Jiten Roy, Ph.D.
There are some stories in our lives that just need to be told; this is one of those stories of Ashim’s life.
The Past appeals him more than the present, it seems like – those were the happiest days of his life. Now, life has become complicated. The little things that used to bring happiness to him in the past cannot do so anymore. “Perhaps this is the price we pay for our maturity” thinks Ashim… But this is natural, and he can accept it, however, what he cannot accept is – when some people, in the name of their religions, can bring Hell on earth anytime they want to. Religion is nothing but a set of guidelines found within the bounds of some books, written by some people from their second, third, fourth … hand knowledge of the subject. In other words, those documents may not be as authentic as one tends to believe. Yet, many of us entrust our 100% faith in it. And we do not hesitate to bring the Hell on earth in the name of defending our faith. However, Ashim knows better, thanks to his life-experiences.
It was 1961. Ashim just finished a competitive Range Examination, which was given nationwide at the end of the 5th grade. This examination was not mandatory for all students; it was only for the selective top ranking students in the country. There were some scholarships for the top ranking students based on the score of this examination. Ashim got selected from his village-primary school to sit for this examination. When the results came out, he was so happy. He earned himself a Residential Scholarship. The only bad news was that, now he would have to stay in the School Dormitory during his High School years. This was the first time he would have to live away from home; he was worried.
Ashim had just gotten into the best high school in town, and secured a sit in a double occupancy room of the School Dormitory (Dorm). Ashim began to see the town from a different perspective, everything seemed different, and he was having difficulty in adjusting his life-style in the city. He did not know how to behave and talk to people around him. He met the Dorm Superintendent, a fair complexion tall bearded man, wearing a white skull-cap and long white dresses (Pajama and Punjabi). Ashim came to know the tall bearded man as the Moulavi-Teacher of the school. Other Hindu students in the Dorm told him that Moulavi-Sir was very strict and he did not like Hindu students all that much. For that reason, Ashim decided to avoid him whenever he could. He was also thinking about other Muslim teachers; what if they all hate him, because he was a Hindu? Other Hindu students also told him that Asghar-Sir, another devout Moulana, did not like Hindu students. What if those alleged Anti-Hindu teachers do not give him his due grades? That was a huge worry for Ashim.
There were 30 students in the Dorm. It had two kitchens and two separate dinning areas for Muslim and Hindu students.
Ashim used to play either Soccer or Volley ball in the afternoon. One evening, after the Soccer game, he came to the Dorm, washed his hands and feet and went to the dinning room for dinner. After dinner, he came back to his room and started to prepare his home-work. He was so tired that he could barely keep his eyes open. So he went to bed to rest for a few minutes. This was a violation of the Dorm Rule; no one could go to bed that early. So he shut the door and windows before going to bed. Soon he went into a deep sleep. His room-mate was still studying. Suddenly, he woke up due to a loud bang on the door. As his room-mate opened the door, Moulavi-Sir burst into the room with a roar.
“Aie, Shoeor (i.e., Swine), let me show you how to sleep in the evening,” said Moulavi-Sir, as he was pulling the blanket off the bed. Ashim suddenly jumped out of his bed; startled so much that it took a while to realize what’s going on. By then, Moulavi-Sir left the room like a gusty wind of a local swirling summer depression.
While Ashim sat at his desk, several thoughts went through his mind – how did Moulavi-Sir see him sleeping? Will Moulavi-Sir do the same to other students also? Why did Moulavi-Sir address him as a Swine? No one addressed him this way before.
Ashim’s room-mate told him that Moulavi-Sir addresses everybody that way when he is angry. He also informed him that Moulavi-Sir usually makes unscheduled rounds until 10 PM, and he usually peeps through the cracks in the door or window to checkup on students during his rounds. No one can sleep before 10 PM. That was Ashim’s first encounter with Moulavi-Sir.
Tanzim was the first-boy of the 6th grade class before Ashim came to this school. Ashim was wondering how a first-boy from a village-school will compete with Tanzim, who had two private tutors from the teaching staff of this school, thus, it would be a miracle if he could beat him in the 7th grade. He also knew that if he could defeat him somehow, it would enhance the reputation of the remote village, he came from. Also, his parents, especially his father, a teacher at his village school, will be extremely delighted. May be, just may be, Moulavi-Sir and Asghar-Sir will then be favorable to him. These incentives kept guiding him to study hard.
In his 6th grade class, Ashgar-Sir was the class-teacher. He was skeptical and afraid of Ashgar-Sir. He knew that he will have to impress him. So, he decided, whatever it takes, he will have to defeat Tanzim. That’s the only way, he knew, he will be able to impress Ashgar-Sir.
Soon the mid-term examination arrived. There were 10 subjects in the exam. Ashim was skipping afternoon Soccer games to prepare for the mid-term exam. While everybody was in a deep sleep, he would wakeup at 4 AM every night to prepare for the exam.
The mid-term examination soon started. It will continue through the week. Ashim was trying his very best on each examination that was being thrown his way… He finished all 10 papers, and was able to answer all questions. Now, all he could do was waiting for the results.
It took about 3-4 weeks to get results. After the waiting period passed, Ashim obtained his results; he scored record marks in all of the 10 subjects. His English teacher was so impressed with his hand-writing, neatness, and preciseness that he began to circulate Ashim’s answer paper in the class. The teacher wanted other students to see the presentation of his answer paper. It was at this point in time when Ashim started to realize that – victory over Tanzim may not be as far fetched as he initially thought after all.
Other teachers were impressed too with Ashim’s performance. They started to pay more attention to him. Head Master, Anzam-Sir, summoned him to his office. Anzam-Sir came out of his chair, put his hand on Ashim’s shoulder, and told him, “You have potential for greater success if you continue to work hard in the future.”
Next day, after the break at noon, Ashgar-Sir came to the class. He just finished his noon-prayer (Namaz) and his launch. Now, he needed a glass of water. He asked Ashim to fetch a glass of cold water for him. Ashim was stunned; out of about 100 students in the class, Ashgar-Sir picked him to bring a glass of water. He was so delighted that he ran out of the class, picked the best glassware from the Teachers’ Lounge, and cleaned it repeatedly until it was shinny. He put cold water from the tube-well, and looked at the glass one more time. Yeah, it was sparkling clean and shinny. He came to the class, and handed over the glass of water to Ashgar-Sir. Ashgar-Sir emptied the glass at once in single breadth. Ashim cannot explain how happy he was that day, for it was not just a glass of water, it was his acceptance. Ashim could not imagine that Ashgar-Sir, being a devout Moulana, would pick someone like Ashim, a Hindu student from a remote village, to bring him a glass of water. It was not a simple gesture; it was an example of his greatness. From that day, it became a routine for Ashim to keep a glass of water ready before Ashgar-Sir’s arrival in the class-room after the launch break.
After a while Ashim started to alternate between Dorm and Home. He used to come to school from home in the summer and stayed in the Dorm during the Rainy-Season.
Over the years, Ashgar-Sir became his legal guardian. One day, he summoned Ashim to come to the Teachers’ Lounge, and inquired about his health in front of all other teachers. “You appeared to have lost some weight,” Asghar-Sir said. Ashim informed him that he was coming to school from home, which was 3 miles away, and takes about 1.5 hours of walk one way to come to school. Ashgar-Sir was not happy. He started to look for a Hindu family for Ashim’s lodging. He actually found one, a Hindu Maruary family. Ashim declined because of their vegetarian food habit, which will be difficult for Ashim, as he was a non-vegetarian. After that, Asghar-Sir kept on pressuring him to come back to the Dorm. Finally, Ashim came back to the Dorm.
Moulavi-Sir was a totally different character. He lived in the first room of the Dorm with his son, Hafeez. The Dorm was Moulavi-Sir’s kingdom. He could not tolerate any wrong-doing. If someone did something wrong, the first word that would come out of his mouth was: “Aie, Shoeor…..” After a while, Ashim got used to this address. Somehow, it did not offend him anymore. Later on, it felt like affection to him.
Moulavi-Sir taught Arabic class. Everyone in the Arabic class was afraid of him. He used to carry a long cane in the class, and would use it regularly to punish defaulters. Ashim was lucky – he didn’t have to attend the Arabic class but instead, he attended Sanskrit class.
One afternoon, Ashim went to see a bridge at Bonpara River with some other students. He has not seen such a long bridge in his life. Only thing he saw was the bamboo-bridge over a canal. So, he was excited.
They all started walking toward Bonpara, which is about 3 miles away from the town. It took one and a half hours to reach there. They walked over the bridge from one side to the other. Then they came down under the bridge to the shore. Swirling murky water impressed Ashim. So many things were floating away with the stream; it was amazing. Ashim saw a few Seals, playing hide and seek, in the water. That was a spectacular show; never before saw such a thing in his life.
In the mean time, it was almost evening. They had to come back to the Dorm before the sunset otherwise they would all have to face the wrath of Moulavi-Sir. Everyone panicked at the thought of that prospect. They did not have time to walk back to the Dorm. So, they arranged a ride in a horse-carriage. Before being on board the carriage, they bought some large bananas for their breakfast tomorrow. Such bananas could rarely be found in the market. The ride was very comfortable, and amusing. Despite of all their efforts, they were unable to arrive at the Dormitory before the sunset.
Everybody was afraid and was hoping that they would be able to sneak in the Dorm without notice. Usually Moulavi-Sir would be performing his evening prayer at this time. So the time might be just right.
As they were entering the Dorm gate, a shadow appeared before them. It was none other than the Moulavi-Sir. He was waiting for them. Everybody filed in. Ashim took the lead. He was holding bananas on his hand. As he came in front of Moulavi-Sir, he immediately handed over those bananas to Moulavi-Sir before he could utter anything. Moulavi-Sir smiled. “Where did you get these huge bananas?” said Moulavi-Sir. Ashim told him the story. “I was worried sick for you,” said Moulavi-Sir, “next time you will need my permission to go that far away from the Dorm.” They all felt relief. Moulavi-Sir loves banana in the morning. Ashim knew that bananas did the trick this time.
It was 1965. Ashim was preparing for the 10th grade nationwide Board examination. This examination was mandatory for all 10th grade students, and they had to pass this examination to graduate. This was a very important examination in his life. Unfortunately, war broke out between India and Pakistan. Communal riot started in the town. Hindu properties and businesses were being looted, set ablaze, and ransacked. A few Hindu, Maruari, business men were murdered. Ashim was afraid that someone will come to the Dorm at night to kill him. He could not sleep at night; could not concentrate on his studies. Everyday he was going to the class unprepared. Teachers started to notice his sudden change, and they started to discuss this matter in the Teachers’ Lounge.
One day, Moulavi-Sir called him into his room. Ashim was afraid to stand in front of him. Moulavi-Sir was visibly angry. “Your grades are slipping,” he said, “what’s going on with you?” Ashim could not tell why; he was totally silent. Moulavi-Sir ordered Ashim to pack up his bed quickly. Probably, he will through him out of the Dorm, Ashim thought.
Ashim came back to his room and packed his bed. He then came to Moulavi-Sir. He asked his son, Hafeez, to help Ashim to carry his bed into his room. They dragged Ashim’s bed down the hallway into the Moulavi-Sir’s room.
Moulavi-Sir showed an empty ‘chowki’ (cot), and ordered them to put Ashim’s bed on that cot. “From today, this is your room,” said Moulavi-Sir, “I want to see what you do now.”
Ashim was totally amazed by the recent turn of event. Moulavi-Sir would not let his son mix with any other students in the Dorm, but he agreed to let Ashim to live with them. His son, Hafeez, was a bright student. He was the first-boy of his class. Ashim was one year senior to Hafeez.
Ashim used to think that Hafeez was living in a glass-bubble. He does not take part in any outdoor activity. He was spending some of his time preparing for his classes; the rest of the time he prayed and recited religious scriptures out loud with his father. How will Ashim fit in this environment? He cannot be inside the room in the afternoon; he has to go to the playground. Will Moulavi-Sir put a ban on his outdoor activities? All these questions started to haunt Ashim.
Moulavi-Sir used to lead his life by the clock. Ashim started to watch the life of this devout religious man. He would pray 5 times a day. In the afternoon, Moulavi-Sir would recite Koran or other religious books out loud with his son. Ashim would go out to the playground at that time. Moulavi-Sir and his son would wakeup very early for the morning-prayer. Ashim would be in sleep at that time. Moulavi-Sir never interfered with Ashim’s life. All he wanted from Ashim was that he prepare for his classes.
Ashim discovered fatherly love and affection in this otherwise grouchy personality. Ashim was not afraid at night anymore. He was feeling safe here, and he could concentrate on his studies. Ashim and Hafeez became good friends. Ashim realized that Hafeez did not like this life-style all that much. But, he had no choice. He was totally devoted to his father.
Ashim started his preparation for the 10th grade final Board examination. He has to do well to secure a good scholarship for his college education.
The Board examination soon arrived. Ashim sat for the final Board examination. He did well. Now, he has to wait for the result, which could take 6 – 8 weeks. Ashim left the Dorm after the exam. He was now living with his parents in the village. Time to time, he came to see Moulavi-Sir and his son.
At last, the result came out. Ashim did not know about it as he was living in the village, where newspaper never arrived and radio was out of the reach at that time. Head Master, Anzam-Sir, sent a messenger to ask Ashim to see him. Ashim was apprehensive that he might not have done so well in the examination, but he came to see Anzam-Sir anyway.
Anzam-Sir was patrolling in the hallway. He saw Ashim, and immediately rushed to him. Anzam-Sir embraced him, and informed him that he secured a residential scholarship, which will pay for his room and board as well as books for his college education. Anzam-Sir was extremely happy with his result. He congratulated Ashim for his achievement. But, Ashim knew better; it was his Moulavi-Sir, whose fatherly love, protection, selfless sacrifices, and guidance made all the difference in his life.
Those are the by gone days, which still haunt Ashim. How could he forget that great bearded-man, who has given him parental support away from his parents? The noble life of that great man still provides guidance in his life. Moulavi-Sir provided parental guidance to Ashim when he had no one else to guide him. He treated Ashim like his own son; religious differences were never an issue with him. Why can’t we have Moulavi-Teachers like his Moulavi-Sir in every school and every Madrassa? Ashim only wishes he could shout at the top of his Lungs, “Where are you, my Moulavi-Sir, where are you….?”