A thick layer of dust shrouds the circular towers of Makai Gate. Of the 52 built to fortify Aurangabad in the 17th century, only 13 gates remain as ageing witnesses to the history made in this former seat of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, situated 403 km northeast of Mumbai.
The medieval gate also marks the border between two cities that live within this history-rich city of 14 lakh people, dotted with historical monuments.
The Makai Gate faces east, towards Mecca, the sacred centre of Islam. To its west, a new Aurangabad is emerging.
It is a city severed from the thick nostalgia of the old. Posh sedans outrace tottering tongas. A thousand small and large scale industries are thriving, as are huge malls, multiplexes and the largest concentration of five star hotels in Maharashtra, after Mumbai.
“Until five years ago, most Aurangabadis didn’t know about Mont Blanc and Sheaffer pens. I’m proud to say these brands are now available in a store around the corner from our home,” says Inder Sethi (57), a tourist guide who lives in the new Aurangabad.
Sethi’s part of the city has been prospering ever since auto parts, pharmaceuticals and steel recycling industries reformed vast acres of farmland into industrial zones, generating employment. This new Aurangabad is now emerging as one of India’s promising information technology destinations.
Global companies like Skoda, which assembles the Rs 60 lakh Audi here, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens and Goodyear have set up plants here.
Ashish Garde, honorary secretary of the Chamber of Marathwada Industries and Agriculture, says the city has many things going for it: “Cheap land, government concessions, good road, rail and air connectivity, a sound education system and its strategic central location in the state.”
Development hasn’t come without a price, though. The half-and-half city seems split in two on political lines as well. The Shiv Sena has emerged as the voice of the new city. The old quarter is a Congress stronghold.
“If it wasn’t for the Sena, Aurangabad would be deprived of peace. The strong Sena presence guarantees our safety," says Abhijat Kurekar (30), an interior designer.
That view, which resonates through the affluent part of the city, is with reference to the “other city” or old Aurangabad, a Muslim-dominated area often dismissively referred to as “Gaza Patti” (Gaza Strip) or “Mini Pakistan”.
This stereotyped quarter is where keymaker Amjad Khan has lived for 10 years, in the eastern shadow of the Makai Gate. It is just across the bridge, but seems like another world.
With an array of rusting keys on display on his cart, the 27-year-old has been confined to the congested limits of the old city, an Aurangabad under a phantom reign of the Nizams who governed it for centuries, right till 1948.
“I was born not too far from this gate and have spent my whole life in this basti (neighbourhood),” says Khan, an insular life that reflects the enclosed existence of the Muslim majority that lives here.
Like him, Khan’s brethren are either preoccupied with traditional callings or have gravitated towards low-level technical jobs of a self-employed nature.
Sayed Mohammed (65), for instance, journeys daily to the new city for his work. The wrinkled weaver has spent 50 years crafting Paithani shawls, one of the city’s remaining ancestral art forms.
Mohammed lives in Shahganj, one of the oldest quarters of old Aurangabad, a 30-minute commute from his workplace, one he covers daily on foot. Urbanisation does not agree with him.
“Rickshaws are an option, but I’d rather walk back,” he says.