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Mushaira & Benefit Dinner: Sir Syed Day in SF

The Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California held their annual Sir Syed Day event at Chandni Restaurant in Newark, Oct. 6. Ras H. Siddiqui presents a report.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
 Dr. Rafiq Dossani speaking at the AMU dinner in Newark, Calif., Oct. 6. [Photo: Ras H. Siddiqui]

During the event the famous university located in Aligarh, India was remembered, and its founder, Sir Syed honored, and the effort to give back to the community and country via the Aligarh Education Endowment Fund (AEEF) provided an additional focus. Invited speaker Dr. Rafiq Dossani currently a senior economist at Rand Corporation provided the academic component to the evening and last but not least the Urdu language Mushaira (Poetry recital) thrilled the full house with its linguistic passion.

After a fine dinner in the Mughlai tradition, the evening started off with the customary invocation presented by Hafiz Humayun Suhail. Emcee for the event Dr. Shaheer Khan next presented an introduction and update about the AEEF. Dr. Khan added that over 1,700 kids have been helped through this endowment fund (www. Aeef . us) and that the expenditure for the year was expected to be around $93,000. With some donations already in, an additional $60,000 was needed to serve the six projects targeted by this endowment which included funding education through scholarship, supporting feeder institutions like Aligarh Modern School, Hamara School etc., supporting vocational training for women, coaching for both school and college students, and a mentorship program and coaching for competitive exams.

A video on “Hamara School” was shown in which the plight of the poverty-stricken but determined children was shown. “Children want to go to school. But where would the fees come from?” was the point made here.

Next, to help with the cause three individuals namely Afzal Usmani, Ras Siddiqui and Javed Khan gave short speeches, stressing Sir Syed’s vision and the importance of monetarily supporting the AEEF at this event. AMU Alumni Association of Northern California president Amtul Suhail said seeing the determination of these kids made her appeal for assistance for them self-explanatory.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
 Waseem Barelvi presenting his poetry at the Mushaira held at AMU celebration and charity dinner in Newark, Calif., Oct. 6. [Photo: Ras H. Siddiqui]

Dr. Rafiq Dossani spent several years at Stanford University where he was a senior research scholar at Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, and also director of the Stanford Center for South Asia. He is the author of a number of books on the South Asian region dealing with education, telecommunications, regional co-existence and peace efforts.  He is currently working with the Indian government on its 5-year plan for higher education.

Dossani addressed plans for the future: The first is the recognition that education is a public good and that a “for profit” approach cannot be the best way.  He said that the vast majority of engineering students attend private colleges in India but quality in comparison to American universities has been found lacking. He added that the way students study is lecture-based and not much work is put in by them as compared to the students here at Stanford or even in the average universities in the United States. “You are going to see a difference in the quality of the mass of institutions, not just of the quality of elite institutions,” he said. He said that this realization has hit the government there and they are now looking at changing the old ways with a diversity of curriculum.  To make this possible, the government plans to allocate large-new resources and make eligible all institutions to access these resources based on faculty and institutional competence.  In a nutshell, quality education (like that at Stanford University) is heavily subsidized and that realization has sunk in. Again he commended the AEEF for its efforts and on a more personal note quoted the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of his Ismaili community to lend support, especially relevant here because the late Aga Khan was one of the signatories of the original charter of Aligarh Muslim University.

The first half of the program ended with the playing and singing of the Tarana-e-Aligarh or the AMU Anthem. The international Mushaira certainly did not disappoint Urdu enthusiasts in the audience in the second half.

Amongst the formidable presenters of Urdu poetry here were (in order of appearance) Ahmar Shehwaar (Bay Area), Zia Zafir (Sacramento), Tashie Zaheer (Bay Area), Sunil Kumar “Tang” (India), Hasan Kazmi (India), Shahida Hasan (Pakistan) and Waseem Barelvi (India).

It becomes very difficult to keep a journalistic posture during a Mushaira. One cannot but get emotionally involved; it is almost as if our old Tehzeeb is calling us through these poets. But from memory Ahmar, Zia Zafir and Tashie Sahib all made our local region proud through their poetry presentations. Guest poet Sunil Kumar lived up to his “Tang” reputation and made us laugh. Hasan Kazmi made us smile and wonder while Shahida Hasan introduced us to a beautiful sadness which Urdu poetry is famous for. And there should be no mystery as to why Waseem Barelvi was chosen for the Sadaarat (Presidency) of this gathering.  Barelvi Sahib Nay to Mushaira Loot Liya (He stole the show).

In conclusion, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  Sir Syed once lit a candle whose light has brightened many homes in spite of the resistance that he faced from within his own community. But he did not give up. The Aligarh Muslim University spirit too is one that does not give up. It belongs to everyone. It transcends borders and religions and needs our support for efforts like the AEEF. What our world needs today are visionaries like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

Ras Hafiz Siddiqui is a South Asian American writer. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.


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