An imambara in the crowded lanes of Metiabruz in West Bengal stands out for its white colour and the emptiness inside it. Outside the entrance gate is a small sign on the wall, etched in stone. It reads, “Mausoleum of the last two kings of Oudh. Wajid Ali shah (1847-56) and Birjis Qadr (1857-58)”.
Ghulam Hussain, a descendant and caretaker of the imambara, laments Wajid Ali Shah’s stabbing in the back by his own people and his eventual death. Hussain rues how the slice of Lucknawi tehzeeb (etiquette) that Wajid Ali Shah is known to have brought to the area has been replaced by acrimony and rancour, especially now during the elections.
“He made this area a mini Lucknow. People were nice as he introduced the good life of Awadh and even introduced the food from there. All this has been forgotten,” says Hussain.
But the food has managed to retain the traditional charm, for instance, that of Kolkata biryani which was born here. Legend goes that Wajid Shah loved to feed people. But by the end of his life he was reduced to a pauper. So he and his chef devised biryani which had chunks of meat and potatoes and made for a rich meal.
Next to the imambara, just a few shops away is a biryani store. Rasool Alam, manager of the store, tells is, “The potato has blended with the biryani and so have we with the rest of the city. Most people of Metiabruz have settled here from Lucknow and other areas. We don’t feel alien anymore. Yes, we don’t like it when we are called ‘mini Pakistan’.”
Located in the heart of Kolkata, Metiabruz, which goes to polls in the fourth phase, is Muslim dominated area. Apart from being the home to Kolkata biryani and Wajid Shah in exile, is known for the large scale weaving hub.
A Trinamool Congress stronghold till recently, Metiabruz has now begun to witness flags of ISF and Congress as well. The entire belt of Khidipur and Garden Reach Street to Metiabruz is what has given TMC its strength in the past.
But tables could turn this time due to the entry of Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui’s party, Indian Secular Front (ISF). Hussain conveys the mixed feelings in the area which perhaps could see some winds of change. “I am neither against Narendra Modi nor against Mamata Banerjee. Both have done things for us. We shall vote for those who address our concern and feel for us.”
“It’s unfortunate that the narrative has become Hindu versus Muslims. Politicians are playing their card and we need to be careful. Both communities can co-exist,” he adds.
The ISF and Congress has made a simple issue here. To win Hindu votes, Mamata Banerjee is distancing herself from her traditional voters — the minorities. In fact, the TMC has cut tickets by about 40% to Muslims to avoid polarisation. It’s this which is being lapped up by the ISF to make the point that it’s only they alone who will never leave the minorities alone. For the ISF its important to make inroads into Kolkata as well to make itself politically relevant.
Centuries ago when Wajid Ali Shah made Metiabruz his home in exile, he ensured that unlike in his hometown Awadh, the people here mingled around and remained united.
As it goes to polls in a deeply divided and polarised atmosphere, Metiabruz is facing the same test today. Will this traditional TMC bastion see the winds of change this time?