With folded hands, tears streaming down his cheeks, pleading for life, he had emerged as the terror-stricken face of the Gujarat riots.
On Saturday, he was moved close to tears as he looked up at a sign in marigold on green velvet screaming “Welcome, Qutubuddin Ansari”. This was his new-found neighbours on Tiljala Road greeting Ansari on the day he took the first steps towards “starting a new life”, with wife Tahira Banu, four-year-old daughter Rokeya and one-year-old son Zeeshan by his side.
“Hum yahan bahut sapney leke aaye hain (I have come here with lots of dreams),” smiled Ansari, safely ensconced on the terrace of his two-roomed Tiljala Road apartment, hours after disembarking from the Geetanjali Express that brought him to his adopted home from Mumbai.
“I am confident that whatever happened to me in Gujarat will never happen here,” said the man who was driven to the locality, where he will now live and run a tailoring shop, in a government of West Bengal Tata Sumo, red light and all. Adding to the VIP feel of his first trip to Tiljala Road was the police and DYFI escort, and, of course, the media entourage.
If the city had rolled out a red carpet for Saturday’s special guest, the government did what it could to maintain an “official” distance from the rehabilitation of Ahmedabad’s Ansari.
“The Bengal government is not providing shelter or employment to Ansari as stated by the government in Gujarat,” said CPM state secretary Anil Biswas.
“Some close friends of Ansari had contacted their friends in Calcutta and sought a shelter for him. It is true that our party members are also helping Ansari find shelter in Calcutta, but the government is in no way involved in the process.”
Biswas, however, added that Ansari had felt “insecure” in Gujarat and so sought shelter in Bengal. “Every Indian citizen has the right to live and earn his livelihood in any state of the country and no one should play politics over this issue.”
Ansari himself kept it simple when asked why he had chosen this city as his new home: “Only people from Calcutta had responded to an appeal published in the magazine Communalism Combat seeking help for my relocation and rehabilitation.”
And the only time he faced the flashbulbs with folded hands on Saturday was to say: “I have nothing to do with politics… I just want to lead a peaceful life here with my family… And I hope that what happened to me happens to no one else.”