The air was hot and heavy with anticipation, and the Mumbai sun beat down on the white topis and black shroud alike. Raven black Indian crows soared gracefully on the weight of the heat pockets, and in the distance the skyline stood shoulder to shoulder and watched as the mourning procession wound its way from Malabar Hill through city gulleys to Saifee masjid in Bhindi bazaar.
Dirty pink curtains fluttered from the windows of the decrepit buildings that lined the roads of Nal bazaar in Mumbai. The gloom and dirt was inescapable; it could have been a series of pictures from the Dickensian era except for the shells of air conditioning units clinging to their outsides. And the taut coffee-coloured tent skin stretched over the domed extension to the mosque.
From an aerial view, the khaki uniforms of the guards standing to attention blended into the dusty grey of the tarmac roads. The round surfaces of their white topis looked like beacons lined up to usher the masses of human traffic towards the masjid.
As the truck carrying the janaza came closer, government officers dressed in navy blue swarmed in and added their colour to the mix turning the street into a board of Battleship with multicolored pins.
And then the truck arrived with its precious cargo. The streets were awash with men and women who surged forward to see one last time, speak one last time, touch one last time.
The unprecedented crowd of 70,000 became one. Their bodies were a dam that created a gridlock even as rivers of tears poured down their faces.
Nothing could hold them back. Not barriers and not lathis. Fifty were injured.
And eighteen souls accompanied him on his final journey.