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The Anglo-Arabic School

Delhi witnessed the earliest linguistic and cultural encounter between East and West, between English and the languages of the Orient, informs Rakhshanda Jalil.

art and culture Updated: Aug 26, 2011 14:34 IST
Rakhshanda Jalil

Imagine studying in a school that has been an educational centre for over 300 years. Imagine the likes of Ghalib vying to become a teacher of Persian here, and failing. Imagine a space that witnessed the earliest linguistic and cultural encounter between East and West, between English and the languages of the Orient.

For, this was no ordinary school; this was the crucible in which one of the most volatile of experiments was conducted — this was the great Anglo-Arabic Madarsa or the Delhi College as it came to be called from 1825 onwards. The best and brightest flocked here to be reckoned amongst equals. The lamp of Nai Taleem, New Education, burnt brightest here, and it was here that the Delhi Renaissance kindled the nationwide debate on the merits of Oriental scholarship versus Western learning. The finest minds taught here, setting forth an example of a space where the East and the West could indeed meet. Dr Aloys Sprenger, Master Ram Chander, Maulvi Zakaullah were among its leading lights.Founded by the father of the first Nizam of Hyderabad, Ghaziuddin Khan in the early 18th century, it became a role model for madarsas around the country — both architecturally and academically.

Situated on Shraddhanand Marg, opposite the Ajmeri Gate, the Anglo-Arabic Public School, as it is now called, has had a chequered past. It has been, in its 300 years of existence, an Arabic madarsa, an Oriental college, briefly an artillery barrack and a police station, a hostel, a madarsa again; now it is a high school with 1900 students on roll from Classes VI to XII. The medium of instruction is Urdu, except for Science in the Higher Secondary classes when the teachers adopt English.

High-ceilinged cloisters, called hujras, with typically fluted columns and graceful arches in the late Mughal style once meant to accommodate two dozen teachers and an equal number of students are now bursting at the seams. A splendid red sandstone entrance leads into a perfectly proportioned interior with arched chambers along two sides and a red mosque at the far end.

A plaque on the central archway that leads into the tree-filled courtyard bears the following legend: “There remains no mark on the tablet, but the reward of an act and a good name.” The Anglo-Arabic School still has a name, one that is immediately recognisable to those who have followed the swirling currents among educational debates in India. Once the cause and symbol of the Delhi Renaissance, the school waits to be reclaimed as a vital link in the city’s past.