[VoxSpace Exclusive] Finding Akbar : The Incredible Story Of Fatima, A Mother In Search For Her Missing Son

Editor’s Note:

When we took up the story of Fatima, we knew we were doing something which really mattered. We knew we were bringing out something so profound that it would resonate across the world. Fatima in her simplistic ways of searching for her son brought us a story which we feel proud to be associated with. In the article below, you shall find us, the writers, interacting with a mother whose child was snatched away from her. And yet, here is a woman who goes about searching for him, with an infectious optimism which no motivational speaker or self-help book will tell you. In her words, “If you can’t listen to yourself, why will anyone else do. So at the end of the day, it is just the act of convincing ourselves of our ideas that take all the effort in the world”. You may have met her, or are going to meet her. Our request is just to stop a minute, and listen to her. You will perhaps be more of yourself than ever before.

As a mark of respect and help, we sent our findings, research and the article to various reputable world media agencies for greater reach. These media houses had incredible things to share with their thoughts on our works. Also, BBC and Al Jazeera International will be making a documentary of Fatima, in time to come, for which VoxSpace will act as the research partner. To all the media houses, we bow down to thee.

When The Whole World Media Stands For Us

“It is something of an irony when we look at this woman. When we take the atrocious scenario that she is now presently living in, being plucked out from her normal living, and to be thrown into a chaotic life, and still to maintain a sense of well-being around her, is nothing short of a miracle. To be able to smile in the darkest of hours is humanity’s biggest endeavour, and this woman, Fatima, has shown her valour time and again over the past 3 years. Her story is both tragic and inspirational at the same time. Our unwavering support extends to her, now and forever more…” – BBC News India

“Fatima is a hero. A doomed one, but an incredibly powerful woman, who the judicial system of the country has wronged in the most spectacular fashion. This woman, as a mother on a pursuit of a simple normal life, has forever defined why we as a humanity, have suffered a heavy defeat. Kudos, and forgive us…” – UNESCO India

“A story which the government will make all efforts to push under the rug. A woman which the judicial history will try to erase from the books. A mother whose relentless search will long be forgotten by humanity. Appalling, Incredible and Full of Sorrow” – Special Report Al Jazeera

“Fatima is a hero for everyone. Despite the society. Despite the system. She is a hero, and her grit even today inspires the strength of our souls” – Women’s Era

Will the world forget her? Will what we do count for nothing? Can humanity really forget what pain was inflicted upon her? Maybe. But the story of Fatima for ages and pursuits will remain a tragic retelling of judicial error. And perhaps an error of humanity forever.

Chapter One – A Day In Fatima’s Life – Finding Akbar (July 2017, Hyderabad)

For forty-year-old Fatima, the day starts with an early Namaz, as does any other. She completes her prayers and offerings to the God almighty, and takes out a small heap of straw and hay, to feed her two goats, Zorro and Kemal (both named by Akbar) which are now about 3 years old. Next, she walks around her small house, along her muddy pathway which is occasionally speckled by stones, for half an hour. She carefully picks up any sharp objects, which the playful kids of the surroundings throw into her house. To them, she is a mad old lady living in her cursed little brick house. For them, her lawn made of mud and soil is just a thrash garden, where they can throw empty beer bottles, half eaten biryani packets and such. Fatima, of course, for herself doesn’t really matter these things.

Her job is to prepare herself for the hardships for the day. Her struggle is to hope beyond imagination and prepare to have her spirits trampled upon every night. After picking up the rubbish off her lawn, she goes to have a bath, and ready herself to push her cart of clips, rubber bands, and bangles out to the centre. Out to Charminar’s Laad bazaar, by eight in the morning.

After reaching her designated spot she fixes, a small tarpaulin sheet over her cart, to avoid rain and heat, and picks out a stool which she every day keeps safe within the Hotel A-One Biryani. It is a strange thing that for the past three years, she hasn’t lost even single belonging of her. Nothing has been lifted from her cart, nothing has been stolen from her home, and nothing has been misplaced ever. Everything is in her control, and nothing goes amiss. After all, she has suffered enough with what has happened owing to her recklessness.

“When you are keeping something safe, you are taking responsibility towards it. I can form a bond with whatever I sell, and whatever I have. I think to myself when I save something, I also earn something” Fatima says, during the business hours, which starts early on the weekends. We can see that she is an expert saleswoman with a practised excitement and apathy. However, even though the business will only pick up in the next hour or so (it is just about 3 in the afternoon now), she slowly unravels the make do tent bindings and shuts shop literally. She then pushes her cart home, and carefully notes down her day’s savings and earnings. She again pets her two goats and sets off to her daily task by four. Finding her missing son, Akbar.

Chapter Two – For Unknown Destinations And Unknown Fortune

She waits to catch a bus. Any bus. Going anywhere. Stopping anywhere. She waits just to catch a bus from Charminar. When we approached her in July, she was boarding the bus to Hitech city, amongst dozens of college going boys, and tiring men who were perhaps taking to the city to bring themselves some miscellaneous purchases. She remains one of the three women who were boarding the bus at its origin point. The first thing she does, as soon as she got on the bus, is taking out pamphlets out of her satchel, some made of fragile red paper, and some others made of yellow. She then walks through the bus, and distributes these pamphlets, to each and every one. The conductor faintly recognizes her and nods at her apathetically. He knows the story, we later understand. This is not the first time she’s met him or boarded this bus.

“Fatima behen is a good woman. Allah will do good things to her. I have never seen her lost or crying on the bus. I have always seen her happy and content in what she is doing. We know her story, and of Akbar, and so our comrades and colleagues allow her to board the bus without a ticket. We also allow her to paste pamphlets in the bus. That is the least we can do. I’m sure Almighty Allah will answer her prayers” Rayizullah, the bus conductor speaks about Fatima. True to his word, we find that most of the buses which originate from Charminar, Imlibun (MGBS), Jubilee Bus Station, and Afzalgunj, carry the pamphlets of Fatima. Pamphlets which carry the photograph of her 17-year-old son, Akbar. His resemblance is printed out on the paper, with as much closeness as one can find in the multitude of Xerox shops in the area. Below his photograph, his identification marks have been listed out. The languages he speaks, his father’s name, the colour of his clothes when he was last seen, and more intricate details make up for the rest of the paper.

Fatima, searching for her son, for the past three years, has always stuck to a calculated routine. As she boards this bus, there is a custom she follows. She takes the window seat, always, and before the bus starts, she notes down the number of the bus in a small pocket diary she has in the cloth satchel she carries. As we learn later, she also marks the get off point, so that she can cover it again in the next periodical cycle. We take the seat behind her, and the bus starts with a small icky roar, as the monumental Charminar is left behind.

Chapter Three – The Life Appears As We Want To See It:  Finding The Light In the Darkest Hours

“Do you always get on the bus at this time, and where to now, Jiji?” We ask her, and she intently looks out of the window, as we take the narrow road out of the old city.

“Haan. Yes. I come to the bus depot at this time only. Today, I am in this bus, tomorrow in some other. Today I will get off at Yousufguda. I have not been there for the last three months…” she looks at another bus which crosses ours, and falls silent for a moment. “I will come to Yousufguda, again next month, during Ramzan. At that time, the place will be busy and I can talk to more number of people”

“Ok, but do you think this will work? Will people even remember your pamphlet in the rush? It is a big city after all?” we ask her, carefully measuring our words, so as to not hurt her.

“Yes. It is a big city. That is why there is hope no? if it was a small city, I would’ve known by now. I would have lost my Akbar. This is a big city, so I still have a chance. If they will forget once, they will remember the next time. People have their own lives, their own worries. Why will they stop to help a woman like me? But it is my job to find Akbar, and ask for help. Ask for help, and help shall be given, doesn’t the Holy Quran say so?”

“You seem to believe a good part in the God and the Holy Quran?”

“Yes. Yes. Allah is just testing me. When my family needed me, I went to Kuwait. Today, I am searching for my son. It is destiny don’t you think? I belive that he just wants to see me strive hard and put all my life into this. If that is his wish, then so be it”

Chapter Four – The Story of Fatima Before Fortune Hit Her Hard

Twenty-Two Years earlier, Fatima and her cousin, Yakub Inayatullah, eloped from their respective homes in the womb of Charminar. Fatima was then 18 years old, and Yakub had just celebrated his 33rd birthday. Yakub was always someone that the Aktars welcomed in their household. Yakub’s family and Fatima’s were connected through Fatima’s mother whose step sister was Yakub’s. It added to the fact that the two families lived just a couple of lanes away. When the time was ripe, it was thought of that, Yakub marries Raziya, Fatima’s elder sister, who was six years elder to Fatima. The talks went on between the families, but due to financial bindings in arranging a lavish ceremony, they had to call off the alliance.

As fate would have it, years passed and Yakub couldn’t find a good match for himself. It was at this time, that Yakub started tutoring Fatima on her B.Com lessons, on the insistence of her mother. Slowly this led to the blossoming of love, and all was left was to talk and hatch an alliance. However, Yakub’s mother remembered the financial bindings that were in place and rejected the match. In the meantime, Yakub had applied and found a job in Kuwait, in a microfinance company which operated in dollars. As the time for his departure neared, the couple decided to take the matters into their hands. After Ramzan that year, on a fine wintery day, the couple left with their bare belongings, and went to Kuwait, leaving behind their families. Because of this, Fatima’s father suffered a heart stroke, six months later and passed away. As time went in, Fatima found her home with Yakub in Kuwait.

However, after five years of living there, Yakub and Fatima just couldn’t work it out. Constant quarrels, pity fights and inflated egos, led to many unresolved nights. By then, ironically, Fatima was pregnant as well. This made the matters worse for Yakub, as he was now bound to stay home, for longer hours and all through the night. His whims and fancies wouldn’t work out anymore. As is the tradition with most, once Fatima entered her 7th month of pregnancy, she was sent back home to her parents. Only her mother remained at her home, to welcome her. It was in her arms, that Akbar was born. Akbar had brought a ray of sunshine to their gloomy lives, and quickly became the centre of existence for both the ladies. Fatima’s sister Raziya had already moved to Mumbai with her husband.

She visited just once or twice after her younger sister’s return. Tragedy struck when Fatima’s husband, applied for divorce with the elders, as he came to Hyderabad to have a look at his son. After much debating, it was concluded that the marriage was beyond working, and thus Divorce was granted. The custody of Akbar was left with Fatima, and Yakub went away forever. Ironically, after these many years, and after the disappearance of Akbar, the police never found it prudent to enquire or interrogate Yakub for the incident, although he remains one of the suspects.

Chapter Five – Arrival At Yousufguda And The Daily Prayers For Hope And Humanity

As our bus arrives at Yousufguda crossroads, Fatima steadily arranges her satchel and looks hopeful for many things. We get off the bus, and look around to see people all around us, bogged down by their own lives, and aspirations. What Fatima does every day, as reality strikes, suddenly seems incomprehensible to us. However, she starts off immediately, by pasting a dozen pamphlets on the bus stop walls, and metro walls. She hands another dozen to the sweepers, engineers, auto drivers, and more, as we take a few from her, and approach the software professionals. Some pick the pamphlet, some seem genuinely concerned as we tell them about the situation, while some use them to clean the benches they are about to sit on or spit out the chewing gum in their mouth. Of course, we are pathetic. All of us. We get reminded of times, innumerable times, when we have brushed aside someone needy approaching us on road. Their pamphlets mean nothing to us, their lives mean nothing to us. They aren’t worth our attention, time or help. Of course, we are pathetic.

Fatima then pulls out a bigger banner, folded in her satchel, and ties it between two poles at the bus stop. This banner hosts a much better resemblance to Akbar than the pamphlets. A couple of auto drivers approach us, generally enquiring as to what the activity is all about. One of them, says that he might’ve seen someone like Akbar, a couple of days ago in one of his rides. He goes to describe that he was tall, almost six feet, and was good-looking. He closes his eyes and tries to remember where he picked him up and importantly where he dropped him at. As he goes onto to place the details together, we notice that Fatima’s reaction to the hopeful news remains, complacent and neutral. It seems she isn’t very interested in the new information. The auto driver, says that he can take us to Kukatpalli where he dropped off the boy, but he needs to have his lunch. He says he’ll come back in an hour, and leaves. As both the auto drivers leave, we turn to Fatima who is visibly untouched by the new information, which clearly excites us. She understands our concerns and says

“They haven’t seen him. Trust me, brother. I know. They will just take us to random places where ever they want, and by the end of the day, demand huge amounts of money or worse have their friends rob you off. I know these people. I can tell”. She calmly explains and goes on handing out pamphlets to newer people in the vicinity. Ironically for us, the auto drivers never return. It is strange how Fatima could see through. Maybe it was her instinct, or was it perhaps her experience? She’s practically walked down every road in the city now, literally and metaphorically. Therefore, she knows its people, like no one else.

“Every area in this city has a different approach to helping people. Go to Banjara hills, people see you as poor, when you are just in need of help. And thereby, they just give out money, without much thought. In places like Tarnaka, money is hard to come by. So people listen to you, but can’t really help with anything. Go to, Secunderabad, poverty and begging are so much that no one really gives a damn. Everyone is poor. Everyone is needy there. In residential areas, you have a better chance of people listening to you, but the chances of finding someone lost is minimum. You need to go to the bazaars and commercial places, to find someone more easily” She explains as we sit down with chai, after two hours of walking all across Yousufguda.

Chapter Six – Getting The Word Out With The Help Of Old Friends

Later in the day, we drop Fatima near her residence, and head to seek help from one of our oldest friends and one of the most influential people in this part of the city. People call her the Whore Goddess of Hyderabad. To us, she is the intellectual and world aware, Bibi Mohsina. As we arrive at the brothel to meet Bibi Mohsina, we understand that she is in Mumbai and would return only a week later. However, Garima, a close confidant of Bibi, recognizes us and invites us in. We waste no time in explaining to her the situation of Fatima. She listens to us with rapt attention and promises to take the issue to Bibi and bring justice to Fatima. In a world where the judicial system fails, people need to help each other from every darkest corner. Thus, on the day of publishing this article, there is a glimmer of hope, of Finding Akbar, if not from official ways, then from the unofficial means.

Chapter Seven – The Story Of Akbar & Fatima – The Failing Of Judiciary In Hyderabad (3 years Earlier)

Fatima lost her mother when Akbar was ten years old. From that point onwards, the world for Fatima has been defined by Akbar and nothing else. Akbar went to the nearby Madrassa, for five hours daily, between 9 am to afternoon 2 pm. He had friends, who waited for him outside his home, and the whole group left together. Fatima of course, would ready a small tiffin box for Akbar, and leave with her cart to Charminar centre by 10. She would make a good day’s sale and come back by 4 in the evening. However, if it was Ramzan or any other auspicious occasion, and when the tourist’s influx was more than usual, she would stay for an extra couple of hours. Once back home, Akbar would then speak to her about what happened with one of his friends, ask about why they couldn’t afford an HD set top box, and other frivolous reflections of wellbeing.

He would laugh easily at anything. That perhaps was his striking quality. He could find happiness in the smallest of things and have a good laugh about it. In the late evening, his friends would come over, Nazir and Panju, and they would play cards until late night. Fatima encouraged this as she understood that playing cards would make her boy sharper and more adept at calculating. However, she absolutely banned him from playing anywhere outside. And he wouldn’t.

Occasionally, Fatima would catch Akbar smoking up at the end of the street, or find a pack of cigarettes in his school bag. He is no longer a kid, she would think to herself, and place back the pack of cigarettes, but only after writing his name, Akbar, on one of them. She never uttered anything, neither did he ask. But the initial curiosity of smoking up never graduated into a habit. This was the typical motherhood of Fatima. A woman who knew how to take care of her boy. And this was the typical youth of Akbar, who knew he was going to turn out to be a fine man.

Chapter Eight – The Day Which Struck The Tragedy Into Innocent Lives

On 23rd of January, 2014, everything changed forever for the 17-year-old Akbar and his mother 37-year-old Fatima. As Fatima returned home, after an eventful day at selling her inventory to a foreigner couple, she saw that the door was broken. There was a congregation which gathered at her home, all the neighbours, and passerby’s, stood there awaiting her. As she walked in to see what was happening, it became clear to her that her home had been messed around with. The people around her were murmuring something but not speaking out. It took a good five minutes for her to figure out that Akbar was missing. She could see his school bag thrown on the floor, opened up and his books scattered all over the room. The chairs were thrown upside down, and the glass flower vase was shattered to pieces. Clearly, there was a fight, or at least a struggle of some sort, which had ensued for a good amount of time. She could see footprints of four to five people, all over the house. She entered the bedroom to see that the mattress and the bed were both turned upside down. The wooden Almira’s were smashed open, and her dresses were all thrown to the ground. It seemed as if someone was forcefully trying to find something, and had left utter chaos and haste behind. She observed one of her neighbours, Jamila, walk inside the house, and stand at a corner without speaking a word. Once she gathered enough strength, she spoke to Fatima

“The Police came. They took Akbar. They believe that Akbar is one of ISIS”

The next one hour, Fatima sat down and listened to every version of the story she could get from her neighbors. Apparently, At about 3 pm, they saw Akbar come home. His friend Nazir, dropped him on his Activa, they had stood talking for a few moments, before Akbar went inside. At about 4 pm, a police van parked at the end of the street, the cobbler added his version of events. Three policemen came down the street, while two others waited in the van. These policemen, knocked at the door a couple of times, and when it wasn’t answered they started banging it altogether. They knew Akbar was in there, as they didn’t even bother asking the on looking neighbors if anyone was home. The old cobbler tried talking to them, but no one was willing to listen, as they took to breaking the door down with their strength. They barged inside, and after about ten minutes, dragged out Akbar, who was in his vest and towel, along with a couple of black plastic bags. One of the policemen, who was holding the plastic bag, waved it to the neighbors in triumphant manner, and took away the boy.

By night, Fatima had called one of her uncles, Waqar, to come with her to the police station. And thus started her gruelling ordeal of finding her son. That night in Charminar PS, she paid the head constable five thousand, to know about her boy. The head constable allowed her to talk to the SI Kumar Rao. He explained to her the situation. The conversations went as below

“Bibi, we have received information from Central Government, that explosives and gun powder are being manufactured by a local criminal outfit. This outfit employs children, such as your son, to prepare these explosives. Hence, we arrested him. Once the enquiry is over, we can tell you more”

“Saab, Akbar is not like that..like those people. He is my only child, and I know him. Please let me talk to him..he is not involved in any such activity”

“Amma, everyone says that. Every child is innocent only. But what to do, sometimes children go for quick money. They want to buy something. Or treat their girlfriend. Then they resort to something like this. That’s what I’m saying. Once the enquiry is over, we can be sure”

“Saab..I know, I mean I hear stories what happens here. Please, I’m begging you. My Akbar is not a terrorist or something. He is a simple boy..he goes to the school also…ask..”

“Don’t use the word, Terrorist. Did I say, Terrorist? Hmm? What are you trying to imply here Bibi? We have just taken him to custody on doubt. But you are saying these things..what are you confirming something?”

“No no no no..Saab..I just…forgive me, Saab, I didn’t mean to..I am just saying he is a little boy..he has close friends too…Please ask them, they will tell you, he is a good boy..” Fatima broke down to tears, as horrifying images of torture and punishment from the tales she’d heard many times, rolled in her mind.

“Ufffo…Amma, that is what I am saying. We will do the enquiry. We will ask people. And then we can take correct action. Please, you go from here, and let us do our job. The quicker we do our job, the easier it will be for all of us”

“Saab, I can help too. But please don’t hurt my Akbar. Please, I’m begging you. Please..” She spoke between her silent cries, as the Head Constable politely asked them to leave.

That night, Fatima and her uncle, stayed up all night, praying to the God Almighty. They would recount positive tales of how the police had been just and fair to people in the surroundings. They had helped the old Mohammed, find his lost scooter without charging him money, or the instance where they had simply resolved the land feud between the Rahman brothers. They are people like everyone. They are most humane when they come and mingle with the people on the eves of Ganesh Chaturthi, or Ramzan or Christmas. The police are good people, and so they would not hurt Akbar. Also, then there were cases where someone was wrongfully picked up for enquiry, and by the dawn released, and things went back to normal. Isn’t Shahid Alam, and Rahmatullah living examples of such generosity, Fatima would recall. The Police are doing their job, as would anyone. By 2 AM, Fatima and her Uncle were mildly confident that it was just a bad day that happened. A nightmare which was soon coming to an end.

Chapter Nine – As Long As There Is Hope There Is Life

On 24th Of January, 2014, early in the morning the head constable, came knocking at the door. Fatima’s heart sank for a second on seeing him first thing in the morning. But he wasn’t bearing bad news. He has come to tell them, that Akbar was proven to be innocent. But since FIR was already lodged, he had to be released with a fine of Rs. 10,000. He could, however, manage the whole thing, with about Rs. 7,000. Fatima felt a surge of happiness, as now she knew the reason why Akbar was taken away. They needed money, and this was all a setup for extracting it. She felt as if a huge rock had been removed from upon her chest. She smiled and hurriedly went to the kitchen to bring back an amount of Rs.7000. She heaved a sigh of relief understanding that her dear, Akbar was not involved in anti-social outfits and was returning home.

Only he never did.

Chapter Ten – The Next Day And The Rest of The Days For The Search Begins

The mind has a weird way of working. It imagines things in the way they should’ve been when confronted with incomprehensible loss. It is a mechanism where a temporary relief is arrived at, even though chaos runs through your mind. Fatima imagined herself going to pick her son up from the Police Station? Or she imagined her uncle to volunteer doing so? Another scenario was perhaps Akbar could’ve called her once he was out? Or instead of waiting for a bus, took an auto back home, it hardly costs anything. Or it could’ve been better if her husband, Yakub, had not asked for a divorce at all. Why? Don’t marriages fall apart, but wise counsel makes them work. She also imagines, Akbar, coming home, and proposing that they leave this area. It had done nothing good. They could go someplace else. Maybe to Mumbai where her elder sister lived. She always said Mumbai was a better place to live than Charminar.

Sadly, none of these scenarios played out.

The next day, Akbar did not come home. Morning went by, as did the Afternoon. By evening, Fatima who was promised his arrival started to feel nervous. Something was not right, and so by 7 in the evening, she took off to the police station. There she was met by the head constable whom she had bribed earlier. He smilingly greeted her. She asked for Akbar straightaway. To this, the head constable said only one thing – ‘We released him in the morning itself. He didn’t come?’. In those moments, Fatima’s heart sunk to the depths of her soul. Akbar hadn’t made it home. And it had been more than 9 hours since he was released. Her striking grief led to a blazing rage.

“You Killed My Boy…Where Is My Boy…Akbar…Akbar…Where Is My Boy…..You Bastards..” she started screaming in the police station. The head constable and the other constables were left clueless as to this whole chaos. They tried calming her down, but she wouldn’t listen. Fatima kept on abusing and scolding everyone in the police station until finally a lady constable was called in, and she dragged Fatima out. Although the lady constable slapped Fatima a couple of times, she understood her tragedy. Something unexplainable and chaotic was happening, and a woman’s deepest strength was being tested. The lady constable guided Fatima through different hawkers in front of the Police Station and had her ask them if they’ve seen her boy. All of them, barring an old banana seller, said that they had seen the boy walk out of the station at around nine in the morning, and get into a car at the end of the street. The old banana seller had not seen the boy at all. Something was still not right.

Fatima, stood there crying, as the lady constable, called an auto for her. ‘Go home’, she said to Fatima, ‘I’m sure he must have gone somewhere, and he’ll return. If he doesn’t return by tomorrow…We will find him..Go home’. That night, Fatima suddenly felt a whole weight of the world thrust upon her. She had been betrayed. The Police had done something to the boy and were now covering it up.

As the morning slapped her back to the reality of her son not coming, she called in all the help she could. Her uncles, aunts, long lost friends, neighbours, and relatives. Most of them came to her aide, but some had heard what has happened and decide to lead a calmer life. One of her uncles Hassan suggested that it was no use in hovering around police station now. They needed to approach the political power. As we approached him this is what he could divulge,

“We did approach the MLA of the area, with Fatima’s missing child. MLA Saab, gave us assurance that he would find the boy at any cost, but Akbar, his PA said later, was one of 20 to 30 young children missing every month from the area. Human trafficking, illegal employment, sexual trades, anti-social activities and more. Nevertheless, the MLA did make a call to the local police station. He then turned to us, assuring us that the boy will be found, even though he had disappeared after leaving the police station. He asked Fatima and I, to maintain their trust in the police and the system. Nothing changed later. Akbar was lost or in the worst case, he wasn’t”

Chapter Eleven – A Year Passes And The Bodies Float On The River

“I had never lost hope, in the last three years. Never. I know clearly in my mind that Akbar is out there.  He is out there somewhere. The important thing I know is he is alive”

A year passed with no clue of Akbar. Fatima would go to the police station every single day and sit on the steps till she talked to SI. There was no anger in her. Just plain determination. She would even chat with the policemen for hours together about elections, movies, real estate, and much more. To her visiting, the police station had now become a part of her life. In the morning she would visit the police station, and in the afternoon run her business. And in the nights, she would set out searching for Akbar on her own. Sometimes a neighbour or someone would help her by coming alongside. A teacher in her area suggested that she should register a missing persons FIR, which the police are actually claiming to be. And she did so. Yet, there was no clue about Akbar. Not even a mild hint. Her hope was only one thing. Even if Akbar was dead, she wanted the police to tell her that. Or if he was still in the custody, she just wanted to see him, once. She wanted nothing else. The vivid memory of her child when snatched away from her, was slowly fading away, and she fought every day to keep it as vivid as possible.

She even paid for a guy who claimed to be a detective in the region. He basically duped her off with an amount of thirty thousand, only to tell her what she was tired hearing about – The Police didn’t have Akbar.

On February 2015, Fatima received a call. It would shatter her strongest grit and perhaps even flip her mentally for days to come. The Police had found Akbar.

“They called me and said – We think we have found Akbar. And they asked me to immediately come to Afzalgunj. When I arrived there, the police teams were pulling out bodies out of the Musi river. One of these bodies was Akbar they said, owing to the shirt colour, build and approximate age. I stepped inside the stinking mud, and into the swarm of flies, to examine the bodies which were laid one beside another. The unbearable rotting smell churned my stomach. I was given a stick, but I refused to poke these bodies, these people with it. I knelt down on the wet mud and examined them with my own hands, Allah be kind on me. They told me that the bodies were found in the night, total four boys. I examined each one of them. I touched their face, their body, and everything, amongst the buzzing of the flies. On one of the body, earthworms were crawling on, which I had to ward off. One by one, I did not find Akbar. But one by one, I understood that Police wanted me to close this case. As I stood up, a strong stench puffed up when one of the bodies, was turned upside down. The smell left me drowsy and I ended puking aside. In those moments, I realized, that I was becoming weak. I needed to be strong. And one thing was clear, I needed to find Akbar by myself”

Chapter Twelve – Independence Day 2017: The Freedom To Search And The Insanity Of Society

Today, Fatima does what she does every day. She tends to her goats and goes on to the search for Akbar at different places in the city. Fatima now is an active part of Khoya-Paya, helping other mothers much like herself find their children in the billions in the city. As she distributes the pamphlet of her son, so does she give out of other children as well. ‘A son is a son, even if I’m not the mother’, she says. ‘No one should deserve to die without looking at their children’s well being. I’m just following what has been proposed by Allah’, she continues. She is also a part of NGOs across the city which ensure the welfare of lost children. She hopes that by spreading love to these orphaned and clueless children, someone somewhere might take care of Akbar in an affectionate way. And goes about searching him whenever she can.

This week her areas of searching include, Dilsukhnagar, Himayatnagar, Hyderguda, ECIL X Roads, and Habsiguda till the 20th of August. You will find her in the bus-stops within these areas, in the afternoons. Next time when you see her, a faint figure of a mother, with a cheery smile and a satchel on her back, holding a pink pamphlet of Akbar, ask her these things. Ask her, why she does what she does? Ask her what drives her every day to be hopeful of thing and incidents which clearly aren’t in her control? And perhaps when you are done asking her about her things, tell her your maladies. And let us know what she says. Perhaps she will listen to you as any mother would. With utmost care and affection. Perhaps she will advise you or plainly assure you that everything is going to be OK, even though nothing ever was to her. And then when you have talked to her, do let us know, what would you do if you were her? A mother, a woman, with the whole world and her own Gods against her. Only her insane grit to guide her.

As Leo Tolstoy ’s says in his journal “A Mother is a strength beyond God himself. She can walk through hell and raise up a Paradise there. She can wade through the Paradise and raze it to dust”.

If you come across any information about Akbar the photograph below, drop us a ping at our Facebook page or Whatsapp us on 9703013739. Help us find Akbar. You can also approach the Government helpline at National Track System @9830920103 with any information of not just Akbar but of any missing children. Be Aware of the child helplines at 1098.