Generally people prefer visiting historical Chandra Shekhar Azad Park (also known as Company Garden) in my native place Prayagraj to breathe fresh air and take morning walk. Thanks to Corona fury, I am still continuing ‘Work from Home’ modus operandi and staying in Prayagaraj these days.
At a risk of sounding as if I am giving my morning schedule a plug, let me mention that every morning I also try to reach this park for a trot. There are six gates in this large and beautiful park- Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Shaheed Ram Prasad Bismil, Amar Chandrashekhar Azad, Shaheed Sukhdev Thapar, Shaheed Rajguru and Shaheed Ashfaqullah Khan Gates respectively in different directions.
A few days before, I entered the park through Gate Number 3 (Amar Chandrashekhar Azad Gate). As per routine, first I strolled around the garden. No sooner than I started jogging to cover the second lap, I saw one of my school friends Dr. Pradeep (who is presently a Sanskrit lecturer in one of the local colleges) approaching me at a brisk pace from opposite side. We bubbled at this serendipity with laughter.
Dr. Pradeep is not always very forthcoming because of his busy college schedules. Therefore on that day, leaving jogging and all, we preferred to chatter. We came out from the garden and sat at a small tea shop located just opposite to Shaheed Ashfaqullah Gate and indulged in titter-tatter cherishing sweet memories of teachers and friends from our old school days.
Pradeep used to be very much impressed by our Sanskrit teacher ‘Shukla Guruji’. Latter was one of our favourite teachers. He was a teacher with great pedagogic skills, au courant with even the other relevant subjects. His self-effacing, class apart personality was so irresistible that whoever would meet him, became his instant admirer. Pradeep was also very good in his studies. He was candid, disciplined, and well-attuned to public speaking. He would represent our school then in all inter-school debate competitions. Perhaps, he chose teaching as his profession considering Shukla Guruji as his ideal.
We continued our chatter with many cups of scalding Kulhad tea. Moving on, I complemented Pradeep that his students must be lucky to have a competent and disciplined teacher like him. He smiled and argued, “Times have changed! Nowadays it is difficult to find those kinds of ideal teachers and students.”
Further he shared an incident, which painted him into a corner last year. He tried to prohibit one of his students from indulging in some wrongdoing in his college and gave him a short shrift. The student felt mortified, became furious and took offence on this faux pas. He went out and in no time, came back to college defiantly with couple of scoundrels to set upon Pradeep. They assaulted this teacher physically.
I was shocked while listening to this very brazen act of that student. My eyes got stuck at the name of Ashfaqullah Khan engraved on the Company Garden’s Gate number 6 just across the road. I could not reconcile myself to that contradiction. One side, I had the name of a student who espoused the cause of freedom and sacrificed his life to liberate our country from the foreign bondage and on the other side; I was noticing the misdemeanour of Pradeep’s silly student.
I recounted an incident which had microcosm of what happened to Pradeep. In 1997, I conducted an interview of Late Mr. P.D.Tondon (Purushottam Das Tondon) who was a freedom fighter, veteran journalist, ex – State Minister in UP Govt. for Higher Education and an old classmate of Shaheed Asfaqullah Khan, for a Newspaper. During the interview, I also requested Mr. Tondon to shed some light on the time- honoured ‘Teacher / Student’ relationship. He shared an interesting and evocating story of his school days.
Both, Ashfaqullah Khan and Mr. Tondon were residents of Shahjahanpur (U.P) and students of Abbie Rich Mission High School. Ashfaqullah was very popular amongst his fellow students and he was also an avid hockey player. Their Head Master Mr. Roofus Charan was a stickler of hard work and strait-laced teacher.
One day when Mr. Tondon was there in Head Master’s office for some work, Ashfaqullah suddenly appeared with a few elderly rich people of the vicinity. They respectfully told the Head Master about the marks he had received in certain papers at the annual examination and complained that injustice had been done to him. Ashfaqullah’s answer-books were brought and the Head Master himself glanced through them. Finding nothing much in them, he shouted unceremoniously, “Behude ! You do not study and accuse others! ”
Ashfaqullah felt embarrassed with this public humiliation. Oddly enough, he took out his revolver and kept it slowly on the Head Master’s table and fretted, “It is a pity I can do no harm to you because the relationship of a teacher and student comes in the way. Otherwise I would not have tolerated your shouting.” The old gentlemen who accompanied Ashfaqullah were upset with his behaviour, at the same time they consoled the angry boy. They immediately left the office extending courtesy to the Head Master.
We all know, young Ashfaqullah, one of the accused persons along with Ram Prasad Bismil in the Kakori Case, was hanged on December 19, 1927 in Faizabad Jail. It was Ashfaqullah’s bullet that had broken the lock of the iron box. Mr. Tondon told me that the Head Master recalled above incident in the classroom on the day Ashwaqullah was hanged. The Head Master came there and started teaching as usual. After a short while, he turned his back to the boys and tried to continue to teach. He was overwhelmed with sadness at the hanging of Ashfaqullah, but he did not want to show his sad face- “naughty boy no doubt and often gave us trouble, but he was very loyal to his teachers. That day he spared my life.” Saying this he broke down. He pulled out a white handkerchief from his coat and left the classroom wiping his tears.
Having said this compelling story, Mr. Tondon concluded, “Among other things, respect towards his teachers and blessings of our Head Master made Ashfaqullah Khan immortal forever.”