Kashmir floods: Hyderpora mosque a symbol of communal harmony, housing many people including Hindus
Srinagar: It is evening time and the Maulvi here just sounded the 'Azaan', the call for prayer and devouts rush inside to offer 'Namaaz'. Shortly thereafter, scores of people assemble in the tented courtyard of the mosque to have food.
This is Jama Masjid in Hyderpora area which has turned into a major relief centre for those affected by the devastating floods in the Kashmir valley, housing hundreds of people, including women and children.
Significantly, in this hour of tragedy, this mosque has become a symbol of communal harmony as a number of Hindus, who had come from outside the state for work, are also taking shelter here.
The inmates of this camp at the mosque, which remained unaffected by the floods, have come from various parts of the Valley and each one had a story of horror and pain to tell.
They narrate how water started coming into residential areas, how quickly the levels rose and how each of them managed to escape the fury, some on their own, some with the help of the army and some with the help of locals.
"I, along with other three members of family, left our house on Sunday evening (August 31) when water level started rising fast. I arranged for a boat and first dispatched my daughter to the masjid. Then rest of us followed suit. Since then, we are staying in this masjid," says 58-year-old Bashir Ahmed Akhoon, a government servant.
60-year-old Khalida Akhtar narrates how she and six other members of her family, along with children, left their home in Tengpura in panic when water level rose on Sunday night.
"We first took shelter in a nearby hospital. But the building of the hospital also was in danger and distress calls were made to the police for help. Around midnight, the army came and rescued us. I am extremely grateful to them," she says.
She also expressed gratitude to the masjid authorities for providing shelter to the homeless family, which includes her husband, three sons, their wives and children.
Failing the exam: Modi's Teacher's Day speech is a giant PR blunder
You can telecast a speech to a child, but you can't force him to listen. Or can you? Some schools in Delhi are certainly doing their best by making Narendra Modi's Teachers' Day speech part of their standard class exams.
Bal Bharati Public School, Noida, has issued a circular -- shared extensively and with great amusement on Twitter -- which read, "The school will remain closed (preparatory off) on September 5 for all classes. However, for classes III to XII, the key points of the Prime Minister's address are to be noted and learnt for the school to evaluate the same (during the upcoming examination from Monday)." One question of two marks each will be included in each of the five main papers, it added.
Principal Asha Prabhakar explained this bold decision to Indian Express: "These days, students understand the language of examinations and marks only, so I decided to test them on the PM's speech. I think this will help them assess their listening abilities also and force them to think on the PM's stand on various issues of national importance."
Cue the #ModiExams hashtag as the Twitterati scrambled to come up with their own version of test questions.
Just in case there are un-Bharatiya slackers out there who don't mind losing a couple of marks in a test, Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, is resorting to outright threats: "Attendance is compulsory for all the students and strict action will be taken against the absentees." This is to be expected since the schools themselves have been warned of dire consequences if attendance levels fail to match bureaucratic expectations.
But the Modi sarkar apparently forgot -- or failed -- to bully the DTC which has raised the flag of rebellion. According to the Hindustan Times , "Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) - which provides close to 1,000 buses to 95 schools - has refused to change its schedule to pick up students in the evening."
A DTC spokesman told HT, "We will provide buses in the morning but 5 pm is peak office hour. The general public will be inconvenienced if we divert buses to schools." Of course, the DTC's brave stance has been staked out at the expense of other, leaving the schools to arrange for private buses or force the parents to pick up their children.
As a nation, we excel at passing the misery.
While Twitter continues to make lemonade out of Modi-served lemons, AAP leader Yogendra Yadav was moved to write an open letter in the Indian Express to his Pradhan Mantriji, which charmingly admits what would be obvious to any child: that a 12 pm start to a school day is not exactly unwelcome. Yadav's daughter, however, has other problems with the Teachers' Day bandobast:
"But what bothers her is that all this is done to ensure that the entire school can listen to you on a big screen. She does not know what you are going to speak about. Now, she has no objection to listening to the prime minister. What she doesn't understand is why she could not do so on TV at home. It's a free country, she says, why can't I have a choice? If it had to be done at school, why couldn't you adjust your schedule to suit school timings?"
Yadav's critique of the upcoming PM speech is that it offers his daughter and other children "a lesson in the rituals of power that go with the infamous VVIP culture: everything can be changed to suit saheb's convenience." But the sight of children, herded and lined up neatly to listen to their great leader, smacks more of good old socialist-era subservience to Big Brother -- which explains its disdain for free market silliness like individual choice. That it is being mandated by a man heralded as the saviour of the nation from UPA-era populism makes for delicious irony.
Now Prime Minister Modi knows well the dangers of old school self-aggrandisement. It is the reason why he specifically knocked down the proposal to make his biography part of the school curriculum in Gujarat. But he seems to have ignored his better instincts when it comes to Teachers' Day.
Sure, much of this petty tyranny may be due to over-eager babus who scrambled into action the moment the plan for the speech was announced, but a canny politician like Modi ought to have foreseen the same.
Whatever he may say today, however inspirational his rhetoric, the PR dividends will remain slim and for two reasons. One, he has bullied children into obedience much as a whimsical family patriarch; and two, he has stolen from the nation's teachers the one day that rightfully belongs to them. No good news can come of that.