AMU Alumni Association of Northern California

Sir Syed Day 2004 - Report

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Report by: Ras H. Siddiqui


The Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Alumni Association of Northern California (member of Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations) held its Annual Sir Syed Day International Mushaira (Urdu Poetry Recital) and Banquet at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, California on Saturday, September 18, 2004. And keeping with tradition and the spirit which few universities worldwide can only hope to match, the evening turned out to be one where fine Mughlai cuisine, good friends and excellent Urdu poetry converged, to create an atmosphere that is difficult to describe. One just had to be there to experience it.


A chance to remember Sir Syed Ahmed Khan especially in this post 9/11 world should not be limited to just Indians and Pakistanis today. Muslim moderates worldwide and western think tanks would be well advised to research the work of this great reformer if Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of the Civilizations” advisory is to be challenged. Islam and the West need not collide. They can very well learn to live together as Sir Syed had envisioned more than a century ago. And if the legacy of the Aligarh Muslim University is studied, Muslim culture and Western education both have had the opportunity to be enriched at this campus. But now back to this event.


The evening started off with a Banquet Dinner plus social mixer. The formal program commenced with a recitation from the Holy Quran with its Urdu translation. Introductions to the event were made by master of ceremonies Faisal Zakaria Siddiqi as he invited AMU Alumni Association of Northern California President Amtul Suhail to address the gathering, which at this point had filled the hall to capacity. Amtul read out a list of luminaries that have been associated with AMU, a historical “Who’s Who” of South Asia. She said that the impact of AMU has now become global and that we have gathered to remember its founder. Amtul Sahiba took us all down memory lane and also shared with the attendees the important work that the Northern California Alumni Association has been doing to assist the disadvantaged and the gifted to attend the university.


On a much lighter note Dr. M. Jehangir Warsi followed with a poetic presentation of the plight of “Juniors” at the hands of “Seniors” at AMU. Dr. Warsi wears many hats at U.C. Berkeley and has the distinct honor of teaching Urdu at this world famous university. Titled “Junior Nama” this sharing of the Aligarh experience proved to be a big hit with the Alumni present (who had once experienced this tradition first hand).


Faisal Siddiqi returned with a presentation on Endowment Fund established and the work that has been done by the Association recently. Faisal also took the opportunity to introduce Chief Guest Dr. Kailash Joshi and invited him to speak.


Dr. Kailash Joshi is a well-known figure in this area. He has led TiE or The Indus Entrepreneurs organization in the recent past and today remains recognized for devoting much of his time to community social work. Dr. Joshi started things off by joining in “the taste of Urdu” that he believed everyone was enjoying and then switched to English. He thanked everyone for the invitation to be here this evening on Sir Syed Day. He said that he was very extremely impressed by this gathering and proceeded to explain that Aligarh was an aspiration of a large community and a nation. “What a vision. What a remarkable impact,” said Dr. Joshi. “I join you in saluting Sir Syed,” he said. On another note Dr. Joshi explained that there were two main concerns that the Indo-American community has. 1) Communal Divide (and can we play a role) and 2) The Knowledge divide (to bridge this divide where 2/3rds of the people do not have net access). He stressed the need for promoting English education (Sir Syed said the same a long time ago) because “English is the language that gives kids access.” He also shared with the gathering the work that he has been doing along with others to set up computer access centers in India and invited everyone to attempt to do the same in the Aligarh area.


Dr. Joshi helped to close the formal part of the program by presenting Alumni Day Awards to a number of worthy individuals.  But not before the singing of the Aligarh Anthem “Tarana-e-Aligarh” by Majaz which any outsider can relate to (if he or she understands Urdu). And watching these Aligarh Muslim University Alumni singing their anthem was once again inspiring for this reporter.


It is also important to report here that AMUAA-NY (member of Federation of Aligarh Alumni Associations) awarded this year’s Sir Syed Ahmad Khan Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Obaid Siddiqi, Founding and Emeritus Director of TIFR National Center of Biological Sciences in Bangalore. Our collective congratulations to Professor Siddiqi for a lifetime spent in the pursuit of excellence.  


Before moving on to entertainment, the AMU Alumni Association would like to extend it’s thanks to the following sponsors of Sir Syed Day 2004. Mrs. & Mr. Abdus Salam Qureshi, Drs. Hasan Kamil and Talat Hasan, Mr. Syed Sarwat, Dr. Waheed Qureshi, Dr. Karim M. Hussain and Drs. Najmi and Seema Minhaj (from Davis) deserve a big hand along with all those that have continued to support AMU here in Northern California over the years. The AMU Scholarship program also needs highlighting here as “How to make a donation with a difference” is making it possible for more than 200 students to attend to their studies. Further details are available on the AMU website at


The Mushaira (Urdu poetry Recital) this year was impacted by low participation from Pakistan, but nevertheless the poets present filled in quite well. The Mushaira was moderated by Dr, A. Abdullah (from Washington) and presided over by senior poet Hanif Akhgar (from New York) who started things off by saying that we have left our soul in Aligarh “Hum Apni Ruh Aligarh mein Chor Aayay hain”. Beginning with youth, local poet Faisal Azeem’s “Pardes” was very well received. Mrs. Mahnaz Naqvi followed with a couple of wonderful works. “Bacha kay kaisay rakho gay isay zamaanay say” (how will you protect him/her from the times) was especially superb. Next Dr. Nirmal Singh Mann presented his work with a touch of humor with “Un ki Badnami kay dar say” (for fear of hurting her reputation) which ended the local California poets segment.


Now to the senior craftsmen of Urdu from outside our state, as one had to just sit back and be “punched” by the humor and satirical gymnastics of Abdul M. Sayeedi (from Chicago). Some in the audience were in tears after laughing for so long as “Shadi kay baad, kitna bechara hai aadmi” (A man’s helplessness after marriage) especially generated quite a response. Dr. Abdullah was ever present with his own work beyond moderating this event. His “Khazana aur Saanp” (the treasure and its guardian snake) certainly had our attention.


But the fun and games did not last long as serious or “Sanjeeda” poetry came to center stage as S. K. Nizam (from India) tested our senses with his razor sharp deliveries. “Teri Aakhain Khuda Mehfooz Rakahay, Teri aakhon mein hairani Bahot hai” (May God keep your eyes safe, because they are full of wonder and surprise).


Poetess Dr. Sabiha Saba (from New York) next brought us much romance and social commentary. “Yuheen toot gayi choorian, par tera phmaanay wafa yaad aaya” (The glass bangles broke as I remembered your vows).


And what can one write about poet Khamakha Hyderabadi (from India). Such wit should be patented. Satirical humor has been his forte for years. “Teesri Baar aap kay Shehr may pehli dafa aaya hoon” (I am glad to be in your city for the first time on my third visit).


Tariq Sabzwari (from Pakistan) brought all of those who remain passionate about Urdu Ghazals back to earth. He delivered his poetry in “Tarannum” (in song-like fashion without music) which was appreciated by all. “Khatum kab huay Rishtay, saans toot jaanay say” (Our relationship is really not over even after the breathing stops) was one of his works that he shared with us. But his “Raat kay Musafir ko koi ja kay samjhayay, Roshni nahin hoti, apna ghar jalanay say” (Tell the night traveler and make him understand, you cannot light your way by burning down your own house) has to stand out.

Senior Hanif Akhgar closed the first round of the Mushaira with much sensitivity and grace. His “Who jab qareeb say” (From up close) was very well received. “Hum imtihaan say guzray, magar kahan guzray?” (We traveled through an ordeal, but where did we go?) proved why he was chosen to preside over this segment of the evening.

In closing there was much to learn for all who attended this event. A suggestion can be made that Sir Syed Day should include more English usage because this message and spirit of Sir Syed and Aligarh has to be passed on to the next generation of South Asians and Muslims especially here in America. Aligarh is in India but its influence crosses many borders. And as stated during the beginning of this report, in this post 9/11 world Sir Syed has become more valid today than ever. So let us close with a line of Urdu by  Khamakha Hyderabadi, one which he read at this event; “Hathyaar Dalnay ko bhi hathyaar nahin hain.” And that one need not be translated, right Partner?


AMU Alumni Association thanks its proud sponsors for their support

Mrs. & Mr. Abdus Salam Qureshi

Drs. Kamil & Talat Hasan

Dr. Karim M. Hussain

Mr. Syed Sarwat

Mrs. & Dr. Waheed Qureshi

Drs. Seema and Najmi Minhaj

Special Thanks

Ms. Rana Faiz (Hamrahi Radio)

Mrs. & Mr. Nahid Kamal Khan

Dr. Sikandar Naqvi and Ms. Mahnaz naqvi

Dr. Aftab Alam

Mr. Tariq Masood

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