Bapu`s former disciple recounts days spent at Ashram
Lucknow: An octogenarian, who became the
first Muslim girl to enter Sevagram Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi
at Vardha, is not happy with questions often raised over
Gandhi`s commitment towards his family or the issue of
87-year-old Afza Begum, suffering from hearing
impairment, lights up when asked about her days spent at the
Ashram and mentions several instances which made Gandhi the
man he was.
"Bapu put his foot down when some detractors tried to
keep me out of the community kitchen at the Ashram because of
my religion. He protested when I was not allowed in the
kitchen saying he too would not eat if Afza was not allowed in
the kitchen," Afza recounts adding that she was eventuality
given the task of chopping vegetables.
She was merely 12 when she was sent to the Ashram for
studying by her `Zamindar` family based in Moradabad at the
insistence of staunch Gandhian Mahavir Poddar who was also an
associate of her father. She went on to complete her `Vidya
Vinodini` degree from the Ashram.
"Before allowing anyone to take up residence at the
Ashram, he used to personally `test` the person as all those
present used to live together", Afza, currently in the city,
Recalling various facets of Bapu`s personality, Afza
said he often used to ask her to conduct the `Prarthna Sabha"
early in the morning at around four whenever he was not
present at the Ashram.
"Bapu used to say that since Afza would get up early
for her Namaz, she would also lead the Prarthna Sabha", she
The committed Gandhian also contests the various
views regarding Bapu`s commitment towards his family, saying
though he was extremely busy, he used to help his wife (fondly
called `Ba`) in the kitchen who in turn used to often pester
him to take care of the education of their children.
"Contrary to some claims, he was very committed to
his family and `Ba` was an independent woman and had a mind of
her own", she said adding though Bapu had pressing commitments
towards the freedom struggle, they were a normal couple.
Bapu also used to lead by example, Afza said
recalling how during the morning walks, he used to pick up
leaves and other things lying on the way thereby educating
those accompanying him the importance of keeping the
Afza, who is also the vice president of the `Bazme
Khawatin`, a women organisation working for the uplift and
awareness of Hindu-Muslim women since 1934, continued to stay
at the Ashram even after Gandhi`s death and contributed
towards Vinova Bhave`s Bhudan Yagva later.
"Bhaveji read Quran with me and has mentioned it
in one of his books though without naming me", she added.
Afza is presently working for the education of women
and children in Moradabad and looking after the works of
`Bazme Khawateen` there.
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