Rich Tributes Paid to Agha Ashraf Ali

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Agha Ashraf Ali (1922-2020)- Photo credit Rafiq Kathwari

‘Agha Ashraf Ali Loved His Intellectual Independence’

Srinagar: Renowned scholar, educationist and public intellectual Agha Ashraf Ali was remembered during a webinar here today. The webinar was attended by various eminent personalities.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Asgar Samoon, Principal Secretary, Education & Skill Department, J&K, said that Agha sahab was an emancipated and liberated soul whose extempore, bold and fearless way of talking will live with us for a long time to come. “He was an inspiration for youth. His first and last love was education and his aim was to turn literacy into education in a way that will benefit our society,” said Samoon. “He was one of the few living intellectuals of Kashmir whose vision if realised will do wonders for us.”

Samoon said that the education department will sponsor any author who wants to write a book on Agha Ashraf Ali. “In addition to it we will work on including a chapter on his life history in our school syllabus,” said Samoon. “Our biggest tribute to him will be to strengthen our education sector. We are already working on training teachers, skill development courses for students and other such things. We will take forward his ideas and strive for better education of our children.”

Senior lawyer and philanthropist, Zaffar Shah, while sharing his tributes, said that “Agha sahab was a fearless man”, adding “he would say what he wanted to. Not all people are able to say what they wish to. Education was very close to his heart, and he would often bring grassroots education in his conversations. He was rich with his own self. His self respect, his honour did not flow from the official position he held. He had his own personality and charm. What made him great was his cherished dream that all our young people should have a very good quality education.”

He said that Agha Ashraf’s life revolved around education and tribute to him will be to convert his house into museum and research institute, where young people can come and get inspired from his personality and work.

G. R. Sufi, former Chief Information Commissioner, J&K, while reflecting on his experience of knowing Agha sahab as a public intellectual and as a neighbour, said that “when he first met him, he felt as if he had known Agha sahab for years.”

“He was an educationist to the core and education was all over his heart and mind. Lately, I have been reading his Urdu memoir “Kuch toa kahiye ki loag kehte hain”. It is a book that reflects 70-80 years of history or education in J&K. He has also slightly touched upon politics and has not minced words in that expression”, Mr Sufi added.

Prof Siddiq Wahid, former vice chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), while recalling his interface with Agha sahab during his initial days, said that he has known Agha Ashraf Ali as someone who loved his intellectual independence, and that was something that was “common between them.”

“One of my regrets is that I, as the Vice Chancellor of IUST, never invited him to speak at the university”, he said, emphasising that “we need to recognise people like him and recognise them completely, not to idolise them but to know the spirit and the ideas they had and presented to us. They were the kind of people who embraced knowledge wherever it was coming from”.

Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, spoke at length about her family’s long association with Agha sahab and his family. “In order to take forward Agha sahab’s great legacies, it is important for us to understand those legacies. He was larger than life. We are not only talking only about his intellectualism but also the values that he espoused and we need to preserve those which ever way possible. The other thing is education, that was the prime motive of his life. It is also bringing his vision about quality education. He would often say that he hates it when people buy books and keep those to themselves. He believed in sharing knowledge. And that is what we need to do to take his legacy forward”, she said.

Arjimand Hussain Talib, Executive Member of the Agha Shahid Ali Writers Cooperative moderated the webinar and shared the story of the library movement he and some of his friends initiated in Kashmir in their college days in early 2000s, which was mentored by Agha sahab.

“When we discussed the idea of the library with him, he shook us, by telling us the history of the Reading Room movement of Fateh Kadal, which, he said, was a precursor to Sheikh Abdullah’s political career. He almost jolted us by asking if we had any idea about what we guys were up to”, Arjimand recalled. “He was so delighted to join the movement that he took an active part in the library campaign and collected books for that.”

Chairman, INTACH, J&K, for former Director General, Tourism, Saleem Beg likened Agha sahab’s work in ensuring right to education in Jammu & Kashmir to the “Land-to-Tiller” watershed event in J&K’s history.

“Just like the Land-to-Tiller Movement has a major contribution in ensuring relatively better socio-economic situations in J&K, Agha Sahab’s work in the field of education helped ensure right to quality education here”, Mr Beg said, adding “he have had the distinction of studying comparative education, the knowledge of which greatly empowered him in implementing great educational ideas in Kashmir.

“And let me also say this that Agha sahab didn’t have a comfortable career here. During his active lifetime, we have had ten vice-chancellors for Kashmir University but Agha Saheb was never made the vice chancellor of any university despite having the best credentials to be one”, Mr Beg said.

Farooq Nazki, famous Kashmiri poet, writer and broadcaster, while paying his tributes to Agha sahab, said that while “a man is usually known in the time of his difficulties, and not in happiness, he got to know Agha sahab more profoundly after the loss of his beloved son Agha Shahid Ali.”

“Agha Shahid’s loss had impacted him deeply, but he never let that tragedy overwhelm him. Such was the strength of his spirit, Mr Nazki said, adding that it is unfortunate that no political regime or administration gave him the due respect and position which he deserved.

Former Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation and Registrar Cooperatives, J&K, Dr G. N. Qasba, who also has the credit of registering Agha Shahid Ali Writers’ Cooperative and providing it the initial financial support, said that “Agha Saheb was a doctor of books. He would sort of examine a person and then recommend a book to him with the message that it will improve your life.”

As far as our tributes to him are concerned, we will have to remember him and the best tribute to him will be to promote quality education in Kashmir, Dr Qasba added.

Vijay Dhar chairperson Delhi Public School (DPS) Society, recalled his association with the Agha family and how Agha Ashraf’s pearls of wisdom shaped his life. “Agha sahab’s contribution to education in J&K is enormous, and he believed that if teachers were not educated, children will not be educated,” said Vijay while recommending that the College of Education at Srinagar be named after him, as a tribute to him for establishing that institution.

Dr Nusrat Andrabi, former Principal Govt Women’s College, Srinagar, whose family is amongst the ones with the close ties with the Agha family recommended naming the road from the Lal Ded Hospital to Zero Bridge as Agha Shahid Ali Bridge, which, she said, was a cherished wish of Agha Ashraf sahab.

Dr Shafi Ayub, who teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), while recalling his days of knowing Agha sahab, announced to contribute one thousand books for any library that will be developed in his memory in Srinagar.

G. N. Var, Secretary General of the Agha Shahid Ali Writers’ Cooperative recalled the time when they registered the cooperative with an aim to groom the young students. “He would often say that if you have to work and help society one should not expect anything from the government. His dream was to establish and strengthen the private educational institute and at least establish one big library in the city,” said Var while urging for recognising and appreciating our talent.

The webinar was organised by Agha Shahid Ali Writers’ Cooperative in collaboration with Ziraat Times. Both bodies have invited people with any literary and visual resources related to Agha sahab so as to compile a consolidated knowledge resource about the late educationalist and thinker.”

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