IT was nearly 11 pm. I pleaded with my host to allow me to leave for my destination as the extremely cold weather was tightening its grip. It would take at least half an hour for me to reach the hotel where I had been putting up as a guest of the European Union, along with other journalists from India.
My host, an Indian settled in Brussels, assured me that it was his responsibility to take me back to my hotel. He wanted me to wait for a retired teacher from Uttar Pradesh who was very keen to meet me. The teacher was on the way.
Within minutes, the man was in front of us. We greeted each other with a bear hug after shaking hands. He had tears of happiness rolling down his cheeks. My host, Nawab Khan, who came from UP but not from my district, Azamgarh, was taken aback. He did not expect such bonhomie between two strangers with a common background.
Khan told me that the retired teacher had expressed a strong desire to meet me after he came to know that an Azamgarh-born journalist was in town. The old man looked at me very closely. But he could not see me properly as he was suffering from an eye ailment. He was on the verge of going blind. He had forced his son to take him to Khan’s house in a car as he desperately wanted to exchange a few words with me — only because I was born in an Azamgarh village.
The teacher refused to take my explanation seriously when I told him that I now considered myself a Chandigarh-wallah as I had been living in the City Beautiful for a long time. That I was born in a village in Azamgarh was enough for him. He repeatedly said, ‘Please don’t spoil my happiness. You cannot imagine the joy I am experiencing. I, too, am Azamgarh-born.’
‘But what is so great about that? Can you explain why you are so happy after meeting a nonentity like me?’ I asked. ‘It is unexplainable, my dear,’ was the teacher’s short response.
Now I could understand why a senior IAS officer known to me found it difficult to complete his term as the Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University when his detractors in the faculty spread the story that he was from Azamgarh and had a soft corner for teachers belonging to the district lobby.
Forget about the 2008 Batla House encounter, which led to this district — which has a large concentration of Muslims and Yadavs — getting linked to terrorism. Azamgarh is well known for its highly respected Islamic seminaries and geniuses such as Kaifi Azmi and Allama Shibli Nomani of Shibli College fame.
After retirement, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in Delhi, too, one is treated differently among Muslims if one is from Azamgarh. Highlighting my identity as a Chandigarh-wallah, of course, brings me some advantages, but it is no substitute for the Azamgarh connection.
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