The small plate on the old banyan tree reads Ficus Benghalensis, the botanical name for the banyan tree. Aerial roots that droop down from its branches ahove been cut neatly above average human height, suggesting that the old tree has passed into the care of better custodians. Underneath its huge, being shade scores of smartly dressed girls, some in hijab, partake their lunch from the tiffin boxes. At the farthest end of the sprawling Azam Campus stands the elegant white building of Pharmacy college. Around the centre, the dome of an under-construction Mosque is receiving finishing touches.
Thirteen years ago on may maiden visit to Pune, I had found the landscape desolate. Two building stood in stony silence on either end of the vast maidan. It is said Haji Ghulam Azam, a Gujrati philanthropist donated 23 acres of land in the Pune’s heart in 1947 for building educational institutions for city’s Muslims. Curiously, Azam never visited the site he donated. But till over a decade earlier, the capus had just two insituttions, Anglo-Urdu High Schools for girls and boys.
Much today the place bubbles with life. Over a dozen institutions have sprung up during the last decade. It hosts a community of nearly 10,000 students, more girls than boys. Under the umbrella of Maharastra Cosmopolitan Education Society, MCES to be short, a variety of courses are being offered. A college of Unani Medicines has already produced five batches of doctors. The famous Allana family of Mumbai Memons donated Rs. 85 Lakhs to start the allana College of Pharmacy. A senior and junior college named after Mrs. Abeda Inamdar are the centrepiece of the campus. These are the only colleges for women under Pune University where education is offered upto degree level in arts, science and commerce. A.K. Khan Law College, Azam College of Education, an ITI, a computer academy, an Anglo-Urdu Night School for the students who dropped out of day schools besides the two old Anglo-Urdu High Schools ring the vast central maidan.
How did the change come about? I all began from the changes at the top when a set of dynamic businessmen took over the management of the MCES. The feeling that the vast piece of prime real estate was grossly underutilised had been rankling in every concerned Pune Muslim. Says Peerpasha Inamdar, the man who is the moving spirit behind the sweeping changes, most Muslim and Dalit girls who study here in the campus today would have stayed back home for want of these institutions.
Pune has often been referred to as the "Oxford of the Wast" for the quality of its educational and research institutions. But Muslims of the city seemed to have woken up to the knock of modern education rather late. What however, is satisfying is that they are cleaning the backlog fast. Mr. Inamdar, wife Abeda and Chairman of the Haji Chulam Azam Trust, Munawwar Peerbhoy, visualise the string of institutions to develop into a Deemed University in the near future but are reluctant to reveal their plans. Inamdar says they will soon be adding a College of Architecture and Institute of Business Management Institute.
A Successful and leading builder of Pune. Mr. Inamdar, has an eye for details. Taking me round the under-construction library building the could suggest a couple of innovative ideas to the contractor. If nothing else, the spick and span campus, spotlessly white college buildings, tastefully selected colours of the uniform and those botanical nomenclature bearing plates on the innumerable trees in the campus testify that the new management of the campus cares for both style and the substance.
Changes are coming like tidal waves. Islands of conservatism are being lashed. Even Muslims are learning fast to cope with them. What could be more amazing than finding a hijab donning woman occupying the post of Chairperson of a Municipal Council? And the place is none other than Vaniyambadi, a town known for its profound and well-nursed Islamic traditions in Tamil Nadu.
Many would dub Vaniyambadi Muslims a conservative lot. But not me. Of course, it makes taboo of many a permissible act. For instance, people would still refuse to carry the purdah-bound womenfolk on the pillion of a scooter through the town’s streets. But the town has accepted changes selectively, fast when it comes to industry and business; with due amendment in matter of education and laconically when it comes to socio-religious life. But last year when it was called upon to elect a woman as the Chairperson of the Town’s Municipal Council, it did not take long for townfolk to realise that there was no escape. They made no futile protests. The Ulema did not resort to issuing Fatwas. (Remember Deoband and Rampur in the North, where Muslim women made it to the winning post despite Fatwas against Muslim women’s leadership).
The elders of the town decided to play by the rules of the game rather than challenging them. Two Muslim women were fielded for the post and Mrs. Qamar Ghori, correspondent of the local Fatima Matriculation School emerged victorious. Not alone this. The town’s 36-Member Council includes six Muslim women who attend the meetings in hijab. The local Masjid Jamaaths either lent support or stayed neutral. Scores of parents of her school students, friends from Rotary and Jaycees Clubs, Tanners Association, and the local Vaniyambadi Muslim Educational Society all supported her election. She and over a dozen women members of the Council now grapple with complex maps, figures, budgets, payrolls, inventories and audit reports of a town with 90,000 souls inhabiting its 9.5 square kilometre area. Till last year barely a few of them could have sketched the town’s map on a paper.
Last month, when I walked into the tiny office of Mrs. Qamar Ghori in a bylane of the town, it was my first interaction with a Muslim woman unrelated to the part of my parental family that resides there. And Mrs. Ghori is no pushover, no proxy. Having managed a school of over a thousand kids for nearly a quarter of a century, she is a woman of grit and ample ideas of welfare. Wife of a local doctor, she devotes four hours for the town’s upkeep every day besides the those spent in school. She admits that the work is challenging. “It took me six months to understand the job” she adds. In her 10-month tenure she was instrumental in gifting the town its first community hall and initiated the restoration of the vital bridge in downtown that caved in last year. But more significantly, she has ordered revival of the old Gosha Park, a garden meant for hijab observing ladies.
And she did all that while being a perfect housewife and an ideal mother to three daughters and a son. Of the two elder daughters, first is an expert dietician while the second is a physiotherapist, roles uncommon in a tradition-steeped region.
But when queried if she would be ever willing to contest an Assembly election, she admitted with unrestrained candour that “it will be the family’s decision”. “I harbour no such ambition”, she said smilingly.
Bangalore’s principal Mosque did it for the second time. It hosted a reception to the city’s new Commissioner of Police immediately after the Friday prayers on August 8. Mr. H. Revanasiddiah arrived with a large retinue of officers, watched the prayers from a side verandah and was led near the pulpit (minbar) of the Mosque by Peshimam Maulana Riyazur Rahman. The Namazis quickly vacated the first row for the Commissioner’s entourage to be seated.
For the next 15 minutes the namazis heard in rapt attention the message of love and peace delivered by the city’s Top cop and Maulana Riyaz. The two greeted the people on the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence and the need to build up mutual understanding. Mr. Revanasiddiah spoke in broken Hindi and was greeted with muffled clappings. He and a number of leaders of other faiths were garlanded and presented with shawls.
Greetings and reception over, the entourage inspected the English medium school run in the basement of the huge Mosque and had a hearty meal arranged by the city’s Muslim elite. And to boot, the choices were both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, most of the other cops being seen rubbing shoulders in the non-veg. crowd.
Will our brothers elsewhere take up such public relation exercise that go a long way in building confidence between people and the administration? And mind it, the time for all this is now, an era known for communal peace.