Mansa Shankarlal irons out every crease of the white Pathan suit before her even though she's short on time — she has a large pile to iron before she leaves for her home in Sabarmati, a 45-minute bus journey from her workplace.
Her workplace is a broken but resolute ironing table in Dariyapur — a Muslim-dominated area that is one of the most communally sensitive areas in the country. And Shankarlal, whose large earrings and bindi are a dead giveaway, is the only Hindu in a one-kilometre radius. The children of the area lovingly call the 65-year-old ‘Khaala’ (aunt).
For the last four years, she has set her ironing table at a little nook in Nagina Pol, a housing society of over 1,000 Muslims. During the Godhra riots, 22 Muslims were shot in the alleys of this society and several homes were burnt. There was a time when there would be a riot every day in this infamous locality.
But the Marwari matron is unperturbed. “Their skullcaps don’t frighten me because people here treat me like family. If there is a problem because of the bomb blasts, they will ensure I reach home safely,” she says confidently. And adds, “People ask me why I continue to work here, but my business is good and my clients are good people. Why should I move?”
As she picks up the next garment to be ironed, Shankarlal offers a toothless smile as she says, “I come bindaas, I go bindaas.”