March 30, 2020
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A Riot Of Impressions

A Riot Of Impressions
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You must be out of your mind, going to Aligarh with the communal tension there." Anxious friends had been at it ever since I got an invitation from the Aligarh Muslim Women’s College to be their chief guest on annual day. And it was quite true: the papers had been full of a bizarre confrontation between two communities. It all started at a graveyard and cremation ground located next to each other with members of a community trying to prevent the funeral of the other. However, since the university had assured me the curfew had been relaxed and there was no tension on the campus, I decided to take the trip by Shatabdi—which isn’t as easy as it sounds. For some strange reason, taxis have to halt a half-kilometre away from the main platform at the Ajmeri Gate end of New Delhi railway station, not to mention the porter who demanded an astronomical sum to carry a small suitcase. Following him while also negotiating the filthy, slippery platform did nothing to lift my spirits. The Shatabdi itself was a joy with its German-made carriages and many Lucknow regulars. The huge picture windows were unusual as were the luggage shelves, also made of glass or some other transparent material. Fortunately, everyone had brought regulation-size luggage.

The Muslim Women’s College was founded in the teeth of stiff opposition by Sheikh Abdullah, fondly known as Papa Mian and the grandfather of our ex- foreign secretary Salman Haider. The women’s college is now under the university but the family continues to take a keen interest. His mother Mumtaz Haider was the principal when my sister Sujata Roy joined as a professor of English in the mid-’40s, to my knowledge the first Hindu to do so. As a young student in Lucknow, I used to visit her often and have vivid memories of the poet Majaz coming to her house and reciting his verses.

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