He rode from home to his shop on a broken down scooter. It was a routine now accustomed to for several years. The road was still deserted. It was too early for the shopping crowd. But soon they would be in and he must clean up before they come. He parked his scooter in the dingy lane perpendicular to the shop when two policemen walked up to him. One of them said in Hindi, “Are you Azeembhai?” “Yes,” he replied. He was flustered as the officer continued, “You must come to the police station to answer some questions.” Without waiting for a response, Azeembhai was marched over to the jeep and taken to the police station.
The old city of Hyderabad was famous for its bangles shops and it’s delicious biryani. Tourists and city dwellers came to the old city to shop and be merry. For the past 35 years, Azeembhai’s family owned a small shop in Laad Bazaar, which was in a lane beside the police station. Ever since he could remember, Azeembhai went to the shop on the blue scooter. First with his father and then by himself. Even the scooter was handed to him once his father had been bed ridden. His 6-year-old son, however, did not come to the shop. Sameer enjoyed studying and Azeembhai didn’t see the sense in taking him out of school.
The distance from his shop to the station was not far. But the officers were insistent he rode in the jeep. Two other stern looking officers came out of the station and hustled him into an interrogation room. He was searched and all his possessions were confiscated. Two hours later, an officer, who could only be described as crooked, walked in and sat across him. “I have done nothing officer. Why am I here?” he pleaded. “Do you know Rawalbhai?” the officer questioned. “Yes,” came the meek response.
“Where is he?” the officer continued. “I don’t know. We have adjacent shops in the bazaar. That is it officer. I say hello. We talk about our families and go to the mosque together,” Azeembhai said.
“How many times did he pray?” the officer asked. “What?” Azeembhai said, shocked.
“Answer the question!” screamed the officer as he hit Azeembhai on his hands with his staff. Azeembhai’s screams cut through the tension in the room. “I don’t know,” he blurted through his sobs.
The policeman slammed the table to the wall before storming out. Azeembhai sat on his chair which was now unguarded by the table and soothed his hurt knuckles waiting for the officer to return. After a while, a burly officer with a thick moustache and glasses came in. He bolted the door shut behind him. He punched Azeembhai in the face as he asked him, “Where is Rawalbhai?”
Unsure if any answer would favour him, Azeembhai stayed silent. The officer punched him once more before dragging his limp body to the cell. He threw him in and gave the guard orders to release him at sundown.
He was detained for eight hours without any contact with his family. At sunset, when he was given back his possessions, he headed to his shop. He kicked his scooter and sped back home. He dismissed his wife’s queries about his bruises. “I just got into a little fight with a friend over some money borrowed,” he said, “You don’t worry, Fatima.” After staying indoors for two days, Azeembhai went back to work.
Since the arrest, Azeembhai always felt like he was being followed. His phone gave out an echo every time he made a call or answered one. When he confided in his friend over a cup of chai, Saleem laughed it off as paranoia. Azeembhai didn’t quite believe him.