A day in the life of an SBA student

A day in the life of an SBA student

The Adhaan for Tahajjud was just called. I know Tahajjud is very important but sometimes I’m lazy. Nothing will happen if I don’t go. No punishment. There’s no punishment here for anything. Except if you tell lies or do anything dishonest or immoral. Then the punishment is expulsion. And that is something that none of us want. We love being here too much.

I get out of bed and make the bed. That’s one of the non-negotiable rules here. We always make our beds and line up our shoes beside them. On that subject, we clean our own dorms and toilets and bathrooms and our own classrooms. We do that because this is our home and you keep your home clean. Nothing remarkable about that, though visitors usually look very surprised. One asked me if I didn’t feel bad to be made to do this. I replied, “Nobody makes me bathe but I do. It’s just like that.” Keeping yourself clean includes keeping your environment clean. It’s as simple as that.

Our four huts, the Dorm Parents hut and the common room are all built around a central courtyard with grass and a shady ornamental or fruit tree. Bird feeders and nesting boxes are attached to building gables or placed safely in the tree. Each hut has a veranda on the courtyard side. The whole complex is surrounded by an 8-foot-high Bougainvillea hedge with a chain link center; very secure and impenetrable. There is a gate near the Dorm Parents hut. The whole complex is called a ‘Kraal’ and the fence is the ‘Boma’. There is a gravel pathway around the whole complex inside the hedge to give access to all the huts. It is wide enough to take a vehicle in case of any emergency.

Our dorm common rooms have a Musalla, a large hall very comfortably furnished with bean bags and arm chairs, books lining the walls, low tables, game boards, a pool table and a fridge stocked with fruit juice, flavored milk, yogurt, fruit and nuts. No sugared fizzy drinks and definitely no Coke or Pepsi. In one section there are a couple of terminals and highspeed internet to allow us to do any research that we may need to do. There is also a widescreen TV for us to watch news, sports and any useful programs. Our school has its own TV and Radio station and so we watch our own programs also.

We spend time in our common rooms, either reading by ourselves, discussing our projects, playing one of the indoor games or reading Qur’an in the Musalla. The noise sometimes gets too loud, but we regulate ourselves as much as we can to ensure that we’re not disturbing those who’re trying to read on their own. If it gets too boisterous we go out into the open courtyard and sit on the grass. Except when it’s raining this is the best place to be, you lie on the grass and look up at the stars. When it’s raining, one of the nicest things in to sit inside our classrooms or common rooms and watch the rain falling in the courtyard and dripping off the roof. The grass ensures that the rain doesn’t splash into the room, as does the wide verandah that circles the courtyard into which you walk out from the class or common room before you step on the grass. These verandahs also have chairs and hammocks in them and on a lazy afternoon, there’s nothing more pleasant than to lie in a hammock and let the breeze gently rock you to sleep. The walls of all our Kraal buildings are decorated with African designs, murals and are strikingly colorful. This is the case with all the buildings in the campus, which gives it all a very cheerful atmosphere. This is Africa and that is reflected in every building on the campus. SBA Africa is African.

I head out for the masjid. This a very beautiful part of the day. I love the quiet. The peacocks on campus have not woken up yet and I can see the big male on his habitual perch on the topmost branch of the tall Ficus. The tree is like a magnet for birds when it is in fruit and attracts Green pigeons, Blossom headed parakeets, Mynahs, Hoopoes, King Fishers, Egrets, Pond Herons, several types of doves and of late, Blue rock pigeons. Our resident Pea fowl and Guinea fowl compete furiously and noisily with these birds who I’m sure they see as intruders into their property but the Ficus is generous and there are enough berries for everyone.

On the ground the several species of deer, sheep, goats and hares that are all over our grounds gather under the Ficus to eat what the birds drop. Symbiosis in action. How do we learn about symbiosis? By watching these relationships between animals. We also learn politics this way. How do I know about the birds and what they eat and their lives? We learn about them in our natural history and photography classes under this tree.

All these thoughts are going through my head as I walk to the masjid. I’m in my kurta as I will change into my riding kit after Fajr. Most boys wear our sports uniform, track suit and running shoes. They wear that to the masjid for Tahajjud and Fajr as they go straight to the sports field after Fajr. We all jog around the athletic track for three miles and do various aerobic exercises before we go off to practice the different sports we play. I ride horses and so I don’t go jogging. Those who play cricket and tennis change into their kit after Fajr. The athletics and track event guys have it easier as they are already in their kit. The others must race back to the dorm and from there to the field to get there in time.

Kits are very important as they are an indicator of attention to detail which is a key factor of quality. I remember the dialogue we had with our teacher, sitting under this very tree, when I asked him why we needed to go and change into different clothes for different activities. He takes all questions very seriously and listens carefully and doesn’t try to impose his view on us. In this school if you have a reasonable argument about any policy, the management is willing to listen to you and even change that policy. He told us that when we change into the right clothes, not only are we wearing the clothing that is most suited and evolved and designed to suit the activity but we are also giving ourselves a message about the seriousness of what we are doing.

Here’s the masjid, bright and welcoming. As I enter I leave my shoes in the rack and wonder why we are the only masjid in the world where people don’t throw their shoes in the passage. Everyone puts their shoes in the racks and if the racks are full, usually on Friday because local people also come for Juma, they’re lined up neatly along the racks with a clear pathway down the center for people to walk to the door.

As I enter the masjid I breathe in deeply the beautiful aroma of cleanliness. On Fridays we burn incense, the aroma of which remains for a few days after. Each of us students have masjid duty which includes everything to ensure that anyone who comes to pray, has the best experience of his life. We know that by doing this Allahﷻ‎ will give us a reward for their prayers, so we look forward to our turn which comes once per term. Masjid duty includes calling Adhaan, sometimes leading Salah and even conducting the Juma on occasion. The boys are all taught all these things as these are basic requirements of being a Muslim man. We take all these things very seriously and practice our Qiraat, Adhaan and spend a lot of time over our Juma Khutba when it is our turn to do it. The masjid is a place of much activity which I love to visit often.

It is very quiet and peaceful. In the back there’s a very quiet hum of some of the boys reciting Qur’an, taking care to keep their voice low, so as not to disturb those who are standing in Salah. Consideration for others is a very important value we learn here, not by lectures but by watching our teachers and seniors. We enjoy it when others are considerate of us and, so we know that we must do the same to create a culture of mutual care and concern.

As I stand getting ready to start my Salah, I can’t help but be impressed by the rapt concentration on the faces of some of my friends. It’s as if they’re in a different world which I suppose they really are as they’re connected to their Rabb and are standing in His presence, oblivious to the world around them. I envy them and ask Allahﷻ‎ to bless them and make me like they are. It’s my dream that one day I reach a state of perfection in my Salah where I can concentrate like some of my friends. In the masjid I can see most of our teachers also in Salah or reading Qur’an. This is one of the best things about our school, that our teachers are our role models. There’s a huge emphasis here on practicing our core values and everyone does it without compulsion. We see how this helps us all to create a wonderful, caring environment which we all appreciate and enjoy. And we know that this can’t happen if even one of us doesn’t pull his weight. It’s peer pressure which is the most powerful force to encourage us to do our bit. And we all do it. Can’t let the side down, you see!

Fajr Adhaan is called and after praying Sunnah we line up for Fardh. The Imam says, “Allahu Akbar.” My heart misses a beat because I recognize the voice of Shaikh Saad Al Ghamdi, whose style of recitation I’m trying to learn. And here he is in person and I’m praying behind him. What good fortune for me! I bet there’s not another school in the world which can boast of this. But our school regularly has scholars, religious and otherwise, who come to spend time in our Retreat Village and share their experience, knowledge and time with us. Imagine the thrill of being taught a subject by the author of the books on that subject which we’ve been reading!! Or like today, to listen to Qur’an being recited by a Qari whose recitation we follow and learn from. Or to be coached in sports by those stars who others only see on the TV screen.

After the Salah and Fajr Reminder, we leave the masjid for the sports field. I head off to my Kraal to get into my riding kit. Two of my friends join me to change into their cricket whites. The chatter of the boys running off to their dorms or sports field is matched by the rising cacophony of the birds in the Ficus and many other fruit trees on our campus. Loudest among them is the mournful, scream of the male peacock as he announces to the world that he’s finally awake.

My ride was lovely as always. My mount, Fascination is a Thoroughbred mare and my dearest friend. She is the most intelligent thing on four legs and many times more intelligent than those on two legs. I love and trust her with my life and I know she feels the same. I talk to her and she understands me.

My riding class begins with mucking out her stable, grooming and saddling her and leading her out into the schooling area. Then we do our morning routine of exercising to warm us both up first. Then schooling for dressage, alternating with going over the course in the show jumping arena every other day. Fascination is a natural jumper and loves to go over the obstacles. The dressage movements come to her naturally and she is so experienced in them now that even if I fall asleep on her back she’d do them all perfectly on her own.

After I finish my hour of riding, I take her back to her stable, rub her down to dry the sweat, then take her to have a drink at the trough, taking care to see that she doesn’t drink too much water. Then I give her grain feed and throw fresh hay in her stable for her to lie on and fresh hay in her feeding trough. Finally, I give her, her daily treat of green Lucerne and a couple of carrots or an apple which she loves. She shows her appreciation by pushing her nose into my chest and making her soft neighing sounds.

Horse riding builds balance, boosts your courage, builds the muscles of your core, back and thighs. It corrects and gives you a great posture, heightened sensitivity and makes you a considerate and compassionate person. It teaches you how to communicate and that communication is different from speaking. Communicating is about understanding the other first and then about helping them to understand you.

A horse is the best judge of character that I know and senses fear, lack of compassion and hesitancy and reacts accordingly. Treat a horse with respect and love and it will take care of you, fight for you and give his life for you. Treat him or her badly and it will throw you at the first opportunity. Good horse riding is not about forcing the horse to do something it doesn’t want to do by applying the whip. It’s about helping the horse to see why doing what you want it to do is the most pleasurable thing for it to do. Once the relationship is built and mutual trust is established, the horse will do whatever you want without any hesitation. But building relationships is about spending time, communicating and taking care of the horse. This is where the daily grooming comes in. It’s not about cleaning the stable but about paying your dues to build the relationship with your mount. If you haven’t got it already, all this is part of our leadership education.

Riding is not only for fun, but our second class for the day. The first is always connecting to Allahﷻ‎ in the masjid.

Back to the dorm after riding, quick shower, change into our school uniform and off to the dining hall for breakfast. Choice of oatmeal or mixed grains porridge, eggs, milk, coffee, tea, fruit. We can all eat as much as we like but no wastage. So, we learn to take small portions and go back if we’re still hungry. Our dorm parents eat with us and are there to see that everyone eats well. We have various versions of this menu, but the basic principle, that it should be wholesome, filling and nutritious, remains the same.

We all eat together. That’s one of our school’s policies. School staff eat with everyone. This includes maids, guards, gardeners, drivers, everyone. Naturally this depends on their work schedule but whoever is free to eat at regular meal times eats with us. And everyone eats the same food. No differentiation between staff, management, teachers or us. We know many of the staff personally. We address them as aunty or uncle, not by first name and they treat us like their own children. Many staff children stay and study with us. Some are on concessional fee; others on scholarship. But as far as we are concerned there’s no difference between us and them in anything.

How do I know all this? Because my Dad is a driver and my Mom is a housekeeper and I’m on a full scholarship. But I’m my House Prefect and Head of the Dressage team.
Everyone is treated with equal dignity and respect in this school. The only way you get extra respect is by your behavior, your sports wins and your academics. That also is different here. In sports, while we compete with each other, we get points for showing consideration to others, politeness, helping one another and good citizenship (sportsmanship). Dog-eat-dog, is not in our school because we’re not dogs. In academics we routinely help one another, study together, share knowledge and teach one another. We don’t get comparative class ranks i.e. there’s no First in Class academically, but there is in terms of demonstrating Good Citizenship, Integrity, Truthfulness (not carrying tales), Loyalty, Friendship and Trusteeship. We take our values very seriously in this school. Lying is considered the root of all evil and that’s one thing that you can get expelled for. Sounds strange today because lying is almost a part of our popular culture, but not here.

Here lying is treated as a crime and is publishable by expulsion. So, no matter what you did, it’s safer to own up than to lie about it or try to hide it. If you own up, you are asked what you learnt from what you did. Then depending on what it was, you may be put on a watch list, be assigned to speak to a counselor, be helped to get over your issue, be gated for some time, given extra PT or something like that. No corporal punishment whatsoever in our school. As I said earlier peer pressure is the biggest motivator. Our fellow students don’t let us do wrong things.

There’s enormous focus and emphasis on student safety above anything else. We all have 24 x 7 access to a Help Line where you can ask for any help of any kind, physical, emotional, spiritual, material and report any misbehavior, harassment or offence committed by anyone against anyone else. Complete confidentiality, immunity and protection for the one reporting is guaranteed. We need to give our name and ID number and narrate what happened. No anonymous complaints are entertained, so that nobody can falsely accuse anyone. We can ask to meet the Ombudsperson and report face to face or do it on the phone. Action is guaranteed before the end of the day. For emergencies, it is instantaneous. We’ve never had an emergency, but I know this from the drills we do, every term.

Breakfast done we head for class – the academic classes, that is. This period lasts until lunch which means from 0930 am to 1230 pm. While we’re in class we’re free to go and pick up a snack from the snack station; there’s one in every common area; or to go to the loo any time we want. Nobody comes looking for you unless you disappear for a long time and when they do, only to make sure you’re alright. But nobody has ever disappeared like that, as long as I can remember because nobody wants to miss class. Our learning is highly interactive, we’re moving around all the time. Our classrooms are designed to bring the outside, inside. So, they all open into courtyards with grass and shade trees. We can go out and sit on the grass to do our projects and work together in small groups. There’s no formal break time because there’s no need for it. We also don’t have bells or buzzers to announce the end of a class. Time keeping is our responsibility and we do it. After all, how hard is it? Bells are so undignified and prison-like. We are a school, not a jail

Our classes are multi-age group. In my class I have children between 8-12 years old. That’s because our school doesn’t segregate us by date of manufacture and believes that humans learn best in multi-age groups, like we do in our families. As they say in Africa, “It takes the whole village to raise a child.” That’s what we practice in our school. We take care of each other in class and teach each other. That’s the best way to learn they say, and I agree. We have at least two teachers in every class of about 20 students. No class is ever more than 25 students. In many classes we have 3 or sometimes 4 teachers, depending on what we’re studying. Two are our class teachers. A third may be the subject teacher who has come to talk to us about whatever we’re studying. We also have external experts who come to our school to talk to us, take classes, help with projects and take us on excursions and study trips.

We don’t study discrete subjects. We do projects. Let me tell you how it is done. In my class, this term we’re doing Mountains. We begin by brainstorming on the question, “What would you like to know about mountains?” There’s no rule about what you can ask. I said that I wanted to know the weight of Kilimanjaro. Nobody looked at me like I was crazy. We truly believe and practice the adage, “The only stupid question is the one that wasn’t asked.”

We all ask our questions. The teachers add their own. Then these are all organized into buckets of subjects e.g. History, Geography, Economics, Biology, Islamic sciences etc. Then we all work in smaller groups and try to answer our own questions. To do that we read, research the net and libraries (our own and open source), meet experts and seek their opinion, conduct experiments and constantly share our learning with the whole class. We publish a daily bulletin of our ongoing project. For each bucket subject we seek a time and go to the room which houses the teacher and resources for that role topic. To understand the effect that mountains and mountain ranges have had on history we go to the history classroom. To understand the effect of mountain ranges on rainfall and regional climate we go to the geography room. Each of these rooms is a treasure house of information about that subject. There we listen to lectures, watch films, look at working models and permanent exhibits of whatever we’re studying. Then we compile our learning and build our project. Most of that work we do in the evenings when we study or have discussions on our own. Usually in our dorm common rooms.

At the end of each day we write our Learning Journal in which we write what we learned that day. In that journal there is a full page for the questions you asked that day. Every week prizes are given for the best question asked that week. What’s the criterion? A question that nobody could answer immediately. I got that for my Kilimanjaro question. But then with that prize comes a challenge; find the answer. You are allowed to collaborate, use any resource you like and when you find out the answer, there’s a prize for you and all those who helped you. That’s what gets us really engaged in our learning. We do our own research in the evening in the student led session and present it in our class the next day. More about that later.

There is a huge focus on the spirit of enquiry, creativity, seeking knowledge and trying to truly understand it. Just quoting someone else’s answer is not acceptable. You’re asked for your opinion and the reasons for that opinion. And most importantly, you’re listened to with respect and seriousness, even when what you’re saying may sound crazy. We are never asked to memorize anything. We can refer to notes, books or other resources. We’re not allowed personal screens in class or on campus, so no smart phones or tablets. But we have high speed internet and terminals in class which we can use for research. Shaikh Google is at our service. At first, I found this ban on social media screens, irritating but now I have become so fond of reading, even addicted to it, that I love books. We’re allowed Kindle if we prefer to use that, but I like to hold a paper book and turn pages as I read. Sorry trees!! I hope all the books I read are made of recycled paper. Should be. Why not?

We’re supposed to read at least three books per term. These can be on any subject, related or not to our course. Every week on Thursday evening we have a Learning Sharing session where we present the lessons learned from our extracurricular reading. This is also good public speaking and presentation skills practice, which is one of the objectives for doing it. These sessions are very well attended and we get a lot of support from our school mates and staff. My own average is at least six books a term. And I’m far from alone in this. Children here love to read and discuss what they read.

Our discussions, I dare say, would do credit to much older gatherings. We discuss ideas, not people. We discuss strategies for change. We don’t complain. We look for ways to influence. We get frustrated sometimes. We go to our Dorm Parents or teachers to talk about anything we don’t understand fully. They listen, smile and point us to sources for research. Or ask us questions to nudge us to think in ways and about matters we may not have thought of. Sometimes when I’m feeling lazy, I wish they’d simply give us the answer, but I know the enquiry method is far more interesting and beneficial. And of course, many times they don’t know the answer, but that’s fine. That’s why we always share whatever we learn.

And, I must tell you, this summer vacation, we’re going to climb Kilimanjaro.

Our midday break is from 12.30 pm until 2.30 pm for Dhuhr and lunch. Lunch today was as good as it always is. Fresh vegetables in a Caesar salad, freshly baked bread, hot from the oven, jacket potatoes with a dollop of sour cream, a thick slice of juicy roast mutton haunch with boiled carrots and beans. And of course, you can go for seconds. Fruit for dessert. We stay far away from sugar which is addictive and harmful. We have ice cream freshly made with the fruit of the season with natural fruit sugar being the sweetener.

Then we begin our afternoon session. Some of us have swimming coaching, others go to their hobby clubs, Moot Court, Shadow Parliament, special project work, hospital duty, kitchen duty, vocational skill class or the farm.

Two days a week we work in the school farm. We grow all our food on-site. Our poultry farm gives us eggs, chickens, turkeys and ducks. The sheep, rabbit and goat farm gives us mutton and goat milk. The greenhouses give us most of our vegetables, mushrooms and some fruits. Other vegetables and fruit are grown in the open. Our bees give us honey. We plant flowers close to them and don’t use any pesticide anywhere on the property and so the bees are safe. Our dairy and processing plant produces milk, cream, butter, yogurt, buttermilk and cheese and loads of dung which we use to produce biogas with which we cook our food.

The waste from the biogas plant along with all the organic kitchen waste, leaf litter from the gardens, grass cuttings from lawn mowers, litter from the stables and so on, goes to our organic manure plant to produce, you guessed it, organic manure and vermicompost. So also, the poultry litter from the poultry sheds which is changed annually. We harvest fish from our fish farm tanks which are connected to the lake around which are the villas of the Retreat Village. Our fields produce wheat, barley and maize and the fruit and spice orchard gives us oranges, bananas, papayas, lemons, lime, pepper, cardamom and other spices. What we don’t use in the school kitchens is sold in our Department Store at a concessional price to cover costs and generate a modest profit. We harvest rain water and recycle waste water which we then use to irrigate our orchard, farm and all the greenery in SBA Africa by drip irrigation. Our electricity comes from the solar panels on all our roofs which is sufficient for all our lighting and heating needs.

The farm makes a small profit annually but that’s not why we have it. We have it for three reasons:

  1. So that all of us can eat pure, pesticide free, organically produced, fresh food
  2. So that we can train local people in better farming techniques
  3. ‎So that we, students and teachers, reestablish our connection with the earth.

That’s why everyone participates in the farm in one way or another, as they say, from the Chairman to the Coachman and woman. We each of us know how to grow things, take care of animals, milk cows, tend to sheep, goats and poultry, catch and clean fish, slaughter and dress a chicken, rabbit or sheep and then convert it into a mouthwatering curry or roast. Sometimes people wonder why we need so much land for a school. I say to them, it’s to teach is leadership, stewardship, connect us to the land and show is the signs of Allahﷻ‎, daily. Give us enough land and we’ll feed the world.

Our motto is:

If it can be done, learn how to do it. If it can’t be done, discover a way to do it.

It’s ploughing time and we use two very large and strong bulls to pull the plough. A tractor can do this job faster, but you can’t contemplate life, tell your story or ask really intelligent questions to a tractor, can you? You say, “But can you do that to a bull?” I say to you, “Try it and see.” Do the bulls answer you? No, they don’t. But understanding begins with framing good questions in a way that the answer appears from within them. That happens when you’re riding a horse, walking a dog or walking behind a plough; not when you are driving a machine. Moreover, we want the children to learn farming and for that tractors are not safe. And bulls? They love the children and take care of them. While indulging in this philosophic mood, you must remain aware enough to ensure that your furrow is straight. And most importantly, tie the tails of the bulls to the plough or to each other if you don’t wish to have a face full of usually urine soaked bull tail tassel, when he swings it to drive away the flies.

Do you know the smell of freshly ploughed earth? Do you know the feel of fertile loamy soil in your hand? Can you tell, by crumbling a lump of compost in your hand, if it’s ready to be applied in the field? Do you know the companionship of Pond Herons and Egrets, Mynahs, Bee Eaters, Crows and in our case, free range chickens which follow your plough and pick up insects which get exposed?

A Rat Snake just showed up and is now moving rapidly across the field to get into the grass on the edge before he’s spotted. Do you know what to do when a Rat Snake comes out of a hole and moves away from you towards the edge of the field? You do nothing except wishing it well while hoping that the Brown Snake Eagle doesn’t see him while he’s still in the open. That’s not the only enemy he has. There is a family of Mongoose which would happily make his acquaintance as would the big Barn Owl, at this moment, dozing in his favorite hollow in the Ficus. I wish him health and safety because Rat Snakes eat rats which are the bane of our lives, on the farm. We don’t use poison because it doesn’t stop with the rat but goes up the food chain and kills anything that eats the rat and onwards. Rat Snakes are our friends and family and we protect them. All snakes and all life. We don’t kill anything because everything has value and a place in the overall scheme of things. We are only one cog in the wheel of life. Not its owner or the reason for its existence.

Farming teaches us Tawakkul (reliance on Allahﷻ). It trains us to be patient. It shows us that if we want a certain result we must make the necessary effort. It demonstrates the importance of nurturing and that to do so, it is not only important to feed, manure and water but also to train, prune and stop. All lessons in leadership of people. It teaches us that despite all the effort we still need the Fadhl (blessing) of Allahﷻ‎ to get the result. Because after all a farmer can prepare the field, dig canals, take steps to harvest rain water, but he can’t make it rain. Or rain just enough. Or rain at the right time. So, he learns to do all that he needs to do and then to stand in the night and beg Allahﷻ‎ for His favor. Farming opens our eyes both to our strengths as well as to our weaknesses. And it inculcates humility.
Farming teaches us to be sensitive to the needs of those that cannot speak and so it’s up to us to be ever watchful, recognize the signs and respond without being told to do so. Farming teaches us that the needs of those in our charge always precede our own. So, it’s not remarkable, in the lambing season, to find some of us sitting in the sheep pen waiting for an ewe to give birth, rather than cheering our favorite team playing in the World Cup. To give us company is always ones of our sheep dogs, Border Collies, which we helped to train. They are the best companions that you could wish for and our role models for being sensitive to the needs of others. You may be surprised that I’ve said that a dog is my role model. That’s because the fundamental lesson that we’re taught here is that there are opportunities to learn, all around us, all the time and that we can learn from anything and anyone. Especially from animals. It’s become second nature to all of us to constantly ask in every situation and many times a day, “So what did I learn from this?”

Farming teaches us the importance of preparing the soil before planting. Without proper preparation the best seed won’t germinate. It shows us the value of digging a straight furrow, of preparing irrigation channels and water harvesting, without which the best rain will simply flow away and give no benefit. So, success is not an inevitable result of resources but of preparation. Without preparation the best resources will simply be squandered.

Farming teaches us that what we have in our hand is the seed. If we hang onto it, that’s all we’ll have. But when we plant it properly and nurture it, it yields a harvest. And that the smallest harvest is more than the amount of seed that was planted. Only empty hands can hold. Something must leave your hand before you can receive anything. So also in life, to receive rewards, we must invest. The investment in life which has the highest rate of return, ROI, is the investment we make in others. To help others, to alleviate suffering, eliminate poverty, enable learning and open doors for others that they couldn’t open for themselves. It is to understand that possessions add cost, not value. That true happiness lies in the hearts of others, in their smiles. That there’s more pleasure in giving than in acquiring. In helping someone else than in indulging yourself. No investment, no return. It’s only when we strive to please Allahﷻ‎ that He sends His blessings on us. Our actions must rise towards the heavens for the blessings of Allahﷻ‎ to descend.

That’s why we have our farm.

We break off at 4.30 pm, pray Asr and head off to the dining hall where we have high tea. We have high tea every day. Scones, sandwiches, croissants with fillings, curry puffs; our bakery is excellent. Hot chocolate, tea or coffee. They feed us well in this school.

From 4.30 pm – 6.30 pm we’re free. Most of us head off to the sports fields. But this is not compulsory. If you don’t feel like playing, you needn’t. This is just free time to do whatever you want, including nothing. At 6.30 pm Maghrib Adhaan is called and we head for the masjid. After Maghrib is our second academic class. But this is different from the morning. This session is student led with we Prefects being principally responsible. It’s my responsibility to ensure that all the boys in my house are accounted for and get to whichever class they’re supposed to be in. How do I know which classes they need to be in? I ask them. They plan what they need to learn depending on what project they’re doing. They’re supposed to inform me and the teachers they need so that everything is in readiness for them. That’s the meaning of student centered learning.

Some people are surprised and ask how children can be left to decide what they want to learn. I say to them that in any case, it is children (all learners) who decide what they want to learn. When adults try to force them, not only do they not learn but they get turned off from learning. Adults may have the illusion that they’re achieving something but that’s an illusion.

You may be surprised that I haven’t mentioned Islamic studies as a special subject. It isn’t. We learn and live Islam. Our ethos is Islam. We are taught about the importance of remembering Allahﷻ all the time and of following the Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ. Every project we do has a significant amount of Islam in it; laws and rulings applicable to what we are studying, history that relates to it, mentions in the Qur’an and Sunnah, incidents and lessons from the Seerah and stories of the Sahaba and later generations. Our philosophy is that Islam is a practice, not a theory and so it must be practiced, lived and benefited from. It is not something to be studied like a philosophy or theory.

At 9.00 pm we go to the masjid for Isha followed by dinner and bed. It’s lights out at 10.30 pm. We need the sleep because tomorrow is another day, as full as today.

Some final comments before I end; this school is all about inculcating leadership qualities in us. The stress is on service, integrity, honesty, quality, industry and compassion. Concern for others precedes concern for ourselves. A thirst for knowledge is kindled and I hope it will remain with us throughout our lives. Our teachers are our role models and we learn by seeing, doing and experiencing. Ours is a fully boarding school because you need to be here full time to understand the meaning of inculcating values. Happens unconsciously and quietly but very powerfully.

I am nearing the completion of my time here and know that the saddest day will be my graduation day when I will have to leave school. However, I take heart from the number of old students who visit us regularly and hope to join that brotherhood and contribute to the school that gave me so much. I ask Allahﷻ for His help.

My life is worth $ 7

My life is worth $ 7

On October 20, 2010, I was 55. I released a book on that day called: 20-10-2010-55 which was 55 life lessons that I learnt in my life. I have decided to share those with you (those who read the book please forgive me) and so you will get one every day until we finish them all.
Those who feel motivated to read the book itself can get it from Amazon. Those who would like to know more about me and my life should read, “It’s my Life”, which is also on Amazon (India, US & Canada). My life is worth $7 (INR 200). I am most grateful that Allahgave me the life that He gave me for $7. Ajeeb!


I turned fifty-five on October, 20, 2010. That’s the title of this book and blog; 20.10.2010-55. On that day, I reflected on the lessons that I had learnt in an unusually rich, active, exciting life lived in India, Guyana, America, Saudi Arabia, and in travels in other parts of the world. I wrote this book as a tribute of thanks to all those who added value to me, taught me formally and informally, and invested in my learning. During my childhood and teens in India through the 60’s and 70’s, I spent all my vacations walking in the jungles of the Aravallies, living with my dear friend Uncle Rama. Imagine the excitement of a fifteen-year-old with a .22 rifle or a twelve-bore shotgun, walking with one Gond companion, Shivayya, all over the jungle bordering the Kadam River. 

At times Shivayya and I would walk in the night to witness a Sambar mud bath and sit behind a tree, quietly watching majestic Sambar stags roll in mud and then stand up to shake off the excess; coated in an armor of mud which, when dry, protects them from biting insects. Sometimes we would hear the call of the tiger as it set out for work. I learnt to read tracks which tell the story of all those who passed that way. I learnt the meaning of smells which tell their own stories and can mean the difference between life and death. But the biggest lesson I learnt was to take life seriously while having fun and to extract every drop of learning.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I spent five years in the Amazonian rain forests of Guyana bordering the Rio Berbice. I went there when I was nineteen and lived alone in Kwakwani. During weekends, my friend Peter Ramsingh and I would take our boat on a trip fifty to sixty miles upriver and camp on the bank or on a sandbank. It was our code of honor to not take any food on these trips and live off the land from our hunting and fishing. As an emergency fall back, we would take some raw chicken guts in a plastic bag. If we didn’t manage to catch any Lukanani or to shoot any Agouti or Canje Pheasant, we would trawl the chicken guts in the Berbice and sure enough, we would get a bite – Piranha. Great eating as long as you know how to keep clear of the teeth and retrieve your hook. I would see alligator eyes shining like diamonds sprinkled on the dark waters during our night patrols to check our fishing nets. During one trip, Peter and I accidentally caught a twenty-two-foot Anaconda in our fishing net. It was so heavy that both of us couldn’t lift him clear off the ground. I met people who live thirty to forty miles up the Berbice River in houses on stilts, in small forest clearings where they grow a few vegetables, hunt and fish for their meat, and don’t come to ‘town’ for months at a time; no water except the river, no light except the sun. Sometimes it is a single family of Amerindians. Sometimes it is a couple of families who live by one another. Their children play in the forest and swim naked in the river, yet I never heard of a case of Piranha bite; never figured out that one as the river is infested with Piranha and they love to bite. These families always grow the best honey which they would sell to people like me who turned up on their doorstep, or take to town and exchange for a couple of bottles of country liquor – deadly stuff in more ways than one.
I received news in May, 2011 that my dearest friend, mentor, and boss from Kwakwani, Nick Adams, entered into Islam along with his wife and sister-in-law.
I spent ten years in the 80’s and 90’s in the rain forests of the Western Ghats in Anamallais, India and further south, planting tea, coffee, cardamom, and rubber. I spent many hours tramping up and down hills and valleys, sometimes at a height of eight to nine thousand feet on the famous Grass Hills; at other times, wending my way in sweltering heat through the thick forest on the Ghats where the sun almost never reaches the earth. One day, I escaped an angry, charging bull elephant by what could only be a miraculous divine intervention. All my tea garden workers believed that I was divinely blessed from this day on; a belief that I did nothing to dispel – who would object to being divinely blessed? On another instance, I walked up to a Red Dhole kill – they moved away and sat in a circle watching me, while I ensured that the Sambar hind that they had brought down was dead. On a forest road in the Anamallais, I once had a face-off with a huge Gaur bull who eventually decided he didn’t hate me enough to eliminate me and moved away, allowing me to move on, on my Royal Enfield motorcycle. My greatest joy was to camp on a huge rock outcrop called Manja Parai in Lower Sheikalmudi Estate where I was the big boss, sitting on a platform in a tree to watch elephants come to drink in a nearby stream. When the elephants left, the Gaur would come. Finally, when everyone had gone their way, my companion Raman and I would descend and light a fire against the bitter cold, smoke a couple of beedis, and drink hot, sweet tea and wait for the sun to rise. Gradually, the sky would lighten; the orange glow would show and then the majestic ball of fire would come up over the edge of the horizon, greeting us across an expanse of forest and tea gardens. What is the value of such a sight? 

I never was good at math.

Lest you think, all play and no work – I went to one of the best schools in Hyderabad, India, where I was born and spent my childhood – The Hyderabad Public School. I believe that school is the most important institution in building character and preparing the child for manhood. No university or institution of higher learning can do for character building what a good school can do. I went to one of the best, not only because of the infrastructure, which was world class, but also because of the wonderful people who taught me. Simultaneously, I acquired a formal Islamic education (twelve years) with both book learning as well as Tarbiyya, which I continued over the years. I learnt that it is always possible to do more than conventional wisdom would have you believe if you push yourself. I also learnt that pushing yourself is great fun. In school I was passionate about horse riding; I excelled in dressage and also played polo. After completing school, I went to college and graduated with degrees in History, Political Science, and Urdu literature. I also have a post-graduation in Management from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) and a further qualification in Applied Behavioral Science.
I specialize today in Leadership Development and Family Business consulting and have written several books on these and other subjects. I have retained my interest in the wild places and those who live there. This has developed into a passion for photography and so over the past several years, I have spent many very happy hours every year in Kruger and Hluhluwi National Parks in South Africa and in other forests of the world.
Over the course of fifty-five years, of which thirty-eight have been working years, I have met thousands of people across races, nationalities, colors, political landscapes, genders, sizes, and shapes – ranging from business and political leaders walking the corridors of power (in 2008 I met the King of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ibn Saud at a banquet in his palace in Mina; the Prime Minister of Guyana, His Excellency Mr. Samuel Hinds is a personal friend of thirty-five years standing), to religious scholars (Muslim, Christian, and Hindu), union leaders, anxious parents of children who have become strangers to them, heads of family business – billionaires who would give half their kingdom for peace of mind and real happiness, poor farmers and hunter gatherer tribesmen and women who have little, but are ever happy to share it with you. They have problems like the rest of us, maybe even more, but you don’t see that on their face or hear it in their voice.
I met tribal leaders in their villages, one of them comprised of four huts in the rain forest in the Western Ghats in India and broke bread with them and to their utter astonishment, played with their children. I drank milk straight from the udder of a buffalo and honey straight from the hive, with the blessings of the owners. I swam in forest rivers that have no names, rode horseback on the South American pampa and the English Moors and fished for Piranha and Arapaima in Rio Berbice. I have driven cars, SUVs before the term was invented (we called all of them ‘Jeep’), Caterpillar dump trucks, bull dozers, and boats. I rode a buffalo into a lake until it decided to dive and I floated away. Mercifully, I grabbed her tail and she towed me back to shore. I met teachers, parents, and students in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Guyana, U.K, and America and wondered at our similarities which far overshadow our differences. I have spoken to audiences ranging from a few people in a room to nine-thousand people in the great masjid of the International Islamic University in Malaysia and marveled at how easy it is to connect to people across every imaginable boundary. I was one of three million in Haj on more than one occasion and if I had a dollar for every smile I got from a stranger, I would be a rich man. I feel I am a rich man anyway because of all the experiences that life has afforded me. I have been in life threatening situations more than once, facing direct personal danger sometimes from both, two legged and four legged creatures, but I am still here. I studied many religions and philosophies and then came to Islam with my eyes wide open. Though I was born in a Muslim home, my Islam is by choice, not chance. Having seen the opposite spectrums of the economic scale – the rich living responsibly or irresponsibly, the poor living with self-respect and dignity or justifying all sorts of bad actions by reference to poverty – I have developed a strong sense of justice and compassion. I believe the two must go hand in hand. I also learned what I consider to be the two most important lessons in my life, after sharing which I will end this introduction.
The first relates to the fact that essentially we are all in control of our lives and selves and no matter how powerful or powerless we may believe we are, there is always something that we can do to make a difference.
‘I will not allow what is not in my control, to prevent me from doing what is in my control.’

The second relates to the fact that everything we do counts and defines us as human beings and becomes our legacy to the world. I ask for the courage to do what is in my control, fearing nobody but my Creator to Whom is my return.

 ‘All that we chose to do or chose not to do, defines brand value and character.’
Yala, Leopard Paradise

Yala, Leopard Paradise

He had killed the buffalo late the previous night. The dark was his friend. Thanks to the reflectors in his eyes, he could see as clearly in starlight as we can see in bright daylight. If he could have read a book, he would have, reclining on a massive tree branch overhanging a pathway. As the light faded and night set in, he was on his favorite perch, only his tail hanging over the side, announcing his location. He had climbed the tree earlier in the evening to give the Langur sentinels and their friends, the Axis (Cheetal) deer to sound their alarm calls and eventually tire of it when they couldn’t see him any longer in the gathering darkness. The sun goes down rapidly in the tropics and Yala National Park, where he lives is in the far south of Sri Lanka. He is a leopard (Panthera Pardus kotiya). A big male, full grown and at the peak of his powers. The Sri Lankan Leopard is a subspecies native to Sri Lanka that was first described in 1956 by the Sri Lankan zoologist Deraniyagala. In 2008, the Sri Lankan Leopard was listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

But he didn’t know all this. All he knew is that he was the top predator in the forest and, so he could roam where he wished and take whatever suited his fancy, at will. There are no larger predators in Sri Lanka unlike India and Africa where leopards live in fear of tigers and lions. In Yala and other national parks of Sri Lanka, the leopard is king, and this shows in their behavior. Yala is the only place where I have seen leopards stalking along a road in broad daylight. And wonder of wonders, I saw a full grown young male lying under a bush, with several jeeps full of tourists ogling at him from just a few feet away. He made no sign of leaving nor did he show even the slightest nervousness. The only cat which does that in India is the tiger and in Africa, the lion. Though the African leopard (Panthera Pardus Pardus) is a larger animal, it is very secretive and almost totally nocturnal. He is far too fearful of lions and rightly so. So also, the Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), is wary of the tiger which would kill it if it could.

Sri Lankan leopards grow bigger than their Indian cousins because of their top predator status and because there is abundant game in Yala. Not only are there huge herds of Axis deer (Cheetal) but feral water buffalo and wild boar. In addition, it appears that villagers are permitted to graze their buffalos in Yala and I saw a great many of them as well, quite at peace with those that appeared to be wild. I think this is a very bad idea as invariably this invites man-animal conflict and the loser is always the animal. In this case, the already endangered leopard.

To return to our story he made his kill as the buffalo, a fully grown but young female was returning to her herd. As she passed under his tree, he landed on her back and bit into the back of her neck, severing her spine. The buffalo bellowed in pain and fear, took a few lurching steps forward trying to dislodge him from her back but in vain. By then the massive jaws with their powerful bite did their work and the canines sank through skin and gristle and severed the spine. The buffalo collapsed in its tracks and the leopard, lithely leaped off and immediately grabbed her throat in the classic killing stance of the leopard, cutting off air and possibly severing the carotids. In this case, this was not necessary as the buffalo’s spine had been severed and so it was going nowhere. It is interesting to speculate on the killing technique which is like that of the tiger when it tackles Gaur; the massive wild ox of India. Tigers also leap on to the backs of Gaur, preferring younger bulls or cows and bite into the back of the neck to sever the spine. That way they incapacitate an animal that is otherwise more than able to kill the tiger, being far heavier and having a pair of lethal horns.

After killing his prey, the leopard fed on it until he was full and then dragged it behind a large Lantana bush to hide it from Jackals. There are no vultures in Sri Lanka. Neither are there any Hyena or Wolves. So, Jackals are the only ones likely to try to steal a bit of meat from the kills. Other leopards are a threat but in this case, he was so massive and powerful that he didn’t really expect another of his species to take any chances with him. Leaving the kill behind the bush, he climbed an old Banyan (Ficus Religiosa) nearby and stretched out on his favorite branch to sleep off his meal. Early the next morning, just as the sun was starting to show on the horizon and the Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl with its splash of bright yellow on its comb, started calling, to be answered by the Peafowl roosting on the topmost branch of a dead tree with its feet in the flood waters of the river, he walked down the trunk and leaped down the last few feet to return to his kill to take some more mouthfuls of the, by now, reeking meat.

As he was tugging at an especially tasty bit, we drove up on the jungle road going past his cache. I saw the leg of the buffalo move which meant that the killer was on his kill. We stopped and waited but there was no sign of him. Then my friend Ifham Raji, a wonderful professional photographer from Colombo, who very kindly accompanied us and gave me lessons in the field, decided to call. He can imitate the call of a female leopard calling its young. Until that moment, we didn’t know what would come out. All we knew was that there was a leopard kill and we had come to see if we could get a look at the one who made the kill, if possible.

As soon as Ifham called, a guttural, woof; he came out from behind the bush in one short rush. He stood there looking for his mother whose voice he had heard. Then he walked towards our jeep and about twenty meters from us, he turned to his right and walked a few steps and lay down. Then he rolled over, as if he was playing, his tail high in the air. He sat up and looked at us directly. Then he decided he didn’t like being fooled and walked away. That was the last we saw of him and though he must have returned to the kill later, we never saw him again. The sight of his massive head and shoulders, his fluid majestic walk, his stand looking at us in total confidence and then his playful rolls on the ground as he would have done as a cub, playing with his mother and siblings, etched into my memory. Was he remembering his own childhood? Did the call remind him of his childhood? Who knows?

All I know is that I got some amazing photos and lived through an experience that can have no parallel. This is the gift of the wild places, which one can only experience. Indeed, I can write about them and you can read what I write and see the pictures. But I can’t for the life of me, express the excitement of the moment when for me time stood still; I stopped breathing until I had to gasp for breath as if rising out of the depth of the sea to the surface and forgot all about Aperture and ISO while taking my photos. But as a person learning photography, I can tell you that I would rather spoil a thousand photographs, than lose the excitement of the moment when you first see a big cat. The leopard is my favorite but don’t tell the tigers that. They are elusive enough when I try to find them.

Give them memories

Give them memories

Who is your Role Model? Think of someone you know or knew personally, not a public figure. For how many of you is that a parent or a teacher? If I asked your children the same question, what do you think they would say? Who would they be thinking of you? How do you know? What about you inspires your child? How do you know?

 My own association with schooling goes back to 1958 when I was enrolled into St. George’s Nursery & Primary School as an inmate. From there in 1961, I was shifted to Hyderabad Public School from where I graduated in 1970. Several decades later, I was correspondent of the Arunachalam Higher Secondary School, Thiruvattar, near Marthandam in Kanya Kumari District for three years, as part of my main responsibility of being the Manager of New Ambadi Estates, Kulashakharam. This school had 1200 students and 75 teachers and so was a fairly substantial assignment. We took it from being the worst school in the State of Tamilnadu to being one of the best. That is a long story which along with other stories of my life is in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, which is available for all of Rs. 230.00 from Amazon.in. That is the value of 60 years of living; Rs. 230.

I used the term ‘inmate’ for a reason. It is because most, if not all, our schools are run like prisons. The school is owned by an entity, maybe the state or private; most American prisons today are privately owned and run for profit. Prisons have a set of professionals who run them, called Jailors. In the case of schools, they are called Teachers. Children are admitted into the school just as prisoners are admitted into prison. And their entire existence in the system is characterized by one overwhelming reality; lack of autonomy. Just like the existence of prisoners in a jail. They enter at a designated time and must serve their term and can’t leave until that time is over. The gate shuts behind them and they can’t open it. What they do is totally regulated and this is informed to them by bells or buzzers. We believe that young adults including their teachers can’t be trusted to keep to time limits but must be rudely awakened by ringing bells. Students can’t eat, sleep, play, talk or even go to the toilet without asking permission. I can go on, but I won’t because we were all fellow prisoners in the system, while some of us have been elevated to jailor status.

Another enigma and mystery – the Parent Teachers Association. Ask yourself one question: Who is the school, any school, for? Then ask why it is that those who the school is supposed to be for, have absolutely no say in any meaningful decision that affects them? Yet we believe that we will be able to form discerning, responsible, ethical citizens by ensuring that they never take a single decision in the entire time that they spend at school. We fill their heads with random information and grade them as passed or failed on their ability at random recall within a specific time frame. We don’t test knowledge or understanding, much less application. We simply test memory.

Ask yourself how you define ‘Good student’? Regurgitation of undigested food is called vomit. Regurgitation of undigested information is called passing exams. If you don’t believe me, tell me when was the last time you gave a prize for dissent? What happens to a student who tells you the truth; i.e. that what he is being taught makes no sense? What happens to a student who understands what you taught but not why you taught it or why she should learn it or where to apply it, because none of that is taught? And finally, if the child fails in the exam or more importantly, fails to learn, whose failure is it really? But who gets punished? Whose career can be in jeopardy? And who takes home her full salary without any problem? Schooling is the only system in society where product quality and customer satisfaction have no relevance. To use Mikel Harry’s definition for quality, he said, ‘If you want to see what people value, see what they measure.’ Ask yourself if you measure the quality of your parenting and teaching and if so what is the price you pay when you don’t come up to the standard. That is why you need to define the standard first.

Finally, the last nail in the coffin, the issue of life skills. In our current system, it simply doesn’t even exist. As an experiment, which I do not suggest you do, ask one of our near and dear ones who graduates from Grade 12, to leave home and take care of herself or himself for one month without going to anyone they know. I don’t think I need to describe for you, what will happen. That this happens at the end of 15 years of full time ‘education’ which you paid for and from which everyone involved benefited materially, is to put it politely, tragic. Ask yourself what you would call someone who studied something full time for 15 years? Ask yourself what you call your graduating 12th grader. Then ask yourself why?

This is not a litany of grief nor a doomsday scenario. It is a snapshot of what exists today. I can assure you that it is changeable, curable and that too without too much pain, provided only one thing; that you should want to do it. I am happy to show the way, but like the doctor, I can’t eat the medicine on your behalf.

My first set of questions to you, parents and teachers, is, ‘What does education mean to you? Why do you teach? What do you teach? How do you teach?’ These are three fundamental questions that you need to answer in a way that is convincing and inspiring. Don’t get bogged down by matters of syllabus and curriculum. These are fundamental questions that relate to your whole belief about raising children.

My second set of questions therefore is, ‘What kind of person are you trying to create in your child?’ Do you have a clear definition? Who is your role model for that? Does that inspire you? Does it make you lose sleep in the night? Do you measure yourself against a standard with respect to that definition? Do you stand before Allahﷻ and ask for His help in enabling you to achieve that goal?

It is a design issue first. Then we come to the tools and environment. You can’t build a plane in a train factory. So also, you can’t create leaders in a system designed to produce obedient slaves.

And most important of all, ‘Does your child share this dream with you?’ Because the reality is that unless he or she does, nothing will happen.

I remind you of what I said earlier: Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.

 My dear friend Advocate Shafeeq Mahajir sent me this story which illustrates what I mean very well.

“I was waiting at a traffic light to cross the road with Haruki, a Japanese friend. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in a small town on the outskirts of Tokyo and there was not a vehicle or soul in sight. So, I turned to Haruki and said, “Hey, I know it’s a red man but should we just cross?”

Haruki looked at me and shook his head. “No, we wait for the green man.”

I was a bit perplexed – it did not seem to me that it would make any difference whether we waited or not. “There aren’t any cars. Why do we need to wait?”

Haruki smiled, then asked me a question in return: “What if a child is watching?”

That is why in Africa they say, “It takes the whole village to bring up a child.”

Today we are facing a crisis. A crisis of youth. We have the youngest population in the world. We have 526 million people under the age of 25. Out of that we have 272 million between the ages of 10 & 19. That means that for the next 30 to 40 years we will have the youngest population of any nation. This makes us ideally suited to become the workforce for the world. But that is conditional upon two things: a high-quality skill training system and high-quality infrastructure. On the first, statistics of 2016 tell us that we are producing engineers of which 3.7% are employable. That means 96.3% are not. So, even if jobs are created, who will do the work? And remember that this 96.3% failures are of those who made it to engineering college. What about the millions who don’t get beyond school education itself? They still exist, they still need food, shelter, housing, medical care, employment and happiness. What will happen when all they come up against stone walls at all these thresholds?

I was driving in rural Madhya Pradesh, barely an hour out of the capital, Bhopal when I noticed in every single village we passed through, young boys (no girls) wearing trousers (some in jeans) and shirts, standing idly on street corners. Believe me this is the situation in almost every state in North India. South India is marginally better.

When I saw this for the Nth time, I asked my driver, ‘Why are they standing here? Why are they not in school or college or at work?’

He said to me, ‘Sir school khatam ho gaya, college ja nahin saktay, kaam nahin hai.’

I asked him, ‘Kheti kyon nahin kartay?’

He said, ‘Sir, school jo gaye hain. Ab kheti nahin kar saktay. Kheti karna bey izzati samajhtay hain. In kay baap khet mein kaam kartay hain. Betay pant shirt pahen kay nukkad par jama hotay hain aur time paas kartay hain.’

Me, ‘Khatay kya hain?’

He, ‘Jo in kay bapu kamatay hain. Ya phir kaheen majdoori kar laytay hain. Par ummeed bahut oopar ki hai. Wo tho nahin mil sakti. Tho dil udaas hain.’

These are the raw material for the drug trade, for crime. They are the cannon fodder for those who want to gain political power by invoking all kinds of divisiveness and violence. They have no job, no education, no nothing but they have a vote. How do we reach them? How do we help them? We are sitting on a timebomb which is ticking. As I said, I have a solution, so please bear with me.

Infrastructure development means becoming energy sufficient, making world class ports and transportation systems. Without these four things; clean, reliable energy, good transportation, ports and a highly employable workforce, no major investor will invest in this country. I won’t go into a probability analysis of all this, but I think the writing on the wall is clear for anyone who can read. The only way out is high-quality schools which can produce ethical, moral citizens, who are trained as entrepreneurs. Governments can’t help us. We must help ourselves or get prepared to perish.

My solution is implementable by every school and the results will be visible within a few years. It has three interlinked parts:

  1. Vocational/Skill education in all secondary and high schools. Every child must learn a skill and must be able to work with his/her hands.
  2. Entrepreneurial training
  3. Venture Capital Fund to incubate young entrepreneurs

The best solution to combat crime is to give people something to lose. In addition, tough zero tolerance for crime, which means that criminals must pay, not crime.

On top of that we have a society where corruption is not just acceptable but aspirational, people have an entitlement mentality, compassion has vanished, oppression is the law of the land and crime pays instead of criminals. So, teach values before you teach anything else. And remember that values can’t be legislated. Values must be inculcated. You must practice what you preach, or it will fail, and you will lose respect to boot. Your job as parents and teachers is to give them memories. It is those memories that will come to their aid in times of emotional and moral dilemmas. It is those memories which will become their touchstone, their criteria for making their own decisions in their lives. Give them memories thoughtfully because you are giving them memories anyway. Make sure that you give them memories that they will honor you for and remember you by and pray for you and seek forgiveness for you from Allahﷻ when you have long gone into your grave. Let me share with you some memories that my parents and teachers gave me.

During the years that I was in school, Hyderabad Public School, the principal was Mr. K. Kuruvilla Jacob. Mr. Jacob was a legend in his own lifetime. A man who taught me about leadership before I knew the word. Let me tell you one story about his leadership style as I experienced it.

It was 1968 and I was in Grade 8. I was sitting in class waiting for the morning recess bell to go off. My seat was by the window looking out over the courtyard across which were the toilets. To my amazement, I saw Mr. Jacob walking into the toilets with a bucket with cleaning brushes in it. A word about how Mr. Jacob looked and dressed is necessary to appreciate the reason for my surprise. Mr. Jacob was a tall and dark man who always wore white on white. He wore a white bush coat – patch pockets, half sleeves on white trousers and shining black shoes. His clothes were always sparkling white, starched and ironed to a knife-edge. You could cut yourself on the crease of his trousers and look at your face in his shoes. Here was this man in those clothes walking into our toilets with a bucket and toilet cleaners.

I dug my seat mate in his ribs and gestured but before his eyes popped out of his head, the bell rang and we all trooped out silently and stood before the toilets. What did we see? Our toilets, like I suppose the toilets in most boys’ schools, had their walls festooned with rather smelly poetry and prose, to put it politely. What we saw was Mr. Jacob, cleaning the walls of the toilets. He worked silently, ignoring us, spraying the cleaner on the walls and then brushing them clean and washing them down with water which he had carried in the bucket. When he finished a few minutes later, he picked up his bucket, finally looked up at us, smiled, and walked away. He didn’t say a word. Not one word. He just smiled at us and walked away, back to his office. We simply stood in silence and watched him disappear. I was in school for four years after that incident and can vouch for the fact that nobody ever wrote anything on the toilet wall again. Interestingly, the phenomenon of writing on the walls of the toilets was universal – all toilets had this graffiti. Mr. Jacob washed only one toilet. But suddenly all toilets were clean, and no graffiti was ever written on them again. And remember, as I said, not one word spoken. I realize today that what he did was as much theatre as it was cleaning, maybe even more theatre than cleaning, but the impact was powerful and permanent. Leading by example always is. Such were my teachers.

Let me tell you about my memories about my parents.

My father Dr. Mirza Anwar Baig was a medical doctor who worked for the Government of Andhra Pradesh, Mysore and lastly with Hyderabad Allwyn Metal Works in the 50’s and 60’s. I have many memories about him but one of the most powerful is of him in his private practice as a doctor. He started it very reluctantly, mostly at my insistence. But strangely he never broke even. I was perplexed because he was one of the best doctors that I have ever known. His clinical diagnosis was like magic. He saw signs in people that today it takes multiple scans to unearth. His patient manners were superb, and people loved him. He had a long line of patients waiting daily and didn’t finish his clinic until 1030 pm. Yet his practice made a loss. I decided to go and see for myself, what he was doing. What did I see? I saw him checking an old lady and then prescribing medicines for her. She said to him, ‘How much will these cost Doctor Saab?’ He said, ‘Ten rupees.’ She said, ‘I am a poor woman Doctor Saab. I don’t have ten rupees. Please prescribe something cheaper.’ My father put his hand in his pocket, took out ten rupees and gave it to her and said, ‘Go and buy the medicines.’ Obviously, there was no question of taking a fee from someone you just gave money, to buy medicines. This seemed to be more the rule than the exception and so a very busy medical practice made losses.

When we got home, I pointed this out to him and told him that if he is not going to take a fee, I could understand. But if in addition he was going to give people money for medicines, how could his practice make a profit? He said to me, ‘What is the good of prescribing medicines, when I know they can’t buy them?’ In a last-ditch stand, I asked him, ‘How do you know they are all in need? Maybe they don’t deserve your charity.’ He replied, ‘I don’t deserve what Allahﷻ has given me. So, I am not going to see who deserves and who doesn’t. If anyone asks me for help, I will help if I can. Let Allahﷻ judge who deserves and who doesn’t.’

In conclusion, I would like to state categorically, that the situation is far from hopeless. But for us to change our destiny we will have to redefine the meaning of ‘citizenship’ and start acting like citizens of an independent nation, instead of subjects of a foreign government. Our problem is that we have not got out of the colonial mindset. That is why we call our elected representatives, ‘rulers’. And we consider ourselves passive, helpless beings to whom things are done. Our only recourse is to train our children to become active participants in society and create a culture where dissent is not just accepted but encouraged, people have fora to voice their opinions and actively participate in societal development. Schools must play a critical role in enabling this by becoming laboratories of citizenship where children learn to own responsibility and take decisions for the general good. Care of the commons must be a major factor of concern and a change of mindset from entitlement to contribution, the criterion on which we must judge our success. There are many examples from the world of societies which operate on the values of honesty, mutual respect and harmony and a focus on contribution and not entitlement and consumption. The trick is to inculcate these values in our society.

On that depends our future. Not only our development but our very existence.

Babari Masjid dispute – or is it?

Babari Masjid dispute – or is it?

In the drama called India we are about to open a new scene. Actually, a new episode of an old story – the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. The attempt by the spin doctors is to make it sound like the usual, ‘We Hindus are being reasonable, peaceful, non-violent and accommodative as usual. You Muslims really must get your act together and stop being a hindrance to development, fulfillment of Hindu aspirations and general goodness all around. You need to accept that you guys in 2017 are responsible for what your ancestors did in 1600.’

‘But they were not our ancestors.’

‘Ah! Who cares? A mere matter of detail, which spoils the story line.’

‘But how can I be responsible for something that allegedly happened (no evidence that it did – temple destruction and masjid construction on top of it) 400 years ago, when by the Law of the Land, I am not even held responsible for a crime committed by my biological, genetically verified father?’

‘There you go again. Facts, evidence, proof. We are talking mythology, belief, faith. Agh! Can never have a rational conversation with a Muslim. In any case this is one of the several things wrong with the Law of our Land. Anyway, why don’t you be reasonable and see it our way. We want the land. We helped you by removing the mosque. All that remains is for you to be reasonable and let go. What’s so difficult about that?’

Indeed, what is so difficult? Being Muslim and addicted to facts, let me state what I know about the so-called Babari Masjid dispute. I am not going to write about its history. Those who want to know can ask Google. Here are some links which make interesting reading:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/1990-L.K.+Advanis+rath+yatra:+Chariot+of+fire/1/76389.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_Rath_Yatra

Our story begins in September and ends in October, 1990. The famous Rath Yatra of L. K. Advani, which was intended to make him the Prime Minister of India, but which gave us someone much more powerful, N. D. Modi. Not quite what Mr. Advani would have wished, but it is all about the plans of men and mice etc. Advaniji’s Rath with a Toyota soul, made a Yatra culminating at Ayodhya at the Babari Masjid accompanied by the freed souls of uncounted innocents. It was also accompanied by souls still chained to their mortal existence in bodies of Kar Sevaks, infused with boiling emotion, boundless enthusiasm, enormous energy and murder in the heart. A very powerful combination that is guaranteed to propel any politician to the top. You may object to the fact that it did the job but on the wrong person. Advaniji will no doubt agree with you. But I say to you that reality is what counts, not what you intended to do. Masjid came down, BJP went up and the rest is history.

Then stepped in the spin doctors who have been doing their best to cast a fog over the facts and put Indian Muslims again in a spot, not of their own making. But those who define the language, own the debate. In the language of the spin doctors of the BJP, Muslims are always cast as the villain and, so it shall remain until Muslims decide to break out of the cycle and write their own definitions. Let me therefore define what the problem is:

  1. It is not a dispute between Hindus and Muslims.
  1. It is a case where a protected property belonging to Muslims which the State was responsible to protect was destroyed and the State failed in its duty to protect it.
  1. The Supreme Court is now supposed to examine what happened and pass judgement based on the Law of the Land.
  1. Public opinion has no place in the equation and can’t affect the ruling of the Supreme Court, one way or another because Court rulings are according to the Law of the Land and not according to whatever may be popular or acceptable to the public.
  1. There’s no question of mediation by anyone (SS Ravi Shankar is trying to get into the act) as there’s no dispute to mediate. But that is why they say, ‘You can never keep a godman down.’ ‘Not godman but good man’, you remind me. I say to you, ‘All godmen are good men in our modern mythology.’ Same difference.
  1. The Court is expected to interpret the Law and the Executive is expected to implement and if necessary, enforce it.
  1. QED, as we were taught to say in school and were told that it meant, Quite Easily Done. I am not sure if that is the right meaning, but in this case, it may not prove to be quite so easy.

I am all in favor of standing by a decision of the Supreme Court which is made on the basis of the Law of the Land. After all, that is what Rule of Law is supposed to mean, right? That is what differentiates civilization from barbarism.

We should know. After all we have been civilized for the past 5000 years. Or so we claim.