Late into the night, as traffic begins to disappear on the roads of Hyderabad, the streets are all but abandoned. Only a few stone-loaded trucks are seen chugging along; and the occasional car, land cruiser or bike whizzing past at such a speed that one cannot even see them easily.
At this hour of darkness, when a number of Hyderabad's citizens are desperately looking to hitch a ride from one spot to another, there are two people who offer to do just that ... for free.
Aashique Ali lives in the village of Allahdad Chand, Paka Qilla, Hyderabad. For a living, he repairs motorbikes at his shop in Khokhar Muhalla. After closing shop, he takes up a second job, one that yields no profit except what he earns in solace and peace of mind.
Everyday, Aashique and his friend, Zafar Ali, rev up Aashique's motorbike to offer free transport to those who who cannot rent a rickshaw.
Aashique stands at Giddu chock, a spot where roads go out to different parts of the city: Kotri, Qasimabad, Latifabad, Hussainabad, etc. He picks and drops people wherever they want to go.
“I work at shop to make a living, but that’s not what I came for in this world,” he said. “Doing what I do for these people makes me feel that I’m also useful in this world, and my life is not of no avail. It makes me happy.”
The free rides begin after 11pm, and end at 2am. But in Ramazan, they go on till Sehri. There are now 20 to 25 people whom Aashique and Zafar pick from different places and drop at their homes on a regular basis.
'Zindagi Gulzar Hai'
Aashique's friend Zafar Ali is blind, not by birth but since childhood. At the age of four, he fell from the stairs and critically injured. His parents were uneducated and decided to cure him at home instead of taking him to the hospital. The mistake wreaked havoc on his life. His eyesight began to wane slowly, and within six more years, he was completely blind.
That was the point Zafar left school, in grade five. After that, he and his friend Aashique Ali, too, stopped his studies.
Zafar Ali is now married and the father of two sons. He previously thought he was living an aimless life because he could do nothing but sit at home all the time, but when he joined his friend’s company he found new meaning to the life.
“I have found a way to give meaning to a life which was useless. Despite my handicap, I’m able to lend a helping hand to the helpless. I have escaped attacks, including one where a bullet scraped my finger. But I’m dedicated to the work. It makes me happy,” he says.
Zafar and Aashique were born in the same week, lived in the same neighbourhood, played and studied together, and are now doing social work together which they want to continue as long as they keep having the strength to do so.
Since Zafar can’t work, Aashique Ali buys used motorbikes for him, and helps him repair and sell them, so that his friend has a livelihood.
“I don’t want to leave him alone,” said Aashique Ali. “He can’t live without me, neither can I without him.”
Rs250 every day for 10 years in a row
Every morning, Aashique Ali puts aside Rs250 for his night rides. The money is enough to run his bike for three to four hours continuously.
Where did the idea for this service come to him?
“Some ten years ago, in 2005, we were returning to home from Kotri’s Baba Salahuddin shrine late at night. On the way, we met a lonely young boy who requested for a ride to Hyderabad. When we dropped him off at his home, he wept and prayed for us. On that day, we decided to start this service, and be it rain or cold, we haven’t missed a single day, except Saheed Benazir’s assassination incident, when the police did not allow us to work for 15 days.”
Aashique Ali said that they did not have a car, or they would even pick up people from the more remote areas of the city.
In a city like Hyderabad, where every bike owner has his own tale of mugging, how were these two surviving, I asked.
“We have been attacked by muggers several times, including the time a bullet grazed Zafar's finger,” says Aashique. “No doubt its dangerous. Initially, the policemen also disturbed us; they would inquire about us from everyone we dropped off. But now we know the policemen and they know us.”
Aashique said that at first, people would laugh at the two; relatives called them crazy and parents advised them against it. But they kept it up, and now they are known for their work. Their phone numbers are spread all across the city and people can ring them up from anywhere in the city at any time to set up a ride.
In these ten years, they have used the same bike, whereas some 15 other people whom they once lifted from one place to another, had now bought their own motorbikes.
“In a society where no one cares about others, offering such a service looks very odd; which is why, in the initial days people would shy away from us,” says Aashique.
“We asked people where they want to go, so that we may offer them lift. Many of them grew suspicious and tried to avoid us. To solve that problem, we put a tape recorder on the bike and would play na'ats, which made them trust us more.”
But for most people who meet these two Good Samaritans for the first time, they are still too good to be true.
—All photos by author