Mission Delhi – Muhammed Asif, Ghalib Academy Library
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This moment, the young man in white kurta-pajama is poring upon a book. This moment, he is scrawling on a pad. Now, he is thoughtfully patting his fingers on the forehead. Muhammed Asif is sitting by a table cluttered with newspapers, in a hall shelved with thousands of books. All is silence. He is the only person in the public library, in Delhi’s Ghalib Academy, this slow afternoon, other than the librarian sitting on her desk, and a bored intern scanning musty rare volumes in a distant corner.
Asif’s polite tone affirms his natural modesty, but doesn’t prevent him from admitting his own exclusivity. He is an English honours scholar belonging to a place where “hardly anybody understands English.” A student at Zakir Husain Delhi College, Asif is from Mewat, near Gurgaon in Haryana. “Ultimately I want to to be an English teacher in my homeland,” he says, explaining it to be “very close” to the capital “but very different from Delhi, not much developed.” He pauses, perhaps searching for the right words to express his thoughts. “Things can turn around in Mewat only if more children start to attend school, especially if they familiarise themselves with English.” He draws a line on his pad, lips contracting in concentration, softly declaring, “English is an international language.”
Like many Mewatis, Asif reveals, his mother is illiterate. His father, a farmer, is “tenth pass,” an accomplishment “that stands out in our Bahripur village.” The family is large—he is one of the 13 siblings. Their agricultural holding is larger than that of most village households: 40 beegha of land, with four buffaloes and two tractors. That rural world however seems too far from his current life in literature, he admits. Talking of authors he has lately discovered in the college (such as Jonathan Swift), Asif utters their names with a careful slowness. “These writers have such great status in the world… will I also be able to carve out my identity?”
But first, will Asif really want to settle down in his village after completing his years in the big city? “Mewat is my home,” he replies matter-of-factly. If I don’t go back to help in its progress, then my education willl be a waste.”
[This is the 543rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Portraits of a scholar