Almost every resident of a small locality in Hyderabad's Old City area near Rein Bazaar was out on the street on Sunday.
While some sat outside their houses, some were outside their shops, while others were huddled together in small groups of five or six, across the street. Each face was grim.
On Saturday evening, the area witnessed the death of a two-year-old, who had fallen into an open drain. The drain runs right in the middle of the street, with houses on either side.
Zaki Abbas, who would've soon turned 3, was a very friendly child, according to those who knew him.
"The older kids would be playing two or three houses away, and he would step out and watch them sometimes, with a very curious look on his face. He was very cute," says one of the locals.
"He had such nice eyes. I would pick him up in my arms sometimes, and carry him around, and his smile would brighten up my day. I can't believe he's gone," 14-year-old Fatima adds, as she looks down at her feet, trying to hold back tears.
Abbas' family is inconsolable, as wails are heard from inside after each visitor steps into the house.
"She (the mother) was cooking in the kitchen, when he wandered out. When she suddenly noticed that she was missing, they searched all the houses in the street, after which they found his body in the drain," says one of Abbas' relatives, as she stands guard outside his house, to give the family some privacy.
Many of those gathered, narrated tales of what happened the previous night.
As the parents could not find the boy in any of the houses, their worst fear that he could've fallen into the drain, became stronger.
Soon, they hired a manual scavenger to enter the drain, and look for the boy. After around an hour or so, Abbas' body rose up to the surface.
(Looking for the body)
"In fact, even the labourer who we hired to dive into the drain and search for the body refused to take any money. The moment he pulled the body out, he broke down and wailed. He said that the boy reminded him of his own son, and he could never take money for recovering the body," one of the locals claimed.
Locals are enraged over the death of the boy, and blame it squarely on the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and a lack of political will from their political representatives.
"We have been shouting about this for one year. It was a disaster in the making. Now, all of them (the politicians) will come to us, and ask for an apology. How can we forgive them? We feel like fools, to keep voting them back to power," says one youngsters, referring to Yakutpura MLA Mumtaz Ahmed Khan, from the AIMIM.
They also say that this is not the first such incident.
"The entire drain used to be covered at one point of time. Around a year ago, the authorities removed the slab that was covering it, because it was getting clogged, and they promised to clean it. My guess is that they needed to show that some work needed to be done, so they could pocket all the money that was sanctioned," says Mohammad, another local.
"Even this wall that you see, is new. It was laid recently, a few months ago," he adds, pointing to one side of the drain which has a slightly larger wall than the other.
However, even the 'larger' wall, could barely reach an average person's waist. Along several areas that the drain passes through, there is no wall at all.
(The spot where Abbas fell in. His house can be seen in the background)
"People have fallen in, vehicles have fallen, our goats and chicken have fallen in, and still the authorities don't care, as long as they continue to get richer and leave poor people like us in this condition," says Shabeer, another local.
The locals narrate several tales, including one where a man driving his scooter, with a large can of milk, fell into the drain, along with the vehicle, and had to be rescued.
Another includes an old man on his cycle who faced the same fate.
(After several such incidents, the locals themselves made a temporary set up, to ensure that people don't fall into the drain)
While the authorities have set up a fence along a certain part where the drain gets deeper, locals say that's of no use either.
At one point, electric wires touch the fence.
"A youngster got an electric shock once when he touched the fence. He shook like a mad man and was flung into the air before he died," all of them claim in unison, narrating the incident.
To make things worse, the GHMC had recently dug up another crucial road that passes over the sewer, claiming that they would soon build a bridge above it, to ease commuter woes.
However, when TNM visited the site, no construction work was going on, even as children and adults walked a thin line to cross the dug up road, as the deep drain flowed beside them.
"Yesterday, the corporator apparently warned the workers to finish the work quickly, and they are still not here today," Shabeer adds.
The stench from the drain itself is unbearable, as it picks up trash from plastic bags to fecal matter, from many areas.
Splitting off the Musi river, which itself has been dubbed as a giant sewer, it carries waste from the areas near Dhobi Galli, Ranibagh, Azampura and Malakpet, before entering the locality.
That is not all. During the rainy season, locals claim that they literally swim inside their own homes, as water overflows with ease from the drain, and enters every house in the area.
"It is true. Last year, when the rains came, it was until my shoulder," a 12-year-old boy pipes in, signalling with his hands, as to how deep in water he was.
"We are a melting point of diseases. You name it, and we have it. All this dirty water is a serious breeding ground for mosquitoes," Shoaib, another local adds, as he shows warts and rashes that have appeared all over his skin.
Even after the incident, the GHMC remains elusive on closing up the drain.
"What happened is very unfortunate, but if we put a slab on the drain, it might clog up again and result in the same cycle. A proposal already exists to fence the entire length of it, and we will execute it soon," a GHMC official said, not wanting to be named.
The family has now demanded that the GHMC officials who are responsible be booked for apathy and negligence.
The police stated that it has registered a case, but it is yet to name anyone in it.
"We have booked a case dealing with suspicious death. We are investigating the case and taking legal advice, following which we will officially register a case under the proper sections," a police officer from the Rein Bazar police station told TNM.