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Leaving Azamgarh

Everyone is conscious of the main currencies of global commerce — facility with the English language and computers. Some are desperate to master it in two years, writes Haider Naqvi.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2008 21:31 IST
Haider Naqvi

It is no longer the old dreamy city of poet Kaifi Azmi. Today’s Azamgarh is a city of the likes of Ahmar Sharif and Sanjay Yadav. Ahmar, 14, is the son of a tailor who lives in a small brick-faced house; Sanjay, 15, serves tea at a small-time hotel run under a neem tree. The two teenagers, who live 35 km apart, have never met each other. But what’s remarkable is the similarity in their thinking – all that the two of them are focused on is to ‘go international’.

As one talks to more youngsters of this old town, one finds that ‘going abroad’ is a recurring dream – and ‘staying back’ is a common nightmare.

“The new Azamgarh is home to a truly global community. Its success stories have changed aspirations at the micro level,” says litterateur Dr Kanhaiya Singh. “Kids here know what they need to do and where to go.”

It’s not a new thought here. More than a century ago, the first immigrants out of this city – which was then a set of villages – went to work in the sugarcane fields of the British colonies of West Indies. The next generation was lured to parts of South and Southeast Asia. The exodus was to later give Trinidad a president – Vasudev Pandey – and Mauritius, a prime minister – Qasim Utty. And the destination for the current crop is West Asia.

Everyone is conscious of the main currencies of global commerce – facility with the English language and computers. Ahmar, a student at Azamgarh Public School, is clear in his goal: “No one can be successful if he’s not good at this language, I have to master it in the next two years.” Next on his crosshairs is learning computers. Ahmar reckons that by the time he graduates, he would be ready to fly off.

The Shibli National College is the first in the region to incorporate training in computers. “It was the vision of our founder, Allama Shibli Nomani, that anyone can aspire,” says Dr Iftekhar Ahmed, principal. Since the machines arrived at the college with a little help from some expatriates nine years ago, they have caught everyone’s fancy.

There are some 40-odd new computer centres here. In fact, selling and teaching computers have become the biggest new businesses.

On the crammed Raidopur, an upscale market and residential cluster, sits Neelu Rai in his plush showroom, Pragyan Computers. He says he sells 50 computers a month, most of them going with webcams that facilitate the buyers’ communication with their expatriate family members.

“Azamgarh sells more computers than Varanasi,” says Neelu, his eyes glued to a sleek LCD screen.

The city’s expat sons’ remittances have built whole localities, too. Millat Nagar on Stadium Road is one such locality that houses some 400 families. Each family here has someone or the other living abroad. Outside the entrance to Millat Nagar, Pajeros, Scorpios and Safaris speed through water-filled roads so narrow that the people can’t escape the splash of muddy water.

Behind all this is also the other face of Azamgarh, one that glows with pride at the considerable intellectual heritage of the city. A decade after the Shibli National College was founded, in 1893, the Darul Mussanafin (Writers’ Club) came into existence. It’s this remarkable institution that went on to make Azamgarh the land of poets and writers who contributed notably to the nationalist movement.

It created a mix of literature that rose above religious lines in a city that is said to have been named in 1665 after a Hindu landlord’s son from his Muslim wife, Azam.