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The Salman Khurshid legacy

Tipu. That’s how we used to call Salman Khurshid, currently in the midst of storm for the alleged misappropriation of funds of an NGO in the name of his illustrious grandfather, Dr Zakir Hussain, a Gandhian educationist who later became President of India. Tipu then lived just about 100 yards away in a sprawling bungalow from the place I lived. It was situated next to the huge campus of what was then called Teachers’ Training College of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. Back from school, quite often, about 10 of us – apart from Tipu and me, we were Munna, Shobhi, Pappu, Gudda, Aslam and Gajinder – would play cricket on the huge college ground. I didn’t know much of cricket, hence Tipu would either ask me to bowl or field, which I would sheepishly do, as I was afraid of the cricket ball hitting me. My turn to bat would be the shortest, as I would be out in no time. At that time I studied in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya and Tipu was in Delhi Public School. Most of us looked upon Tipu as a future cricket captain. He wouldn’t talk much, considered himself as belonging to a different class, and often treated rest of us as plebeians.
All of it continued till we were in secondary school. Thereafter I didn’t meet Tipu much, though I kept getting news of what all he was doing from other langotiyas, who would often call him a “snob”. He went to St Stephens to do English honours about the same time I was in Kirorimal in Delhi University. Among my close undergrad friends was well-known theatre artiste, late Safdar Hashmi, also in Stephens. Quite often, Safdar would crack jokes on Tipu: “Look at his (Tipu’s) arrogance! He acted as King Lear in the Shakespeare play, yet refused to keep his head straight despite our repeated insistence”. Last time I interacted with Tipu was in late 1970s (or was it early 1980s?) after he returned from UK. He had become a lawyer. Then, I was with “Patriot” and "Link". He told me he had decided to start a magazine. I don’t know what happened thereafter, but later I learnt he had become a Supreme Court lawyer, which he remains till date despite being a minister in the Manmohan Singh government.
Now, Tipu is no more than my Facebook friend, a social network site I rarely open. Some of my langotiyas, who keep tab on Tipu’s activities, give me the impression that Tipu has become an even bigger snob, and that he has virtually stopped interacting with them. One of them is professor in the erstwhile Teachers’ Training College, where we played cricket. He said, he met Tipu “a few years ago in a marriage” but “found impossible to interact with him in the crowd”. Another, who is runs a small business, adds, once he went to see Tipu “out of sheer desire to revive old friendship”, and after crossing several security layers reached the meeting room. “I waited and waited, and though Tipu knew I would be there, he didn’t turn up. They are all big people, live a different life”, he told me. In 2010, I sent Tipu a Facebook message telling him what I was doing, and that during a recent trip to Delhi I met some of the langotiyas. “Great to hear from you. Shall try to catch up during a trip in the near future”, Tipu replied, though he never did.
Whenever I think of Tipu now, I don’t think of him as much as his grandfather Zakir Hussain. Zakir Hussain established Jamia in 1935 next to village Okhla in the outskirts of Delhi, on the Gandhian principle of basic education, or buniyadi shiksha, or nai taleem. A true Gandhian, Zakir Hussain was known in Jamia for his humility and unassuming character. What if he was educated in Germany? He returned to India as a true patriot to be part of the national movement. Praising Zakir Hussain’s modesty, which was common to all Congressmen of those days, my father would tell me how he was picked up from Swaraj Ashram, Vedchchi, founded in 1930 in Gujarat’s tribal area. It was late 1940s or early 1950s, when Zakir Hussain wrote a letter to Vedchchi Ashram’s Jugatram Dave, founder of the ashram, seeking a good art teacher for Jamia. With a recommendation letter from Jugatram Dave, my father met Zakir Hussain, who instantly appointed him in the then Art Education College in Jamia, where he served rest of his life. Zakir Hussain was a known follower of the nai taleem pedagogic principle, in which knowledge and work go together. It was meant to promote children away from career-based thinking and disdain for manual work. In short, it taught how not to be arrogant.
Already nearing 60, Tipu, whatever I am able to gather, is part of the new breed of politicians who have tasted power for rather too long and have developed disdain for the principle for which his grandfather once stood – nai taleem. As I was searching his personal website (, I was amused to see Tipu being mentioned as a “dymanic leader of mankind” (sic!) whose “deep sense of secularism” led him to set up (imagine!) a “chain of Delhi Public Schools in India and abroad.” In utter contrast, at another place, interestingly, the website says, Tipu doesn’t see himself “as a secular leader sadly cut off from the mainstream.” And whose tradition does he vow by? Let me quote from the website, which I believe must have had his stamp of approval: “Delhi Public School, St Stephens and Oxford.” His grandfather was also educated abroad, yet he founded a nationalist institute wedded to nai taleem. Interestingly, there is no mention on the need for nai taleem or its principles to be carried forward. To him, establishing a chain of English medium high schools and senior secondary schools is more important so that “aspiring Muslim students” are able “to cope with the modern competition” and become “best in the world.”
Nai taleem or buniyadi shiksha is in tatters. My friends in Delhi tell me, Jamia doesn’t remember it. Gujarat, which I made my karmabhoomi in 1993, was one place where experiments with nai taleem were perhaps the most intense. It is here that it took its roots under Jugatram Dave, Nanabhai Bhatt, Harbhai Trivedi and Thakkar Bapa, all down-to-earth Gandhians. Gijubhai Badheka, a foremost Gandhian pedagogues, popularly known as “mucchadi maa” (a mother with moustaches), experimented nai taleem for small children in Bhavnagar. Badheka was the guiding spirit behind the idea of “learning without burden”, propounded by well-known educationists Krishna Kumar and Prof Yashpal, a top-notch scientist, as a national need. Ashram shalas of Gujarat, where nai taleem took roots and flourished, are in bad shape. Dependent on government aid, they are at the mercy of officialdom for survival. A Gandhian child rights activist regrets, “Nai taleem propounders, including Badheka, are not remembered. The power-that-be in the state recently established a Children’s University to research child education, and nai taleem is alien to it. Its concept note doesn’t even mention nai taleem!”


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