As nearly 8,000 Muslims from across Mumbai gathered to offer namaz for Yakub Memon, Nagpada resident Tariq Shaikh stood outside the 8-acre burial ground opposite the Marine Lines railway station, wondering what this crowd and its uneasy calm meant for the city.
At 5 pm, several hundred mourners emerged from the cemetery, hoping to catch a train home or drive into the suburbs before rush-hour. Tariq’s eyes were hurting. Through the night, he had watched TV news channels, and then taken a taxi to Marine Lines with his neighbours.
Others came from much farther — Kurla, Malad, Jogeshwari, Mumbra, Kalyan. With WhatsApp messages on the venue and time of the last rites doing the rounds, complete strangers came to mourn for Yakub. Some took the local train, others on motorcycles and in cars. Parking their vehicles outside the Islam Gymkhana along Marine Drive, they walked the short distance across railway foot overbridges to the Bada Qabrastan.
“I’ve worked here for 30 years. Aisa manzar pehle nahin dekha (never seen such a sight before),” Mushtaq Phoolwala, the lone florist inside Bada Qabrastan, said. The burial ground houses the graves of several notables, but nobody could recall such a sea of mourners in recent years.
For that matter, nobody remembered such meticulous security measures here either — the last time there was heavy police presence at the cemetery was in July 2014 when Dawood Ibrahim’s sister Haseena Parkar died.
Thursday’s numbers outstripped everything — 7,500 policemen between Churchgate and Charni Road, the Rapid Action Force, an armoured riot-control truck equipped with a multi-barrel launcher for rubber pellets or tear gas shells, tear smoke munitions in innocuous white boxes slung across constables’ shoulders, and the city’s top police officers personally supervising the arrangements.
Five hundred men had been taken into preventive detention since Wednesday night. Senior police officers tracked social media for the briefest hint of anger.
Standing outside the rear entrance to the burial ground with Joint Commissioners of Police Deven Bharti and Milind Bharambe, Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria agreed that community leaders who had promised that there would be no rabble-rousing had kept their word. Inside the burial ground too, through the sweltering wait for the body to arrive, men continue to keep vigil among their own: “Koi naarebaazi nahin karega (no slogan shouting).”
Long before the body arrived, constables and riot control policemen stood guard on Maharshi Karve Road, removing photojournalists from vantage points and setting up barricades. By 4 pm, when the hearse came speeding down the road escorted by a police vehicle, there were at least 700 policemen on the 200-metre stretch. Thousands had gathered for the first namaz-e-janaaza at the Mahim dargah a few hours ago. And as many were expected here.
As the body was brought in, mourners gathered around the unfinished grave, hoping to catch a glimpse of Yakub’s face. They formed a human chain as his brother Suleman arrived, followed by cousin Usman. At least 5,000 men were now standing around the grave, disciplined and sombre as loudspeakers blared out instructions for the funeral prayers. Family members and well-wishers reminded people to keep reciting the Durood Shareef.
By 4.30 pm, the funeral prayers ended. Shrouded in a green chaddar with flower patterns sewn on it, the body was brought to the grave by the crowd, people taking turns to shoulder the janaaza. The corner grave had been dug only Thursday morning, after news of the execution was confirmed.
Yakub was laid to rest next to his father, Abdul Razzak Memon, who passed away in 2001. The Bada Qabrastan used to allot plots to families, but that practice stopped eight years ago owing to space crunch. The Memons occupy a 100-sq ft area in the cemetery — it includes the grave of Yakub’s uncle.
Florist Mushtaq said six huge caskets of rose petals, each for Rs 500, were ordered along with a rose-knit chaddar that cost Rs 10,000. “These petals are larger. They are from Sangli,” he said.
The burial over, volunteers asked mourners to clear the narrow back lane. That’s when Mohammed Shoaib, in his twenties, spotted the Commissioner of Police, standing a short distance from the row of RAF personnel. His T-shirt damp and sweat streaming down his face, Shoaib, an advisor with a digital services major, walked up to Rakesh Maria, and handed him two red roses, the stems missing. “Want to thank you for the arrangements and the peace, sir.”
The others on their way out too stopped to introduce themselves — “neighbours” from a Mahim building not far from the Memon home, college students from Mumbra, Dongri residents who said they had been discussing the 1993 riots, maulvis and community leaders, mohalla committee members.
Inside, the Memons were accepting condolences. Suleman sat close to the grave with his son and other family members. “Whatever happened was god’s will. We can only pray for his salvation now,” he told The Indian Express.
Outside, Tariq Shaikh and his friends hailed a taxi. Shaikh was still shaking his head: “The blast victims are calling it justice. But look at Bada Qabrastan, and tell me if this looks like closure. Or, the start of something.”
(Inputs from Zeeshan Shaikh)