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Misstery

2, 911 days and counting

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I must be the only father in this world who wants to know that his son is dead, " says Usman Ali, tears welling up in his eyes. It has been exactly 2, 911 days since the 40-year-old from Lucknow last saw his son, Atif. "The uncertainty is worse than knowing he is gone forever. At least then, we could mourn him properly. "

Atif was kidnapped on August 22, 2002. In the next 14 months, the family received 19 ransom calls, two audio cassettes with messages and seven ransom letters promising that Atif would reach home safe once the money was paid. But he never did. Atif's mother is in shock. "She hardly speaks. . . and when she does, it is only about Atif, " says Usman.

Ironically, this is the second time that the family has had to undergo this kind of trauma. Atif's younger brother Amir (10) was kidnapped on July 31, 2001. Four days later, police found his body in Bara Banki. "We hadn't even come to terms with the loss when Atif went untraceable. We got Amir's body and performed the last rites. No one now waits for his return. But Atif's mother still believes that he will be back, " Usman said.

Right from the district police to special task force (STF) and CB-CID, all the three investigating agencies in Uttar Pradesh handled the case. It was suspected that personal enmity was behind the two kidnappings since the Alis, who run a small restaurant in Aminabad area of Lucknow, are not affluent, but the probe went nowhere.

Once Usman quietly arranged for the ransom and went to deliver it at a particular location, but no one turned up to collect the cash. The family later discovered that local policemen were trailing him and the kidnappers apparently got wind of it. There has been no communication from them since.

Usman has got his now eldest son Asim (13) admitted to a boarding school outside Lucknow while the younger Azimullah is constantly switching schools. As for himself, he stays home most days. Waiting.

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