YASMIN is the only Muslim girl among nearly 40 students in the Class X batch at my English coaching centre. She is among the few who are punctual, disciplined and obedient. Needless to say, her performance stands out in the class every year.
What makes her different is that she is well-read, even as most of the other good students stick to their prescribed textbooks. For the past two years, Yasmin has been winning the general knowledge competitions organised by my team on Teachers’ Day.
While other students change their dresses according to the seasons, Yasmin is always found wearing the traditional dress of Muslim girls and women. Every year, she keeps the roza during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Ramadan is a period of fasting and spiritual growth. I came to know from her the significance of Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, the others being faith, daily prayers, alms-giving and a pilgrimage to Mecca. She is well versed in the religious stories and customs related to Islamic festivals.
But never did I imagine that a devoted Muslim girl could be very secular and mature in her thoughts. That day, while I was helping my students solve a question paper, I came across a passage. It was an excerpt from Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography My Experiments with Truth. Three short paragraphs narrated how Gandhiji developed the habit of reading beyond school books. One day, he chanced upon Shravana Pitribhakti Nataka, which his father had bought. He read the book with great interest and saw a picture of Shravana carrying his blind parents on a pilgrimage. He also watched the play Harishchandra. These experiences left a deep impression on his mind and ingrained in him the habit of reading all kinds of books that were not related to the school curriculum.
More often than not, I have noticed that most of the students familiar with gadgets such as smartphones and tablets have little or no knowledge of Hindu mythology. Perhaps they have no interest in reading or listening to mythological stories or watching mega TV serials such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, which had been rerun during the Covid-induced shutdown and have become popular all over again.
I asked them whether they knew the stories of Shravana Kumar and Raja Harishchandra. To my astonishment, only one student raised her hand — and she was, inevitably, Yasmin. She narrated both tales in a nutshell. She also revealed that she had read extracts from the Ramayana and Mahabharata as her parents encouraged her and her siblings to be well acquainted with the diverse culture of our country.
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