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The Little Headmaster

About Babar Ali

Named the ‘youngest headmaster in the world’ by BBC in October 2009, Babar Ali is an Indian student and teacher from Murshidabad, West Bengal. In 2009, Babar Ali won a prize from the program Real Heroes of CNN IBN. He was awarded the NDTV ‘Indian of the Year’ award and Literacy Hero Award, BY Rotry India Literary Mission. He has been recently featured in ‘FORBES ASIA’ in their 30 "under 30" list as a ‘Social Entrepreneur’. His story became a part of the syllabus for the CBSE 10th standard English textbook, PUC English textbook for Govt. of Karnataka, and in a curriculum in Luxembourg, Europe. He was featured on Aamir Khan’s TV show Satyamev Jayate in July 2012, and is regularly invited to speak at  various conferences and forums all over the world.

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All children love to dream. The dream to do or become something big! And then after a while, sleep engulfs those dreams. But sometimes the dreams are more powerful than sleep and they chase life rather than life chasing them. Not sure whether such dreams are sheltered by sleepless eyes or they are naturally a part of the conscious and subconscious being. These dreams don’t remain tamed within boundaries. Like a spring that emerges in force from beneath the tough ground, they erupt and flow inside your brain with a strange invincible rhythm.

Something similar happened with Babar Ali. Otherwise, at a remote village called Bhabta Uttarpara, 15 km away from Baharampur city of West Bengal, how could this little child make the impossible happen? Moreover, he belongs to a family with limited resources. You might as well call him poor! Father, Mohammad Nasiruddin owned a small shop; that paid for the family expenses. It’s not that anyone in their history had great qualifications and become too big. But Babar was protective and possessive about his dreams; and the dreams in return, never left him alone! Neither had let go of each other.

Those days Babar was only nine years old. He loved to play around in the imaginary school he had set up on the portico of his small house. He was the master and his sister, Amina Khatoon, was the student. Then he found out some more kids who didn’t go to school and got them to sit for his classes. And the show (read “game”) went on. It was great fun. The little teacher’s lessons to his students were as basic as identification of alphabets and simple grammar and language, but everyone enjoyed. The game was all about imitating the teachers at school, ask the students from portions already taught, scold if someone didn’t answer, and everything else that happened in schools. The game became a regular fun activity for the kids. While playing, it just struck the boy that he was fortunate enough to go to a school, but there are so many boys and girls in the village who didn’t! One day he decided, no more game; he’ll open a real school.

Thoughts soon translated into actions. Father Nasiruddin and mother Banuwara Bibi was overjoyed when they knew about the son’s wishes. The father’s words strengthened the resolution further. “Education is the biggest faith of mankind,” he said. The dreams of the little boy leaped forward by a few steps with the father standing by his plans. He spent some money to buy a blackboard, chalks and books. But who would come to his school? The boy went from house to house, spoke to the people explaining his vision, and gathered some eight children who were not going to school. But then, being a student himself, he too needed to attend school to learn and pass on the learning! So every day early in the morning, before leaving for school, he became a Master. And every day after he had taught his own students, he came out of the Master’s shoes to assume the role of a student!

Having been a follower of Swami Vivekananda from a very early age, the little boy endlessly wondered how he could do something to eradicate the ignorance and superstitions from the poor minds in his village. From the doctrines of Vivekananda, he learnt and believed deep within his heart that it is only proper education that can open up minds, eradicate poverty, and lead the path from darkness to light. Hence, he sufficiently dedicated himself to bring more and more participation into his school, not only from his own village but also from adjoining villages. Many among the elders refused to accept the boy as a teacher because of his tender age. Moreover, as it happens in many poverty-leaden, remote, backward areas, they were unwilling to send their girls outside. But the impossible dream of the boy didn’t allow him to rest; neither would he give up.
Slowly, attendance kept increasing. The school now had a beautiful name. “Ananda Shiksha Niketan!” Few more teachers were soon partnering him in his mission; these teachers were also students from senior classes in other schools. The school started getting noticed eventually. Some kind hearts came forward to join hands with monetary assistance. Classes that were held in the open now had a roof. Tools required for teaching followed suit.

Today the school teaches till 10th!

Babar Ali started this school of his dreams on 19th October 2002, only with 8 students. After eleven long years, he has some 800 students in the school. Just imagine! Even more interesting is the fact that all through Babar played the role of a teacher, simultaneously with that of a student. Only a few days ago he completed his graduation (English Hons) from a college at Bahrampur. All the honorary teachers at Ananda Shiksha Niketan are old or present students of the same school!

Think what a massive battle the boy may have taken upon himself, to enroll all girls and boys of the vicinity to his school. What was the great war of Panipat compared to this?

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