AMU’s Secularism, As Seen Through a Shared Plate of ‘Kadhi-Chawal’

A touching tale of religious harmony, as seen through a Hindu-Muslim friendship at the Aligarh Muslim University.

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AMU’s Secularism, As Seen Through a Shared Plate of ‘Kadhi-Chawal’

(This is a first-person account of the author’s interaction with a Bengali student at Aligarh Muslim University.)

I firmly believe that while you can travel the world, stay at the finest of resorts atop exotic hills to hone your writing skills, it is still the ambience and the aura of an academic institute that truly allows you to contemplate – I realised this after an almost chance encounter at Aligarh Muslim University.

I noticed his persistent stare at me, as if he wanted to say something. I broke the ice and transformed our common solitude into company. Accepting my invitation to a cup of tea, he conveyed his salaam and his pronunciation was almost perfect. “I will have chai, not tea,” he said with a smile.

Chai and creativity, particularly in this part of India, is a unique combination. Tea is a drink, but chai is a culture.

“Tea is just not my cup of tea,” he said. I silently noted his ability to play with words, and realised conversations would be interesting with him. With a slight pause, he reluctantly brought out an ugly piece of paper. But the 19-year-old psychology student had written something beautiful on it.

Two Spoons, One Plate of ‘Kadhi Chawal’

I still remember the lines he had written — ‘Green and saffron are just colours of the same rainbow.’

I vividly remember him – a bespectacled, athletic Bengali, brought up in Northern India. “Bengali culture is always captivating and enchanting,” I said. The young man said to me, “I belong to the City of Joy – Kolkata, but my father got posted to Lucknow, and then to Noida.”

Too busy to read? Listen to it instead.

“What brought you to Aligarh Muslim University?” I prodded him. “I have always wanted to study in a different environment,” was his answer. “I was apprehensive initially but then I read a lot about AMU and its culture. I also read one of your answers on Quora,” he added. Sipping on his chai, he expressed that it was, however, a herculean task to convince his parents to allow him to study at AMU.

“Did you get accommodation at AMU?” I asked him, bit worried. He nodded in affirmation – he was staying at the annexe.

“Any friends?” I asked. “Yes. Syed Asim Chishti,” he said, his eyes sparkling at the mention of his friend’s name.

The young Bengali man went on to tell me, “I am a footballer; I wake up early in the morning. I listen to the azaan and make sure that all my annex mates are awake to offer namaz.”

During our conversation, the Bengali student’s friend Asim also joined us and asked him if he would have something to eat. Our Bengali man replied, “Yes, kadhi-chawal but please bring one plate – we can eat off the same plate.”

AMU’s ‘Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb’

I was in a hurry, so I took their leave. The Bengali student stood up with me, as I lifted my bags. “Khuda Hafiz,” he said. I reciprocated his greeting. As I walked away, I smiled – one boy was from Kolkata and the other, from Ajmer, the city of Khawaja Saheb. One boy’s family name was ‘Chishti’ and the other’s was ‘Chatterjee’.

One was a Brahmin and the other was a Syed. I was amazed. Two spoons and one plate. This was quite a spiritual experience of sorts for me.

Aligarh Muslim University has been, and continues to be a bastion of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (a confluence of cultures). For each attack upon the secular nature of this institution, there will be infinite stories like this.

(Naved Ahmad is a Delhi-based blogger who identifies himself as awriter by instinct, sports coach by profession and a harbinger of universality. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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