just doesn’t.
It is you, genial sir, at whose doorstep we must place the deep destruction that was the 1992 riots. All of us Mumbaikars have that one ‘Bombay riots’ story. It was one May morning in 1991. I was a 29-year-old bachelor, I had newly moved into a small 400 sq flat in Colaba. The doorbell rang it was a middle-aged Bohri lady, Rida-clad, with the kindest eyes I’d ever seen. In her hand was a plate of ‘firni’. “Beta, for you. Welcome to the building. I am your neighbour, Nasreen Savliwala.”
In time she became my domestic saviour. She kept my spare key, letting in the jhadoo-katka walla, the cook, she received my couriers, she took care of my home. Then December 6, 1992, Babri Masjid happened and barbarians went door to door searching for the ‘enemy’. One night, rumour had it, that the mobs were heading to the buildings in our area, checking for Muslim tenants. Gravestones replacing nameplates. Nasreen aunty appeared at my doorstep, her kind eyes a deep shade of scared.
She spoke to me in Hindi, something she’d never done before. “Beta, aapki jo extra chabi mere saath hai, kya main apne liye istemal kar sakti hoon ? Khuda jaane woh kab aur kaise aayenge....humein pannah ki zaroorat hai.” So later that night, the Savliwalas crept into my house, the desperate dozen, cowering in every corner. Altaf uncle, Nasreen aunty’s husband was more hurt than fearful. “Some of my workers, at the factory, Hindu boys, they burnt an old Muslim man alive, near Plaza Cinema.”
Nasreen aunty was beside herself with anger, “You supported them when they were nothing, and this is their gratitude.” Three rowdies came at night, thumping at my door, looking like characters out of a low-budget street play tacky makeup and swords that looked like they’d been hired from Maganlal Dresswalla. “Kya andar musalman log hain?” I was tempted to sarcastically ask them in, check under beds and tables and see if they could find any Muslims.
Of course, they left, the danger passed, the army moved in and the city went back to normal. One morning, a week later, the doorbell rang. It was Nasreen aunty holding out my spare key. “Thank you beta, I’m sorry but we are leaving, you saved our lives, but we cannot live anymore in a city where we are unwanted.” Yup, that was the week that cosmopolitan freedom gave way to communal fear.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at email@example.com The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.