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A Walk Down Memory Lane (Dr. Rasheed Ahmad*)

The City of Aligarh was under curfew due to communal riots. It was early autumn of 1980. AMU Engineering entrance exam hall ticket was received by me. I started discussing with my parents & friends in Allahabad if I should travel to Aligarh to take the entrance exam in this tense communal situation. After learning through newspaper and from radio that curfew has been relaxed, I set off by then Upper India Express train which arrived early morning at the Aligarh Junction. This was my first visit to Aligarh. There were not many passengers who got off at Aligarh. It was a scary feeling seeing heavy police presence at the platform. I hurriedly rushed out the train station and took a rickshaw to R.M. Hall. During the travel to R.M. Hall, the rickshaw puller gave me a quick rundown on prevailing situation in the city and on campus. Next day, I took my entrance exam at Minto Circle. The Chemistry paper was extremely difficult. That made me unsure if I could qualify the test.

After a month, I received my acceptance letter for B.Sc. (Engg) program. That ensued a discussion among my family members if I should leave ‘Oxford of the East’ i.e. Allahabad University where I was a B.Sc. student. Majority favored that I should study at AMU. I arrived on campus as an “attached boarder” to M.M. Hall. The campus housing was extremely overcrowded and students were living in all over the places, including dining hall, annex units and storage areas. I stayed briefly at Sir Syed Hall (South) with one of my high school classmate who studied in Allahabad. Every night the dreaded ‘introduction’ gang would round up the ‘juniors’ and made them answer never-ending questions and prompting them to sing/shout and what not. I would get off from this ordeal by taking the excuse of an attached boarder of M.M. Hall. After a week or so, someone told me the Senior Hall Monitor lives in Ziauddin Hostel and he is from Allahabad. I went to meet him and he immediately asked me to move to warden room of the Ziauddin Hostel (now Allama Shibli Hostel). I lived in that room for a few months before moving to room#76. Sharma ji was the most senior occupant of this room. He was a law student and was a Tundla native. He was a very jolly senior and enjoyed talking. The dining hall food was not suiting me. I joined the Hindu mess and the food was great for my health.

In 1981-82, the university closed two times sine die. A student was killed in police firing near VC lodge. AMU was in news for all bad reasons. Syed Hamid was the Vice Chancellor. After University was closed second time, a major cleanup started in the hostels. All the rooms were sealed off and re-allotted. All overstaying students were made to vacate the room. That suddenly resulted in a lot of vacancies, especially in double and single-seated rooms. I was lucky to get a double seated room with only two years of seniority - this room #59 where I would stay for next three years. For first time since my joining M.M. Hall two years ago, the food serving started in the dining hall itself and quality of food improved. I now moved to ‘dunlop’ menu.

My engineering studies were going well. M.M. Hall had many engineering students. That was really convenient for group studies and project work. In 4th year of my engineering, I had to decide if I want to go for higher studies or look for a job. The Graduate Aptitude Test of Engineering (GATE) requirement was introduced a year ago for getting a scholarship in M. Tech courses. I decided to prepare for this exam during winter holidays. It was early December of 1984. AMU declared an early and longer winter vacation due to 1984 General Elections declared by the Election Commission of India. Students left the campus. The hostels were totally empty. On the upper floor in Ziauddin Hostel I think there were three or four rooms where I saw students staying back. One of my class mates from Sulaiman Hall decided to stay with me in my room for a joint preparation for the GATE exam during the winter vacation.

In Allahabad, the election fight was very glamorous due to Amitabh Bachchan taking on old guard and wily, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna. It was a good opportunity to see Amitabh Bachchan in person during campaigning. I got several messages from my brother asking me to come home and avail the rare opportunity of experiencing Allahabad’s historic election. I kept myself away from this temptation and worked extremely hard for GATE examinations during winter vacation. In February 1985, I took the exam and scored a high percentile that resulted in call for M.Tech. interviews from Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) of Kanpur and Roorkee. I got admission in I.I.T. Kanpur’s Environmental Engineering program. That was one of the proudest moments of my life.

During my stay, I saw a lot of changes brought up by then provost, Dr. Nafees Ahmad. A reading room and a Coaching & Guidance Cell were established. M.M. Hall mosque foundation ceremony took place. Hall canteen was started. There were a few students who qualified for Civil Services exams. There was a debate club where I started my first public speaking. The Hall magazine was revived and I got opportunity to serve in the editorial committee.

Aligarh hostel experience prepared us for life. We learned how to talk to people and handle situations. Aligarh taught us that life is beyond books. My brother, Valeed Ahmad (now a Professor in Faculty of Management, AMU) joined as M. A. (Economics) student in 1984. He became my room partner also. We both benefited immensely from this institution and owe a lot to this land. May AMU keep rising to new and greater heights; Amen!

*Dr. Rasheed Ahmad, Ph.D., P.E. is an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. He received B.Sc. Engineering (now B.Tech.) degree from AMU. Dr. Rasheed lived in Allama Shibli Hostel (erstwhile Ziauddin Hostel) of Mohsin-ul-Mulk Hall from 1980 to 1985. He currently works as Senior Watershed Manager in City of Atlanta’s Bureau of Engineering Services and also holds Program Coordinator position of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Environmental Group of Georgia.
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