Behrampada and Its Residents: Zainab Bi
Duration: 00:08:04; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 31.086; Saturation: 0.168; Lightness: 0.433; Volume: 0.178; Cuts per Minute: 0.124; Words per Minute: 135.519
Summary: This is an interview from the rushes of the ‘I live in Behrampada’, a documentary on a Mulim ghetto in the context of the Bombay riots, an aftermath of the Babari Masjid demolition. I was 8 years old during the Bombay ’92-93 riots. My only memory of the time was an unscheduled two-month holiday from school, though the adult talk about stray dead bodies and destruction remains stored in some corner. Later various other incidents of violent identity politics and representations of the Bombay riots in films etc. made a constant a reference point. Going through the rushes after 15 years has also been a process of coming to terms with my own city and its black holes.
The riots of ’92-93 divided the famed cosmopolitan city of Bombay on communal lines and the neighbourhood of Behrampada bore the brunt of this division. The film explored social biases, which under emergency can create mayhem. In this search, the film interviewed people from different classes and religions – namely, Hindu building residences, and Muslim slum dwellers; authorized buildings and unauthorized or under-dispute settlements. What is apparent in the interviews is the different perspectives on each event, accusation of the ‘other’ community and the feeling of being wronged and rejected. However, reading/seeing the whole rushes makes it clear that it was a manifestation of old politics of majoritarianism. It is recommended to visit the other interviews under the same category in this site in order to understand the whole picture.
Zainab Bi, was one of the first residents of Behrampada. She came to Behrampada around partition in 1948 and literally made this land with her own hands by feeding sand into the marshland. She has witnessed the growth of urbanisation from the unpopulated marshland to a vibrant settlement to the call of re-development which had rendered her as illegal and to the carnage of 1992-93. The history of the 46 year old would never consider her story as a valid source. The history of war, border, legislation and governance will never remember the tiny hands that actually created land for the next generation to live and contest over that land. Today’s Mother India is rendered illegal citizen and has been threatened to be displaced, all in the name of development and in the garb of religion.
Interviewee: Zainab bi (ZB); Interviewer: Madhusree Dutta (M). Shot by: Moloy Roy
Director: Madhusree Dutta
Interview of old Zainab bi. She is dressed for the occasion in
Sparkling white and surrounded by her friends. Dates do not mean much to Zainab Bi, the earliest resident of Behrampada. Time is calculated by seeing the growth in her own child. Only things that the old lady remembers vividly are her four friends from three different religions and the cattle.
(M): Please tell us about Behram and speak a little loudly okay Chachi (Aunty)? Chachi, how many years have you lived here?
(ZB): I don't remember much but my son was five years old then, Mohammed Ibrahim
(M): how old is he now?
(NB): forty and eight…
(M): so he is forty and eight now and he was five then?
(M): how did Behram look back then?
(ZB): There were four huts here back then. There was Kelabai, me, and they call her Amirbi, she was here and Kishtu's mom who died, Krishtani (Christian), she was here…that's it. And Kelabai had a cow. She used to wash cows.
(Friend): It was empty.
(ZB): This place was completely empty.
43 years ago this same prime land of Behrampada was a marsh land, filled with water on all sides. Zainab bi
narrates the development as a simple '… you came you filled it in, she came she filled it in… and the space got made..' For her is was simple way of living by creating land and livelihood. Little she knew that the contemporary state does not recognise labour but only papers. The simple creation by carrying mud and stones in hands are not valid anymore.
(Friend): There was so much water accumulation here.
(ZB): Yes, there was so much water, that side was empty, this side was empty. There was only this much space in the middle.
(M): So then how did any business or work got done?
(ZB): We were women, we would build huts, do this and that.
(M): So how did you live?
(ZB): there was only this much space and we filled it all with sand. Everything was barren. We would get stones from here and mud from there and fill up the land.
(M): Who would bring all that?
(ZB): We did it with our own hands.
(Friend): Each person filled it on their own land, where their houses stand now.
(ZB): Yes. If she came she filled it, when I came I filled mine and so on. As people came in they kept filling the land.
(M): You too filled your land then?
M: So what surrounded Behram at that time? Do you remember?
(ZB): Only grass and barren land and jungle on all sides. There was only this much space between all that. And Hagi, who died, his alcohol place was on that side. And Kelabai's dead buffalos would pass from there. There was Rathod who worked with animal hide. And then they would be cut right there, the dead buffalos! We would cover our noses and (showing puking actions) eat like this! Even our food would not digest. There would be so much odour. And where all we would have to bring water from, Navpada, Kamela, dhakka, we would bring water from all those places and those people would kick our clothes out.
(M): How did Behram grow?
(ZB): It grew, you came, I came, people kept coming in and gradually it grew.
(M): And how did they make place here?
(ZB): The place grew, they kept adding sand and the place kept growing. Razakh Bhai fought a case.
(M): Chachi, who started this? Who came here first?
(ZB): Razakh Sheikh started it. Raj Lakshmi came here then, Bubul bhai, Relwaiya (railways) came, Relwaiya's house was set up when they even fought a case in the High court.
(M): For what reason?
(ZB): For the place.
(Friend): When the place got made, then they fought a case and they won.
(M): Fought with whom?
(Friend): With the Railway.
The odour of dead cattle, bushes and marsh land, the country liquor brewery, lack of drinking water, Zainab Bi remembers the old days animatedly. She is even mildly irritated that the middle class shooting crew takes so long to understand the simple thing. Isn't everybody suppose to make their homes with their own labour!?
A mention of the ongoing land dispute between Behrampada and the Railways. But for the old woman Railways is part of the influx of people that come naturally as a place grows.
How does a nation get build? By the political events of marking borders, wars, legislations and papers - officially? Or by the hands of Zainab bi and likes who construct – land, homes, paths, settlements – unofficially? In the middle of heated blame and counter blame between the Muslim slum and the Hindu building residents in Behrampada, Zainab bi and her friends recounts only what is important to them – the memory of creating.
(M): Was the line here then? When you came here in the beginning was the line functioning here then?
(ZB): No, there was barren land and water here then on both the sides.
(M): So how did you make your way in and out then?
(ZB): Oh! It was such a small space. We would use stones etc. to walk out. Then we kept filling sand and soil, whoever came in filled soil and the place kept growing.
(M): Then how did it get this big? Please explain a little more, we were not here then, you know what happened, how it kept getting bigger.
(ZB): Oh baba, just by getting mud from here and there, mud from the railways, just by filling it up. We kept making huts, at that time we did not have cement houses, nor was there any metal roof. We made the huts out of cane etc.
The pressure of survival in a hostile and wild land kept the fancy religious intolerances at bay. But as the settlement grew, the neighbouring areas got developed and urbanization set in, the curse of civilization market and religion have raised its ugly head. Zainab bi has a vague concept of homeland, in some far away place called Hyderabad that she has never visited. All her life she lived in Bombay. Yet, at the old age she is termed as illegal migrant to the city by the people who neither lived here for as long as her, nor have they created any land for the city.
While the interviewer desperately tries to get her talk about the partition and Pakisthan. But Zainab bi refuses to engage with that socalled master narrative that had nothing to do with her life. She refutes that all Muslim identities are homogenously related to the event of partition. For her creating Behrampada is the only identity.
(M): Chachi, the Hindu- Muslim fighting that is going on now, was there anything like this in those days?
(ZB): No, there was nothing like this in those days. Hindu and Muslims would sit and eat together, nobody ever knew who was a Hindu or who was a Muslim.
(M): Before here, which place do you come from?
(ZB): Mumbai, Nagpada.
(M): Oh you are from Bombay itself.
(M): You sound like you are from Uttar Pradesh.
(ZB): Yes? Its because I have no teeth.
(M): What is your hometown?
(ZB): My hometown is Hyderabad and my Husband's is Lucknow. I have never even seen Hyderabad. I was born here, brought up here and now am getting old here too.
(M): So Chachi, when Hindustan and Pakistan were made, there was a lot of fighting and riots then also. At that time too there were no problems here?
(ZB): No, I lived in Mumbai then.
(M): When Behram was first made, were there only Muslims here then?
(ZB): North Indians, Hindus and Muslims, there were only a few huts, not an entire area like this. For one bucket of water, where all we used to go, only then would we get one bucket of water.
Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow
The quest to find a "story" leads the interviewer, to an even more real story. Not a big story of conflict but a little story of creation. The lines on Zainab Bi's face stand the test of time and hold testimony of the existence of the settlement that she calls fondly Behram.
(M): What do you remember about when you came here first?
(Friend): When we got here first, only our huts were here. All this was jungle. Water was always accumulated here.
(ZB): Yes, we had water up till here (points to her waist) all the time.
(Friend): We filled sand and made all this. This road was also not there, we made it. First we made a dirt road here and much later a tar road.
(M): How was it then? Tell us some stories of those days when you came.
(YS): That's what we are telling you, when we first came, where our hut is, it was inhabited only till there, the rest of it was jungle. Gradually, it came this big. When we came here everything was a jungle, the water level was this high. So we could not even go out to eat. Someone would get half a roti and we would find fish in the water, cook that and eat. Such was our time here. We would have to walk on the pipe and go to the other side to get water. Slowly we filled sand and made this road, cut trees, we made the dirt road by which we could go out. After which Hindustan and Pakistan fought, red-yellow bombs started blasting everywhere so we would hide in the bushes. We would get up to find insects all over our bodies. After that good people started coming here to live and the place became better. That's it.