Unthankful ‘Masters’

From once a respected educationist to a hand-to-mouth shopkeeper who struggles to feed his family of seven members Mohammad Ahsan Ganai, 73, has no regrets with life. Suhail A Shah tells his story  

Mohammad Ahsan Dar sitting inside his small shop.
Mohammad Ahsan Ganai sitting inside his small shop.

Old age, failing health, a house damaged in last year’s devastating floods, a bed-ridden young son, ever diminishing ration at home with no money to re-stock, a family of 7 people to feed and almost no source of income.

These are some of the things burdening 73-year-old Muhammad Ahsan Ganai, a former teacher, who selflessly served Jamaat-e-Islami run schools for more than 42 years on a paltry sum.

It was out of sheer religiousness and his firm belief in the ideology of Jamaat that made Ganai serve the organisation with utter sincerity.

However now retired, despite promised a lifelong job by the Jamaat-e-Islami, Ganai finds himself neck deep in poverty with no sources of income. Forced to run a shop despite his failing health and old age there has been no respite for him from anywhere, most importantly the Jamaat.

It was easy to find him in Laktipora village of Arwini, here in Islamabad district of south Kashmir region.

 “He will be at his shop.” Everybody, I asked about the most admired teacher of my school days, responded without having to think for even a fraction of a second.

The shabby looking small shop – with old fashioned wood shutters in desperate need of a coat of paint – is located along the under construction road on the banks of river Jhelum in this quiet hamlet.

He was sleeping in his shop when on the approach of footsteps he sat up and tried to figure out the visitor and it did not take him long to recognize me and as if waking from a dream he took me in embrace.

“How have you been my son?” Ganai spoke in chaste Urdu, more out of habit from his teaching days than anything else.

The very next minute however the delight vanished and he, as if ashamed of his condition, apologized for the very small space the shop had to offer.

“Let’s go inside the house,” he said. I politely refused and insisted to sit there in the shop.

After some school friends talked about his plight and the phase he is going through, I decided to pay a visit.

What amazed me was that the serenity and the contentment had not left him, even after such hardships.

“Allah has been very kind to me.” was the answer as I enquired about his life after retirement.

Even in these testing times and being abandoned by the Jamaat, Ganai chooses his words very carefully while talking about the organisation, Jamaat-e-Islami.

It was only after I insisted that I was trying to figure out the plight of teachers, working with the Falah-e-Aam Trust of the Jamaat, he eased out and started to talk about his own journey.

“It was the year 1961 and I studied at the Jamaat run school here in Arwini,” Ganai said as he started to narrate.

While he was about to pass out, the school Principal, Zaildar Muhammad Mustafa Malik, insisted that he work at the school instead of going anywhere else.

By then Ganai had been exposed to the Jamaat ideology through books he read at a local library maintained by a shopkeeper named, Sanaullah Bhat.

“I was impressed with what Jamaat preached and the goals set by them. It took my young impressionable mind by storm. Maulana Maududi’s Khutbaat was the first book I laid my hands on and there was no looking back ever since,” said Ganai, who accepted the offer immediately and from 1962 started to teach at the school.

At that time Ganai was offered a salary of Rs 30. Ironically, when Ganai was forced to retire in 2003, his salary was a meagre Rs 4300.

“Money did not matter then. I was content with the salary I got,” he insists.

At this point, Ganai’s narration was interrupted by his wife who came clutching a few packets of locally made sweets meant to be sold at the shop.

She asked for a one hundred Rupee note, to be paid to the supplier of the sweets. Ganai reluctantly took the box of money out and counted the a few Rs 10 notes in it, which did not amount to the money needed.

His wife sensing the dilemma said, “Leave it alone. You continue, I’ll see to it.” and she left.

Money did matter now, I guess.

Picking up the conversation again, Ganai said that in 1964 the Principal at the school in Arwini had a fall-out with the Jamaat and decided to run the school on his own.

Ganai, however, wanted to work for the Jamaat and resigned soon after.

By then the Jamaat run schools were registered under the Falaah-e-Aam Trust (FAT) and the trust was presided over by the then Naazim-e-Taleemaat, Qazi Muhammad Shafi.

“I was reappointed at a salary of Rs 62 and posted at Jamaat’s school in Rainawari,” recalls Ganai.

The school at Rainawari further reinforced Ganai’s belief in the ideology of Jamaat, given the revolutionary work that was going on at the school.

College students, Ganai said, were given Quranic education after the school hours were over, “Such was the atmosphere within the Jamaat that the person who headed the school was a driver by profession. He was appointed as the principal for his comprehensive knowledge of Quran and the Islamic literature.”

However his father’s failing health did not allow Ganai to stay in Srinagar for long and he applied for a transfer. By then a school had been established in Bijbehara town of Islamabad, by one Abdul Rashid Islahi, who hailed from Doda in the Chenab Valley region.

Islahi was keen to move home and Ganai was brought in his place.

After that Ganai taught at the school in Bijbehara for more than 28 years in different stints, the longest one being of more than 10 years.

Islahi was later killed by occupational forces in Doda however the school he had laid the foundation stone of in Bijbehara continued to grow and is now a Higher Secondary School.

This is the school where Ganai taught me, though for a very short time, left a lasting impression on my mind.

As of now the school in Bijbehara, now called the Public English Medium School, is one of the largest schools in the south Kashmir region with a roll of more than 1500 students.

The school has the best of infrastructure and more than 20 buses have been purchased over the years to ferry students. But teachers like Ganai, who served the Trust all their lives are deprived of any dividends from the spiralling growth of these schools.

Coming back to the narration, Ganai recalled how in 1991 the teachers working at the Jamaat run schools were offered to be absorbed in the government education sector and most of them did take the offer.

Ganai however found the idea treacherous and decided to stay back.

It was then that the FAT sought bonds from their teachers, “We were asked to furnish bonds that we will continue to work with the Jamaat. The duration however was left with us to decide.”

Ganai decided to provide a bond that he will work for the FAT till he is alive, for he could never imagine himself without serving Jamaat.

It however was not meant to be and while he was serving as the headmaster of a Jamaat run school in Uranhall area of Islamabad district, he was asked to step down and retire.

His retirement saw students leaving the school and in a few months the school roll fell from 480 to 250.

Ever since, life has been very unkind to Ganai. A few years after his retirement, his only son who worked as a construction worker met an accident at work and has ever since been bed ridden.

Multiple surgeries to fix his son’s legs have so far yielded nothing other than leaving the family financially broke and dependent.

At this point I wondered aloud, “Why don’t they pay pensions to you people.”

Ganai told me that the FAT has the clause in its constitution that apart from a retirement gratuity the people working for the organisation will get no pensions, which is in stark contrast to the Jamaat members, who continue to get stipends even after the suspension of their memberships.

For Ganai even getting the gratuity was a big deal and he had to run from pillar to post for years to get a sum of Rs 1 Lac released.

“It was only after the intervention of then Ameer-e-Jamaat that I got the gratuity released,” Ganai said.

This is not the end of his miseries. Last year floods created havoc across Kashmir valley and Ganai’s house, situated on the banks of river Jhelum, was no exception.

His house suffered severe damage and the family has been forced to move into a temporary shed erected within the house premises. Ganai’s entire family shares this small space for living.

How bad is the condition? I asked and the answer I got shocked me beyond words.

“Allah has guided us to keep our miseries a secret but being a son I will share it with you. My wife just told me we are out of ration and for now I am not financially sound enough to buy some,” Ganai said in a matter of fact manner.

Teachers from various Jamaat run schools have been approaching Ganai to be at their forefront and ask for a pension but he is very reluctant to go against the Jamaat.

The only words he managed to utter were, “some people are using the organisation for their own benefit. Alhamdulillah I don’t happen to be one of them.”

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