My tribute to Aligarh Muslim University
It’s October 16 today, and tomorrow will be October 17. Why am I starting the article by focusing so much on the dates? Well, because tomorrow is a big day for the family of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), and as I sit down to write this, my heart struggles to stay afloat in an ocean filled with despair.
Today, at this time, the hostel would have been abuzz with girls running around, and I would have been sitting, watching my roommate Sadia’s surprising dresses. But I can’t do that right now, and for sure, I don’t know how to swim. So, what can I do right now to save my heart from drowning? I can pay a tribute to the place that has made me, and given me a voice, and has given me a home away from home.
It was 2018 when I first entered the Aligarh Muslim University. It was my first time in Aligarh also. Unaware of what AMU was, I stepped into a place I had heard only bad things about. I had heard about how girls are repressed here and caged. But these were just words, and I was destined to find out how true or untrue these words were. My first friend in college was a Kashmiri who, from shifting me to my hostel room to making sure that I attend all classes on time, would always ensure that I am comfortable. Sharing a room with a stranger, and on top of that, a senior, was always something that got me anxious.
But the seniors I met and had as roommates made sure that I was more than comfortable. From making my bed and getting me breakfast to failing at calling the spirits and holding me through my panic attacks, they have been my family throughout college. My personal favourite college senior is Zareen appi or, as I fondly call her, Zuzu. Her eyes would sparkle as she’d tell me stories at 2am on the college stage. She would guide me on small issues, and sometimes, even speak up for me. Her smile made me feel at home with her.
From the teachers to the working staff, no one on the campus felt like an outsider. We would spend hours talking to the old man in the dining hall, and smile when the old lady would pat our heads fondly. Everyone was ready to help everyone else. People who didn’t know me would make sure that I was facing no problems. This place taught me generosity and how to respect everyone from a sweeper to the principal. Everyone deserves respect. This place has taught me tehzeeb (etiquettes).
It was my first year at the university, and just like every other year, the Central government had decided to attack the University again, something which I realised only later. Anyway, one of our seniors was charged with sedition. I’ll not get into the story, but soon, protests began. It was the first protest of my life that I had been a part of (there were many more to come later 😊).
A group of girls entered Bab-e-Syed, the iconic protest site in Aligarh. A group of boys had come to walk with us to Bab-e-Syed, the importance of which I’d come to know only later. We passed the CRPF personnels and police officers who stood with lathis in their hands. I clutched my friend’s hand as my heart shuddered under their inappropriate gaze. Once we were seated, the boys formed a chain around us to protect us from any action of the police.
In between, there was some scuffle among the police officers, and the boys struggled against them, but they did not let go of the chain, an image which is still intact in my head. Amid the chaos, there was always a voice in the mic that kept reminding the boys to ensure that nothing happens to the women protestors, and that voice would always make me feel safe. I heard that voice at all the protests that were to come a year later, when we were just five girls among a sea of boys at 8pm. I was not with my family nor any of them were my brothers, but I still felt safe.
By the next protest, I had found my group. Our group of three girls who talked of nothing but revolution, who liked revolutionaries like Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar. I was always someone who had less friends, and finding these three was something I’ll always be thankful to the university for. We used to go for protests together, and that was the time when this university made me, me. It gave me a voice.
There was a person we greatly admired at the protest site. He made sure to hold discussions at the protest site. But most of all, he’d make sure to give everyone who came forward, even a person with no experience in public speaking, the mic to speak — something I’d always be thankful to him for.
Soon, I started appearing for interviews. A girl who was as shy and introvert as me was now appearing for interviews. This place has given me the courage to stand up and face the oppressors. This place has made me strong, made me someone whom no one ever imagined I’d be.
Aligarh Muslim University has given me a new home, a new life. It has made me soft and strong at the same time. This place isn’t just a university, this place isn’t just a place from where I’d get a degree. This place is emotions, home, hope and life to many of us. I don’t know if I’d have a good career, but I know I’ll be proud to be from a University whose students always stood strong in the face of oppressors and spoke up for justice. I’ll always be proud that I’m human and a member of the AMU family.
Tomorrow, Izzah would have struggled putting an eyeliner on me, Samia would have been shouting at us for getting her late, Shireen would have complained of the long line in the vegetarian section, and Asiya would have managed to smuggle in six shahi tukda for our sweet dish on normal days.
I’d close this by saying,
Hum to mitt jaayenge Aye Chaman-e-Syed lekin,
Tujhe zinda rehna hai Qayamat ke shaher hone tak!