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Of Aligarh, hostel life and tolerance in India

Of Aligarh, hostel life and tolerance in India

KARACHI: Perhaps it is inevitable that Indian visitors have to face the partition question and the state of Muslims in India. And credit to most who address the question as tactfully as possible as was done by Prof Saghir Afraheim of the department of Urdu, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), on Saturday at the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu office, where the scholar was invited to meet Pakistani literati.

The programme began with an introduction about the professor by Prof Naushaba Siddiqi, who told the gathering that he belonged to Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. He was a position holder in BA and MA examinations and has been teaching at the AMU since 1989 and is the author of 11 books. “He and his wife, Prof Seema Saghir, are active members of the university where besides their teaching they are deeply involved in organising literary meets and seminars.”

Prof Saghir was soon invited to take over and he began his talk by generously praising the camaraderie among his Pakistani peers which he said reminded him of the time when he was a student at the AMU and he saw the vice chancellor of his university hugging Ismat Chughtai, and a little while later they were smoking cigarettes. “A small-town boy like me was shocked when I first saw this but I realised later that this closeness had come about because of their lifelong friendship.”

The professor, who is on his first visit to Pakistan, regaled guests with anecdotes about hostel life at the AMU, whose foundations were laid by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. “As soon as we would find out that a guest is coming over to the hostel, we would ensure that we tidied our room even if the likelihood of his visiting our room was minimal. That was not an issue but what bothered us when the guests would say that they wanted to eat hostel food with us. And here we would be thinking that they would take us out for lunch! And on top of it they would even praise the food. It was much later I came to know why they would make such a request. The meals were always fresh and this practice continues to this day.” He even mentioned how there was an emphasis on being well-behaved, especially towards the lower class.

Responding to a query about the state of Muslims in India and increasing differences between Hindus and Muslims, Prof Afraheim said: “They have a lot of good qualities, why don’t we focus on them. The government supports us and other educational institutions in terms of grant money and funding. The non-Muslims in India have great respect for Sufi saints. Not only that but they are very sensitive about Ramazan and ensure not to eat in front of us so that we are not offended. In fact, they organise lavish iftaris for their Muslim friends. Even we are not as considerate as they are during Ramazan.” He said that the decline of Muslims if it happened at all would be because of them and not because of others.

Regarding partition, the professor wisely chose to address it by seeing how their fiction writers had dealt with it in their works. “From what I understand partition was going to happen if not in 1947 but then perhaps later. Had it happened later then perhaps there would have been less violence. We, too, bear the scars of partition. One should read Jilawatan by Qurratul Ain Hyder and Taoos Chaman ki Mayna by Naiyer Masud.”

The programme came to an end when columnist and writer Zahida Hina was asked to say a few words. In her concise speech, she basically said Pakistanis needed to look at the state of tolerance (ravadari) in their own country before pointing fingers at others.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2015

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