Samruddhi is one the four Maharashtrian Hindu students out of the seven who got distinction at the board exams and also excelled in Urdu. The marks in Urdu she and her other Hindu batch mates scored—Harshada Dilip Cherphale (86%), Simran Deepak Karambe (88%) and Kshitij Pradeep Khopkar (60%)—have excited her Muslim classmates. “I am not envious of Samruddhi, but feel proud that she outshone me in Urdu which I have learnt from childhood,” says Madiha.
But the proudest is the school’s founder, Mumbai-based noted surgeon Dr A R Undre. “One of the reasons I moved my school from SSC to ICSE Board was the compulsory Indian language of 100 marks students are required to keep. I wanted my students to not just get familiarized with Urdu but also hone the skill in it to the extent that they start appreciating its literary beauty,” says Dr Undre who established the school in 1980 as a way to “payback to my ancestral village.”
One of the benefits of learning Urdu, say the non-Muslim students, is better understanding of its writers and their works. So most 10th graders in India, including Muslims who have not studied Urdu, know Maulana Azad as a freedom fighter and India’s first education minister. But ask Samruddhi about Azad’s literary contributions and she immediately mentions “Ghubar-e-Khatir”, a collection of the great scholar-nationalist’s letters he penned in prison to his friends.
The non-Muslim students turned to their teachers and Muslim classmates for help in Urdu. “We mostly speak Marathi at home but when I put her in the English medium school where Urdu is compulsory, I knew she would clear it as her teachers are very cooperative,” says Samrudhi’s father Shyam Waghmare who teaches Marathi at a different school.
Simran comes from Danguri village where no one knows Urdu. “After my results came many relatives congratulated me especially for excelling in Urdu paper,” says Simran. “My relatives admire and are amazed when I speak or read Urdu texts before them,” says Harshada. TOI asked these students to read the headlines of daily Urdu Times and each read them fluently. “We ensure that our non-Muslim students don’t falter in Urdu and we encourage them to put in extra efforts,” says vice-principal, Arif M Ansari.
Urdu is often associated with Muslims, something many lovers of the language call a grave injustice to the language which symbolizes India’s Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (composite culture). But the achievements of these students debunks the fallacy that Urdu belongs to Muslims alone. “These students have proved once again that Urdu is a secular language and politicians should stop dividing languages on religious grounds. Urdu is Hindi’s sister and must be treated equally. It should get all the facilities to prosper in whichever state it is the second largest language,” says Prof Gopichand Narang, noted Urdu scholar and former president, Sahitya Akademi.