No one in Hanuman Tekri is surprised when complete outsiders come looking for a particular two-storeyed house, where a bakery was once located, selling delicious cakes and cheap bread. Vadodara's Best Bakery, where 14 people were murdered on the evening of March 1, 2002, is practically a landmark.
The house now has a new landlady and new tenants.
<b1>The landlady is Henna, an anaemic woman in her early thirties, who occupies the upper floor with her two children — son Sameer and daughter, Sabira. Henna is the widow of Nafidullah, who in turn is the son of Habidullah, who originally owned the bakery. Nafidullah died of jaundice two years ago. After his death Henna divided up the ground floor and rented it out to three separate families.
“My husband and I returned here from Mumbai some years ago. He died soon after,” said Henna. “There has been no news from my sister-in-law Zaheera Sheikh for years and after my husband's death the house belongs to me. Nobody knows where she is."
The rooms are clean but have sparse furniture: a cot, a single plastic chair, a television set.
Henna declined to answer any question related to the incident of March 1. She said that she was not present in the house at that time. "I want to forget the past," she added. "I do not know about Congress or BJP. I will vote for anyone who promises to clean the drains and ensure water supply.
She earns around Rs 1,500 a month from ironing clothes for richer neighbours and making rakhis. The tenants blankly denied any knowledge of the dark history of the house.
What was once the bakery is now an open space with walls, but no roof. From the rooms come snatches of conversation and strains of Hindi film music float past. For all the fresh paint that has been used on the walls, it still looks damaged, crumbling.
Across the narrow lane, elderly Jyotsna Bhat whispered that Henna, in fact, was a Gujarati Hindu who Nafiddullah had married. Jyotsna was the only one in the area who did not feign ignorance of the horrific event of five years ago. "I was inside my house when the mob attacked the bakery," she recalls. "The neighbours all ran away. I could not because my husband was bed-ridden. I could neither call to the police because the phone lines had been cut."
"Much time has passed since that evening. But we hope that such incidents are never repeated," she said.