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by HUMRA QURAISHI August 30 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 57 secs

Come September, two significant days stand out. Teachers Day on 5th September and the World Alzheimer’s Day on 21st September, writes Humra Quraishi

On this Teacher’s Day, the 5th of September, I’m reminded of the teachers who helped me through the several hurdles during my years growing up. When I couldn’t cope with advanced Hindi in high school, my father engaged a Panditji who taught the language at Lucknow’s Islamia Inter College. I had taken up advanced Hindi with great enthusiasm, along with Sanskrit, as subjects but needed help to cope. Panditji taught me with so much patience that I fell in love with the languages! With a paan tucked in his mouth, Panditji wouldn go on teaching for hours. It was not only  Hindi and Sanskrit but also mythology and the age-old religious and cultural traditions that he made me understand with great care. He always declined the chai, coffee, even paani we offered, presumably because of our Muslim household where non-vegetarian food was cooked, but he never made it apparent. I remember his one-liner, "ab to paan kha liya hai.”

And, I would  have been a school drop-out if it hadn't been for the Loreto nuns. After my love affair with a Shia friend was sabotaged by my family, I refused to take the Senior Cambridge examination. Stubborn Taurean that I am, I didn't relent, even on the morning of the final day of signing the form. It was about noon, when two senior nuns from the convent (Lucknow 's Loreto Convent) stood at the front door holding a bunch of papers. Under their watchful eyes there was no choice left but to sign that form…in all probability my parents had informed them about the rebellion at home and that's why they stepped in.

When my father was posted in Jhansi it was arranged by my parents for a maulvi sahib to teach my siblings and I the Quran and also our mother tongue Urdu (schools in UP had struck the Urdu language off the academic list!). I still remember how we'd be sitting on the sprawling lawns of our Jhansi home, and my friends would sit a short distance from us, waiting for the lesson to get over so we could go cycling. At times my friends would ask the maulvi sahib about the writings in the Quran and he would say, “Allah ek hai…uska ek Rasool hai…achhe insaan bano…hamesha sach bolo, emandar raho" (there is one God, there is one Prophet…be a good human being, always speak the truth, always remain honest).

Once, whilst he was  teaching us, a girl (my younger sister's friend - she must have been barely seven or eight years old) also covered her head with one end of my sister's scarf/dupatta and insisted that the maulvi sahib teach her, too, to read the Quran. He looked nonplussed, and asked her name. It was a non-Muslim name. Uneasy and embarrassed he was, but saved the situation by telling her that she should first learn to read the Urdu script and then the Quran, which is in Arabic. The next day he carried a book of Urdu alphabets for  her, but by then she’d changed her mind and giggled excitedly before snatching the book from him and running  away with it.

In fact, this particular maulvi sahib used to dwell on the great qualities of Mahatma Gandhi. I recall, one afternoon when he talked about the extraordinary non-violent ways that the Mahatma adopted to deal with the British, and how he spoke the truth at any cost, our cook standing, not too far quipped, "But  he was a  Hindu!"

Maulvi sahib snubbed him by saying, "So what!"

The cook, in no mood to be silent, lobbed another question, "Maulvi sahib, kya Gandhi ko Jannat mein jagah milaigi? (will Gandhiji get a place in Heaven?).   

Maulvi sahib replied: "Bilkul milegi…Allah niyat daikhtay hain." (of course, he will…Allah  sees the intentions).  

World Alzheimer’s Day is on 21 September.

I’ve been writing regularly on Alzheimer’s Disorder and the havoc shrinking memory cells cause to a person’s confidence. Last week at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival I met a young, bright, earnest, sincere person, Hemanshu Jain, who  has launched a forum for the senior citizens…it is aptly called KHYAAL. He and his team are reaching out to the senior citizens across the country. Right from taking them out for group  holidays and  get-away places, to guidance, counselling and discussions, they offer a whole range of activities. 

And, I’m signing off today with these lines from Shabina Nishat Omar’s verse - I Ponder On Peace (Amity Peace Poems, Hawakal Publishers):

In a life fraught with turmoil, I pause and contemplate:/What is peace?/Is it the calm within?/Or the serene exterior?/Is it elusive or is it attainable?/Is it a chimera or is it a  mirage?/Is it an intangible entity or a tangible reality?/I ponder upon the occurrence/Of kaleidoscopic transformations/Watching glorious promises transform into sullen falsehoods./Understand stolid forever transformed/Into shimmering transience/Realizing that peace glitters, subsides, ravages/And is mangled into  convenience.

I ponder as I  gaze on the vagaries of  human optimism  across/nations:/Efforts, promises, politics, compromises, negotiations…/Endless engagements,/I ponder on the shifting shapes of peace;/The unyielding quest of its attainment./I ponder from within the depths so of my mind./I reflect standing on the  observation deck of my soul./I muse poised on the brink of every seismic heartbeat./Only to be answered by resonating quietude:/Awaiting the tranquillity in life.  

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