Exploring the oldest school in Delhi

Sadiq Saifi, 15, takes an auto ride till the main bus stand and an hour long bus ride to reach his school in Ajmeri Gate from Ghaziabad, every day. Ask him if he would like to study at a school near his home and he will refuse. Ubaid Alam, 17, came from Sambal district in Uttar Pradesh to study at the only Anglo-Arabic school in the country, stays with his uncle here, and does not want to return to the old school in his village.

A little walk away from the New Delhi Railway station takes you to a sprawling campus of the Anglo-Arabic Senior Secondary School. On entering you get the feel of entering a bygone Mughal era, as the large courtyard, the red sandstone gateway, and the long silent corridors give a nostalgic sight to anyone entering the building.

It thus comes as no surprise to learn that the school’s premises have served as a perfect Mughal/Colonial era setup for some renowned movies. The famous Jallianwala Bagh scene from Ben Kingsley-starrer Gandhi, 1982, was shot in the school football field. Scenes from The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Dil Se, and Saat Uchakke were shot here too.

The double-storeyed building was built by Nawab Ghaziuddin, father of the first Nizam of Hyderabad, in 1692, as Madarsah Ghaziuddin, and is the oldest living educational institution in North India that represents the Mughal era Madarsah. The school which still preserves its original design, started as a place for giving spiritual education to the elite class of the walled city. However, with the weakening of the Mughal Empire, the Madarsah closed in the early 1790s, but with the support of local nobility, it stood again as a centre for oriental literature, science, and art in the year 1792.

The school houses a mosque and an elegant tomb (maqbara) of Nawab Ghaziuddin himself enclosed within lattice screens made of marble (jaali). The maqbara of this Delhi noble is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), while the school building is maintained by the heritage department under DDA. There are a few other unknown tombs and a Sufi shrine, that lies in an underground cellar, and thus has earned the name of ‘Taikhane wale baba’.

The school also has a prominent Alumni, the list includes — Liaquat Ali Khan, first PM of Pakistan, Maulana Qasim Nanautwi, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (famous pragmatist and philosopher of the 19th century) among others.

Commenting on the makeup of the students, current principal Mohammad Wasim Ahmed reveals that while a majority of students are within Delhi, there are a few coming in from other states like Bihar, Rajasthan, and Eastern UP. For these students, there is a hostel facility within the premises.

The school currently has 1,800 students out of which five per cent are non-Muslims. The admission process is the same as any other government school in the country; the classes are from 6th to 12th. This is the only school in the country that teaches Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi as well as English. Unlike other schools in Delhi that focus on Science, Commerce and Arts as streams, Sociology, Geography, Engineering drawing are also taught as main subjects here. The school completes its 325 years early next year.

On the question of women students, the school has 74 women studying here after they opened its gates to female students in 2012. In certain cases, women students have left other institutions in order to study here. Nitika Yadav, 16, is a case in point. She joined the school early this year in Class 11 to study subjects realted ot her field Commerce, leaving behind a good private school education to study here. Her reasons: she wanted to focus on the ideal discipline, along with non-theoretical knowledge.

Apart from students, students have earned distinct fame in arts and sports. The football shield has been won by them year after year. As for other activities the principal proudly says, “We have been the best in co-curricular activities and even won the first prize in the National Qawwali competition last year and came second this year.”

Certainly, there’s a lot to celebrate here.

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