They say there is a story behind every face. But most often we don’t get excited about such stories. Sometimes, I wonder how much do we know about people who are always around us. For instance, it could be the boy with earphones plugged in his ear who drops newspaper at our doorstep at the crack of dawn, even before we wake up. It could be the milkman who early in the morning makes sure that his customers shouldn’t worry about the milk for their morning cuppa. The sabjiwala bhaiya or the Idliwala Anna, or the Kachara uthanewala bhaiya (yes that’s how we name them often) never stop doing what they do, no matter whether it’s rainy or too cold or too hot and humid outside.
We don’t even spare a thought to ask their names, let alone exploring their outlook of life. Well, I was no exception either. Even I hadn’t given a thought about it. I was a one of “the so-called forward-looking modern” people who have their body language screaming, “who has time for all these. Marne ko time nahin hai yaar (Don’t even have the time to die).”
It’s an honest confession. I didn’t know the name of these people, who make our lives comfortable, until one fine day I was asked to prepare a report on them as an assignment for an internship.
I decided to interview the person who has been altering my clothes perfectly for years, even on short notice. Every time I buy a new outfit, he is the first person I think about for size-alterations. But I didn’t even know his name until I thought of having a conversation with him. I was ashamed that I hadn’t even cared to ask his name in all these years. He had been the tailorwala bhaiya for me.
Me: Bhaiya, what’s your name?
He: Ali Ahmed Shah
Me: Hello Ahmed ji, Namaste!
Ahmed ji: Hello madam, Assalam Walikum
Me: Wa Alaikum Assalam! Well, Ahmed ji, I am really sorry that I didn’t know your name even though I know since years.
Ahmed ji (smiling): It’s okay, Madam. Everybody does that. In fact, I feel good about it too that people at least know me by my profession/work, not by the name. What’s in a name if my job can define me much better and gives me recognition?
Me: What’s in a name? Very profound! Well, I would like to know a bit about you. Can you tell me something about yourself?
Ahmed ji (smiling): I’m Ahmed Ali Shah. I am a tailor. I hail from a small village near Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Here in Vashi, I stay at Juhugaon. I’m an ordinary person and a family man.
Me: You said you’re from Uttar Pradesh. When did you leave your village and why?
Ahmed ji: I left my village, my home state 16 years back in search of a livelihood. The circumstances at my home had become very bad, and survival had become very difficult.
A friend suggested me to come to Mumbai. I came here all alone. I got a job in a garment shop situated in suburban Mumbai. But it didn’t work well. Later, I shifted to Navi Mumbai. I learnt to tailor and now do alterations. I feel I am settled now.
Me: You could have gone to Kanpur, a city nearer to your place, for livelihood. Why Mumbai? Any particular reason?
Ahmed ji: Initially, I had tried my fate in Kanpur. I had started a business. But it didn’t go well. I came to Mumbai because my friends were here and they advised me to. I am glad that their suggestion worked.
Me: Will you tell me more about your struggles with settling in Mumbai with your first job?
Ahmed ji: Nothing very particular. But yes, reference by someone you know was very important those days to get a job anywhere. I guess it’s same nowadays too. People are apprehensive in employing unknown people. Initially, it was difficult to get a job for me. I was a stranger here. People used to become suspicious after hearing my name. Also, there were other factors. Sab Naseeb ka khel hai Madam (Fate plays games, Madam).
Me: Tell me something about your family.
Ahmed ji: I have two sons and a daughter. All are studying. My family doesn’t stay here. They’re at my village.
Me: Ohh! Don’t you feel like bringing your family here?
Ahmed ji: Who doesn’t want to stay with family, Madam? But, there are so many compulsions in life. First, my children are studying, and I feel it is education is less there than it is in Mumbai. Second, my father is very old and ailing and needs to be taken care of. So, my wife stays there to take care of them while I earn here.
Me: Well, tell me something about your experience of staying here in Mumbai, particularly Navi Mumbai.
Ahmed ji: Mumbai ke bare mein ek cheez bolna chahunga. Yeh sahar kabhi kisiko nirash nahin karta (Would like to say one thing about Mumbai that this city never let anyone down). About Navi Mumbai, especially Vashi, it’s a great city to live in.
Me: Will you share your best experience here?
Ahmed ji: Staying here for so long is a great experience in itself. Isn’t it? Well, I never had any bitter experience here. Luckily, I found a good support system and the best thing is my work is appreciated here, and it has helped me to settle down.
Me: Any instance of a bad experience as an ‘outsider’?
Ahmed ji: Nothing happened as such. Inshallah! But yes, certain stereotypes are still there especially trust deficiency on us (Muslims). Initially, it bothered me but now I have got used to it.
Me: What do you like most about this city?
Ahmed ji: The cleanliness, for sure. Also, the well-organised transport system, the educational facilities and the best one is the peacefulness. I don’t remember any major violence since I came to this city. The cleanliness, greenery and peace, make Navi Mumbai one of the best cities to live.
Me: What else you like in your personal life? Any other passion or hobby?
Ahmed ji: No, I don’t have any other interests. However being a diabetic patient, I love to do morning walk and some Pranayam and Yoga. I love reading especially about health issues.
Me: Recently, there was a controversy around Yoga and Suryanamaskar. Some Islamic cleric said that its anti-Islam. What’s your say on it?
Ahmed ji (with a broad and toothy smile): Madam, I don’t want to comment on who said what. I follow things which I think is good for me. It’s about choices and my health…isn’t it? Religion has nothing to do with the lives of ordinary people like us. For those for whom it matters…let them do whatever they want to do. I don’t have any problem with it.
Me: That’s really great! Well, if you would like to change three things about your native place what would they be?
Ahmed ji: Scope for better education, availability of employment and support for farming and agriculture.
Me: What would be your words of advice for your children and the next generation?
Ahmed ji: Dekhiye madam, main ye manta huin ki jeevan mein jo sabse jaroori cheez hai, wo hain sukun. Raat ko sukun se sone ke liye, din mein roti imandari se kamana jaroori hai (I believe all we want in life is contentment at the end of the day. To have a peaceful sleep, we should earn our livelihood with hard work and integrity). There will be problems and struggles. But to deal with them if we take the wrong route, that’s not right. Whatever resources we have, we should make use of them and get ahead in life. And we should have faith in God!
Me: Thank you, Ahmed ji for such a pleasant conversation.
Ahmed ji: Thank you, madam. The pleasure is all mine.