Millennium Post

Angels still tread here

The 18th Century English poet Alexander Pope till date remains one of the most quoted litterateurs. He started with ‘Essay on Criticism’ and went onto become famous with ‘Rape of the Lock’ and ‘The Dunciad’. One of his most famous lines- fools rush in where the angels fear to tread inspired another Englishman EM Forster to name of his famous novel as ‘Where the Angels Fear to Tread’. The novel was made into a film by yet another Englishman Charles Sturridge in 1991.

Lest the readers think that the purpose of today’s notebook was to discuss English poetry, novels and film-making. That isn’t the slightest idea though. I just thought why were the ‘fools rushing in’ to report on ‘nothing which happened’ at Aligarh Muslim University. I firmly believe that AMU still is home to many an angel. I did not study at Aligarh, however, had the opportunity to visit the campus several times in course of, what they would say in martial vocabulary, call of duty.

About a decade-and-half back I used to frequent Aligarh as the education correspondent for the   paper I used to work for back then- The Pioneer. The lure of the books stacked in Maulana Azad Library, now made famous by a silly piece of journalism, would keep me back on the campus beyond the call of duty. I would pester the public relations officer of the university to get a room  at Old Guest House, and each time that I got an accommodation there I would be reminded that Qurratulain Hyder, the famous Urdu novelist, was born in that bungalow which was then occupied by her father Sajjad Haidar Yildrim, a pioneer of Urdu short story writing.

Her mother Nazar Zahra too was a novelist. Ainee Apa, as Hyder was known, had migrated to Pakistan in 1947 but came back to India in 1960, initially settling down working and writing in Mumbai and then finally to Noida, where she died a few years ago. Ainee Apa truly represented the Aligarh mindset. Though the campus was initially votary for formation of Pakistan, it later came to reject the concept as the new nation degraded into a degenerative fundamentalist anarchy.

Unfortunately a larger section of Indian English-reading intelligentsia has not yet been able to exonerate Aligarh of its intellectual complicity in the formation of Pakistan.

They continue to look at the campus as centre of conservatism bordering to fundamentalism and issues needing no cognisance are blown out of proportion, as in the recent case of the Vice-Chancellor being flayed for possessing ‘anti-women’ mindset.

God bless the grand matriarch of Indian television and self-professed guardian angel of feminism, little did she and her ilk realise that their opinion on ‘space in library’ was of little consequence on the campus. To put the record straight, Aligarh has been a major centre of women education for more than a century, lest you thought that the campus was run by the Ulemah and Quran the only content of curriculum. The presence of women on the huge campus, which occupies 467 hectares, is pretty prominent. There are three halls on the campus where the women resideAbdullah Hall, Sarojini Naidu Hall and the recent addition- the Indira Gandhi Hall.

While Abdullah Hall is for undergraduates with an on campus college and library, Sarojini Naidu Hall is part of the main campus and all the women residents of SN Hall have access to Maulana Azad library despite the fact that they too have an on campus library.

Secondly Azad library is famous for not just the collection of ordinary books but as custodian of several rare manuscripts, which are used by the researchers, both men and women. In fact Abdullah Hall’s library for undergraduate women is older than Azad library.

Isn’t this a case of flogging the wrong horse? It’s a case of missing the woods for the trees. The vice-chancellor is sought to be flogged for making a statement without understanding its context. He was speaking at the installation ceremony of the newly-elected students union of the university, in which the women students too participated with equal enthusiasm.

It’s to the credit of the vice-chancellor and his team that the elections were conducted peacefully. Instead of getting a pat for a job well-done, he is getting flayed. The reader may end-up asking if today’s notebook purports to be in the defence of the incumbent vice-chancellor.

Let me make it clear, I do not know the gentleman and have never had the opportunity of meeting him. However, I know the campus and the university community well. Whenever Aligarh makes an appearance in the headlines it draws my attention and every time I am pained to see a picture which is not the true image of either the campus or the community.

It was time that we from the English print and television media, both the grand editors and sprightly reporters, found time to visit the campus on days when AMU is not in news. It would help us build an opinion about an intellectual movement grounded in academic rigour, scholastic culture and pedagogic debate.

For the big-bindi brandishing women activists for feminine rights it would be an education into how the campus has taken scholarship to the womenfolk who are ordinarily identified with the ‘hijab’ which covers their face.

Aligarh’s cultural integration will happen only with the English reading intelligentsia allowing accommodation and accomplishments to the contribution made by the hoary university in spreading education, if not more certainly not less than any other campus in the country.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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