Ali Asgar. Picture by Imran Badi
Do you earn more or less, compared with 2004?
Ten years ago, I was in school
Do you save more or less, compared with 2004?
Much more. A year ago, I was in Dubai working as an accountant with an infrastructure company. I returned eight months ago and started this bakery. (The bakery is called Fakhri Bakery.)
What things does your house now have that it did not have in 2004?
A washing machine, a colour TV (earlier we had a black and white TV), a laptop....
How did you travel then, how do you travel now?
I did not have any vehicle earlier. Now I have a bike
Do you usually travel by train or air?
I travelled by air when I went to Dubai. Otherwise, I travel by train, sleeper class
Have you travelled abroad?
I have gone abroad only once — to Dubai in 2012
Where do you buy your groceries from — the corner store or malls?
The local kirana store
Do you shop round the year or only before festivals?
I get new clothes only during festivals — twice a year for Id
Do you own an AC?
What kind of school did you study in?
I studied in the local taluka school in Anjar till Class VI. After moving to Wankaner, I studied in the Vidya Bharati school
Did they have the mid-day meal scheme in your school?
Yes, in the government school in Anjar. The meal used to be quite good
Is there any difference in the food you can afford now and what you could 10 years ago?
Yes. Ten years ago, we ate good food like biryani only on special occasions. Now we do so once a month
Have you got an Aadhaar card? How does it help?
Yes, I have got the card but haven’t used it for anything so far
Do you encounter more corruption or less in your daily life?
Can you cite from personal experience where you have faced corruption?
(Thinks for a while.) No, I have never had to pay a bribe — not for my passport or driving licence. But I have seen instances of corruption in government offices
What was the last movie you saw and when?
(Thinks hard) I think it was Bachna Ae Haseeno in the movie theatre
That was long ago. You don’t like movies?
I do. But I don’t see them in halls anymore. I watch all the latest Hollywood and Bollywood movies on my laptop
Which was the last Bollywood one?
When was the last time you ate outside with your family?
I go out to eat with my mother once a month
Do you have a cellphone? Did you have one before this?
Yes. (Breaks into a smile). This is my third cellphone, I bought it two months ago
What do you do with your cell phone?
I use it to talk to my friends, chat with them on WhatsApp and Yahoo Messenger, listen to music and even watch movies
Are you on Twitter?
No. But I am on Facebook
Do you go on holidays/pilgrimages? How often do you go?
I have gone on pilgrimages to various places in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra with my mother; to shrines that are holy for Dawoodi Bohras
What about holidays?
I have been on a holiday only once. When I was studying in Rajkot, I went on a trip to Diu with friends
Do you run out of money to buy food towards the end of the month?
Do you have more or less pairs of clothes compared to 2004?
More. I told you I get new clothes twice a year
Describe the biggest changes in your life since 2004?
Thirteen years ago, we used to be very well-off. My father owned a big bakery in Anjar. But we lost everything in the 2001 earthquake. Our home and bakery was destroyed. My father and my three sisters died in the earthquake. My mother was badly injured and remained bed-ridden for several months. It was Republic Day and I had gone to school for the parade. I was in Class VI then. We moved to Wankaner after that because my mother’s relatives were here.
Ten years ago, we had nothing. Now I have been able to stand on my own feet, start my own business. I have named this bakery after my father. I can look after my mother now and don’t have to depend on relatives
What is your biggest regret in the past 10 years?
I have no regrets. None so far
What is your biggest achievement in the past 10 years?
That I no longer have to work for anyone but have my own business which is doing well
Are you happier or sadder now? Why?
Happier. Kyonki main mummy ko kabhi papa ki kami mehsoos karne nahi diya. (Because I never let my mother feel the absence of my father.)
Looks can be misleading. Ali Asgar looks older than his years. He also seems much more serious than he turns out to be. He is sitting with some friends at a shop in the crowded market place in the small town of Wankaner in Gujarat. Wankaner is an erstwhile princely state in the Saurashtra region of the state. It is around 200km from the state capital of Ahmedabad and 50km from the nearest large city of Rajkot.
After chatting about the elections, Ali shyly agrees to be interviewed about the last one decade and the changes that have come about in his life. He is not used to talking about himself. He often thinks over a question for a minute or two before replying. But when he does, he tries to be as precise as possible. And very matter of fact. He was born in the town of Anjar in the Kutch district of Gujarat and moved to Wankaner when he was 10 years old. He passed out of the local school here and did his graduation from a college in Rajkot. He worked in Dubai as an accountant in an infrastructure firm but had to return home to look after his mother. With the money he saved in Dubai, he managed to open a bakery eight months ago. The bakery is doing well and he is proud to have fulfilled a long-cherished dream.
It is only towards the very end of the question-answer session, we realise that we have stumbled upon — entirely by chance — on a remarkable life story; a heart-warming tale of fortitude and resilience, and hope triumphing over tragedy.
Decade Decoder is an occasional election feature that seeks to bring out through a question-and-answer session whether lives have changed for the better or the worse in the past 10 years