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Friday, December 19, 2008

Slokas After A Noon Namaaz Muslim children study Sanskrit and Hindu ones read Quran in these UP madrassas ... Namrata Joshi

We arrive at Madrassa Anwarul-Islam Salfia at 12.45 pm, a little before namaaz. As the students gather around the row of taps to wash their hands and feet and line up for prayers, this modest building in the dusty, narrow bylanes of Chauri in Jalalpur, in eastern UP's Jaunpur district, looks exactly how we expect a madrassa to be: a place for rigorous study of Islam, Urdu, Arabic.

What we encounter instead is a complete contradiction. The bare, red brick walls of the Standard 7 classroom are yet to be plastered, the window frames still to be fitted. Here, 12-year-old Nadima Bano and Hishamuddin are reciting, their pronunciation perfect and elocution chaste, this ode to India, "Yasyottarasyamdishibhati bhumao Himalayah parvatraj eshah..." It's a sloka in Sanskrit that translated means 'the land shielded by the Himalayas in the north'.

"Sanskrit padhne se zubaan saaf ho jaati hai (the diction becomes clear by learning Sanskrit)," Hishamuddin tells us. "Sanskrit is considered the mother of all languages," says their teacher Rabindra Kumar Mishra. "It's ironical that institutions like this madrassa should be nursing it while it's vanishing elsewhere."

We hear this echo back in Salfia where two Hindu girls—14-year-old Arti Kumari and Anita Kumari—are writing about Prophet Mohammed in Urdu on the blackboard—"Jab hamare Hazrat ki umr paintees baras ki thi (when our prophet was 35 years old)...". "They face absolutely no problem in writing, reading or understanding Urdu," their teacher Kaiser Jahan informs us.

At Madrassa Arbiya Zia-ul-uloom in Mandey in Azamgarh district, sisters Manju and Ranju Kumari have been learning Urdu from Class 1. They mean it when they recite: "Urdu hai jiska naam hamari zubaan hai, duniya ki har zubaan se pyaari zubaan hai (Urdu is the sweetest of the languages in the world)." Passing by Class 1, you can hear Prashant Kumar explaining Urdu numerals to his classmates...


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