The Fifty-Fifty City

Legal and illegal trades flourish side by side and there’s something for everybody in Meerut, says KUNAL MAJUMDER

THE SHOPS selling tyres on either side of the road — an occasional car skeleton popping up in the middle — announce that you are entering the historic city of Meerut. Only, the most off-putting feature of its main artery is the invasive stench of meat that is virtually impossible to escape. For this bustling industrial district of western Uttar Pradesh is also the country’s biggest illegal meat export centre. No slaughterhouses are visible anywhere, and yet a planeload of meat is flown out from here to the Middle East every day. Conspicuous too are stacks of tyres lying in the most unlikely of places, because famous Meerut is also infamous for housing a bustling stolen cars industry. The cars are dismantled and their parts sold to dealers in what — again — is a highly organised market that allegedly enjoys police and other patronage.

So don’t just go by Meerut’s outer shell that makes it seem like a clone of any other small city. For those who have never been there, know it only from history books — as the place where the 1857 revolt against the British erupted. Or for its communal riots. Incidentally, Meerut has an equal number of Hindus and Muslims.

Concealed in its humongous labyrinths, is a world unlikely to be found anywhere else: units, full of go, selling stolen cars, smuggled goods and the like; and within cycling distance of legitimate enterprises dealing in publishing, jewellery, scissormaking, sports goods and scores of others. Yes everywhere in this fifty-fifty city the illegal trade flourishes alongside the legal.

Read the rest in Tehelka issue dated March 27, 2010

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