It’s been 5 years. 5 years since I moved from my Azad basti to a place, Jatni. Two places which are different in almost every possible way. Geographically speaking, one is in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand while the other is near Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Takes a 7-hour journey by train for you to reach Khurda road railway station, coming out of which, you get to be at jatni.
One the one hand, Azad basti is one place that is just the liveliest place, where no matter what time of the day it is, you will notice people in markets, in their addas, in their shops, in mosques, in various moth watering bakeries and food joints (mostly serving kebabs and niharis and almost all non-veg items), morning starts off with puri , jalebis and halwa at kalkatiya hotel( kolkata’s distant cousin :P) and for evening there is Munki chaat, various sharbat stalls are there to beat the heat too. You have your family, where you can throw “n” number of tantrums and yet not feel bad about it, stay out late at night enjoying the company of your crazy friends whom you can totally depend upon with all your secrets and fantasies and what not.
Azad basti, officially Azad nagar, has a strong Muslim-population, and surrounded with Sikhs on one side and Christians and Hindus on the other side, is where I grew up and which continues to be the place where my family lives. The reason of ghetto-formations is the three communal riots that this place has witnessed. Although, it is very much communally peaceful now and you would rarely find any incidents of violence among the different communities. Yet, you find RAF deputed on almost every street in times like Ram Navami and Muharram as a precautionary measure. Of course, incidents of fighting in between the various criminal groups are a regular occurrence in the steel city which sometimes has effects on our Azad basti too.
While, on the other hand there is jatni. A place, which is calm, no matter which business you do, you end up having holidays almost regularly due to strict market union dictats, addas (or khattis as they are called in odia) are regulated due to strong patrolling vehicles, of course there are places where it doesn’t have much of an effect, still they are comparatively reduced. You will hardly find any good non-veg food joint, apart from the fast food places, promising “chinise” or “chainees” delicacies, all clustered in one small street, where you often wonder whether the meat is halal or not. Of course, in terms of vegetarian food it does throw up a few extra options, but for a person like me, who has grown up eating kebabs and bheja fries, the veggy options are nothing more than ghaans phoons.
Talking about religion and culture, it’s a whole mix of people from the native Odias, the telugus, to Marwari, and some Muslims here and there. The issue of Sunni-Wahabi sect conflict is clearly visible, which is annoying.
Friends, well everyone is a friend here, you get to meet many people with whom you end up having a good time and also very cooperative, yet you sometimes miss that feeling of a friend on whom you can totally depend upon for anything under the sun.
The place is always peaceful, although you find some sort of a weird vibe from members of other communities towards Muslims. When you step out on Friday, in your traditional kurta pyajama, there are more people putting an eye on you than they would do normally back home. Forget about wearing them on almost every other day back at home and no one will even bother. Not to miss voices which think of you as a Pakistani and you should be going back there!!!! To tell you an instance, you get wished on 14th off August for your “Independence day”. And add to that you being thought off as a Pakistani supporter whenever a cricket match is being played between India and Pakistan or being playfully called jihaadi, or Al-qaida and all. Being a minority has its own share of issues attached with it. I do miss your family, but luckily have my Badi ammi’s (my mom’s elder sis). It’s good to have your family back, minus throwing tantrums. My 5 years would have been difficult if it wasn’t for them.
So, if one asks me which place I would prefer and which is that place that has a strong hand in making me the kind of person who I am? You would think of all the negative things that I wrote about the second place that I went to. Rather, it is the opposite. Jatni, as a place has truly transformed me into a Man. A man with strong determination and independence who does not bother what others have to think of him, which is really tough to put in practice. The one person, who is now optimistic about life and knows how to handle them as well. It has made me realize my true potential as a person and made me more systematic than I really was, more disciplined than I was, more mature than I was and definitely more understanding than I was.
I don’t know, if I would have been what I am, if I had stayed back in Azad basti, but as far as change in me is concerned. It surely is something that is huge. I might, In sha Allah, be moving to Bangalore in a month’s time but the impact that both of these places have had on me will always remain intact in giving a defined perspective.