Kolkata: On lazy Sunday morning, when many were snuggling into the warmth of their blanket, a handful of brave men and women took on a daunting task – Knowing their Neighbours in an(other) Kolkata. Metiabruz, located on the fringes of Kolkata, is often identified as mini-Pakistan or a place that has a high crime rate and more. But not many know the history and the importance of this place.
Metiabruz or Matiyabruz (meaning The Mud Tower), has a rich history. Its Bichali Ghat was where Nawab Wajid Ali Shah had landed with his men, with an agenda of meeting the Queen and getting justice. He had refused to sign the Lord Dalhousie’s Treaty and hence when he landed in Kolkata, he was arrested in Fort William and later put up in BNR House, where he continued to live in exile. It was during this exile period the Nawab, who was missing Lucknow, used his annual allowance of Rs 12 lakhs to recreate Lucknow within Kolkata. Years down the line, the fonts of these tales seem to have faded and the place got a new identity – the Muslim ghetto. This dock area of Kolkata, which witnessed some of the goriest gang wars in the eighties, thereby earning the reputation of being an area with high crime rate. Thus, Metiabruz, despite a rich history became a place where non-Muslims didn’t want to visit.
Recalling the experience of having walked down the lanes of the infamous Metiabruz, Arunabha Adhikari, Associate Professor of Physics at the West Bengal State University, said, “I had never visited Metiabruz prior to this. Though I never believed the general narrative of the place being a mini-Pakistan or a den for criminals, somehow, I never had the chance visit this place. And now that I have, I can say with conviction that Metiabruz defies all the myths that we have grown up hearing about it.” He then added, “I didn’t find it to be obnoxiously dirty as often projected. Nor did I find those residents of Garden Reach area lacking in education. On the contrary, I realised that the Muslims of the are are trying to break the age-old narrative, that we have grown up hearing.”
Elaborating the need of having organised the walk, Sabir Ahamed of Association SNAP said, “We had around 60 participants from different walks of life participating in this walk, most maintained that it was their debut visit to this part of Kolkata. And most of the participants had heard tales of it being a dirty locality, infested with criminals but none had the slightest idea of the rich history of this place.” The walk was organised under the aegis of Know Your Neighbour programme, a unique concept, which aims at making people other community interact with Muslims in the ghettos to do away with misconception and prejudice that exists. Locals too were geared up for this interaction. Kashif Zafar, a school teacher in Meatiabruz area said, “Dialogue between communities is a must. An initiative like this in the long run will help India unite, as it will help us bond by shedding inibitions and getting to know each other better.”
During the day long interaction, many visitors were left mesmerized by the rich history of a Muslim Ghetto and the humility of the Sibtainabad Imbara built by the pining Nawab in the memory of Lucknow’s Bara Imambara. It is here that the mortal remains of the exiled Nawab and his family rest today.
“This Heritage Walk was an amazing experience, and I was feeling ashamed for not having visited the place earlier. I particularly enjoyed the Know Your Neighbour interaction, which was hosted on the premise of the Imambara. After interacting with the local people, I realized that basic character of middle class remain the same throughout, irrespective of what religion we follow. Hence I feel that such interactions if sustained will help in resurrecting the declining social fabric of India,” said social activist Dolon Ganguly. One of the participanting youth even clarified that no Pakistani flag is hoisted in Metiabruz, the green flag with a crescent that they can spot in the areas were Islamic flags.
However, despite having enjoyed the interaction, Adhikari, felt a bit embarrassed with the way the local Muslims were trying to explain their Indian roots. “I was ashamed at a point when I realized, how these locals were trying to explain their loyalty towards the country. Just because of their faith, will they have to keep explaining their contribution towards building this nation,” Adhikari rued.
Another social activist who had made it to the Heritage Walk was Ratnaboli Ray, who took on to Facebook and wrote, “A rich trove of history also dwells within the precincts of the dock area and the factories. Yet, for most inhabitants of the rest of Kolkata, Metiabruz is an ‘other’ place; where ‘they’ reside. This initiative was by Association SNAP and Ebong Alap with Abhijan Publishers also helping out.”