Bapu`s former disciple recounts days spent at Ashram
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Last Updated: Friday, October 02, 2009, 18:19
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 untouchability.

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, said.

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 said.

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 surroundings clean.

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.

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, October 02, 2009, 18:19

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