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City on Fire: A Boyhood in Aligarh

City on Fire: A Boyhood in Aligarh

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Zeyad Masroor Khan was four years old when he realized that an innocent act of clicking a switch near a window overlooking the street could trigger a riot. As the distant thud of a crowd grew closer and calls for murder rented the air, he got his first taste of growing up in Upar Kot, a Muslim ghetto in Aligarh. Khan's world was far-removed from the Aligarh of popular imagination--of poets, tehzeeb and the intellectual corridors of the Aligarh Muslim University. His was a city where serpentine lanes simmered with violence, homes fervently prayed to dispel the omnipresent fear of a family member turning up dead, and the soft breeze that blew over crowded terraces carried rumours of a bloodthirsty mob on the prowl. In his coming-of-age memoir, Khan writes, with searing honesty and raw power, about the undercurrents of religious violence and the ensuing 'othering' that followed him everywhere he went. From his schoolgoing days in Aligarh, when hopping over to the lending library to the 'Hindu' part of town to find his favourite comic book or lighting candles with neighbours on Diwali were fraught with tension; through his years as a college student in Delhi, where being denied apartments because of his name was the norm; to ultimately becoming a journalist documenting history of his country as it happened. City on Fire is a rare, visceral portrait of how everyday violence and hate become a part of our lives and consciousness; a society where name and clothes mark out a person as the 'other'. It is as much an incisive examination of religion and violence, imagined histories and fractured realities, grief and love in today's India, as it is a paean to the hope of continued unity, to an idea of India.

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indian / memoir / memoirs and biographies / nonfiction / Zeyad Masroor Khan /