This appeared in the Asian Age
Aren’t you just sick to death of CWG and everything connected to it? I am. It’s come to a point where I really and truly don’t give a flying err…. javelin… whether we win gold, silver, bronze, tin, copper, brass medals. The opening ceremony that we are crowing about was ummm…impressive but hugely ‘inspired’ ( like our Bollywood films and music ), but what the hell – you want a tamasha, you got a tamasha. I no longer care if Kalmadi can’t tell the difference between Camilla and Diana ( so long as the bonny prince Charles doesn’t make the same mistake, aall eez well). I for one, can’t wait for the khel to get over and asli life to resume. Mumbai, of course, remains totally indifferent to what’s going on in Dilli. Mumbai has its own games to focus on - and those don’t involve athletes. All this came into sharp focus as I boarded the last flight to Aurangabad and noticed the bored expressions of passengers in the lounge as they turned their attention away from television screens showing the Games ( live), and focused instead on sexier options on their Blackberries and iPhones. Sad but largely true. Even Dilliwallas aren’t chuffed about these momentous Games, preferring to flee the Capital or stay back cribbing about various inconveniences. Toba, toba, even C.M. Sheila Dixit’s seetis and impromptu gigs weren’t enough to inject the much needed josh into the dheela\marela Games.
As I emerged from the airport in Aurangabad and was swept away in an S –Class, fully loaded and impressively customized Mercedes, I looked around me in utter astonishment. We were on the main and only big road in this sprawling city of 20 lakh people, with a history that goes back to 3rd century BC. My local hosts told me India’s biggest, flashiest shopping mall is soon coming up to challenge the glory of the historic Ajanta and Ellora sites close by. Imagine that! A shopping complex to challenge a World Heritage complex. A sign of our amazing times. In any case these are the last three years for tourists to rush to these magnificent caves and temples before they shut down for the much needed restoration and face lift. In anticipation of an unprecedented rush of visitors from overseas, hotels are gearing up and hoping to make big bucks. Along this stretch which extends through the city, our fancy car is frequently overtaken by even fancier cars. I am told a staggering order for 28 more S-Class Mercs has already been placed with the car giant. At over one crore a pop, these numbers are pretty damn cool. But hold it – that’s nothing! This is also the city that had got the Mercedes guys back in Stuttgart to turn somersaults with glee when local chaps got together and placed an order for over 150 Mercs - yup, 150 - in what became a record breaking deal that had the auto world talking. So, who were these anonymous fellows who happily put down serious money for spiffy German wheels ( I remembered there were 500 industries in what was described in the seventies as one of the ‘fastest growing cities in Asia”)? I met a couple of them during my short stay. They are young, hungry and ready to take on the world. The Merc is but one of the cars in their collection. I saw Porsches, BMWs and Bentleys cruising Jalna road, and behind the wheels were the proud owners and their designer clad wives. Looking at some of them, it’s hard to imagine the quantum of wealth at their disposal. But clearly they have it – loads and loads of it. Some are first generation tycoons who jet around the globe from Zambia to New Zealand, selling everything from steel to seeds. They belong to a super exclusive club of richie rich Aurangabadis, and party hard at one another’s sprawling villas , with 7 star resort level pools and other luxurious facilities. They rarely feel the need to come to Mumbai or Delhi, since they love their local lifestyle – and who wouldn’t? These guys are brash, confident, global citizens – a far cry from the country hicks envious city slickers imagine them to be.
But for me, the real Aurangabad story of change and transformation, was the one I witnessed at the Maulana Azad College For Women, established by the late Dr. Rafiq Zakaria in 1968 ( at the time, it was a separate, segregated section of the main college, created so that girls from conservative sections could access higher education if their parents were averse to co-education). In 1991 the college became a separate entity. While Rafiq was the visionary, it is his widow Fatma, who has injected life and dynamism into this scrupulously clean college where even the gardeners are women. Fatma is a revered figure in Aurangabad. At 75, she works tirelessly to ensure that the poorest section of society gets a shot at quality education. It starts at toddler level - a pretty daunting challenge. But Fatma has licked the problem by providing a free bus service to pick up these kids and bring them to school. I spent some time on this campus on a searingly hot afternoon. Over 900 students, along with their teachers, had gathered under two gigantic Neem trees, their heads covered with traditional scarves. I met their principal, an elegant, soft spoken lady, who’d earned her doctorate in computer sciences from this very same college years ago. Fatma was glowing with undisguised pride at having realized her late husband’s dream and taken it forward in such an inspiring way. Along with her son, the stupendously famous Fareed Zakaria ( a trustee) , Fatma presides over a college complex with 15,000 students, a lot of them toppers in their chosen discipline. She also personally screens and supervises all interviews – students and staff alike, to ensure there is no hanky panky. I was told the going rate to get a teacher’s post at other colleges is a staggering 15 lakh of rupees.
I was meeting Fatma after several years ( she was one of my first editors). It was with absolute delight that I noted her glowing skin and actively ticking brain that is constantly looking for ways to serve the ‘flock’ better. Since she also presides over the Taj Catering College ( IHM) and edits the Taj Magazine, hers is an admirably full and fulfilled life. Fatma presides, okay? She is the undisputed Grande Dame of all she sees.
What next, Fatma, I asked her. Promptly, she reeled off a list of programmes , starting with a national level workshop on Women, Water and the Environment. My kind of woman. A total babe!