A fine blend of the east and west is what Anjum Babukhan emphasises, as an educationist and at home, finds Sangeetha Devi Dundoo

A tree surrounded by animals and birds and a quaint house in the woods with a fireplace… a quintessential part of bedtime stories we heard as children. Anjum Babukhan wanted children in her school to get that kind of an atmosphere while at school. The Learning Resource Centre (LRC) at Glendale Academy is hardly the boring library that you’d expect it to be. The children’s learning section boasts of a tree with soft toys of animals and birds and a wood house. “It’s so much fun for children to come and sit here as their teachers read out stories and involve them in role play,” says Anjum Babukhan, director of education, Glendale Academy. A host of study kits that she picked up from Chicago add colour to the centre.

It’s been 13 years since Anjum made Hyderabad her home. The school is a blend of the best of east and the west as she walks past an amphitheatre that doubles up as an interactive outdoor classroom. A decade ago, when she emphasised on holistic education and learning through practical work rather than copious notes and books, she was met with sarcasm and disbelief. “Unlike here, in the US, only weak students got tuitions after schools. Schools would tell me that millions of students have been through this sytem and landed themselves in good jobs. So what’s the problem? When I spoke about the necessity for life skills, multiple intelligence and brain compatible learning, they thought I was talking jargons. They said these ideas would work in the US, not in India. Today many schools are doing it,” she says.

Growing up in the US

Though born to Hyderabadi parents Anjum never thought she’d end up living here. “My family moved to the US in the 70s. I was the first-born in the family and lead a protected life. Since all our relatives were in the US, we had no reason to visit Hyderabad often. But I did come here once, in 1981 and stayed for 10 months.”

Back then, Anjum’s view of Hyderabad was like that of any other American-bred child: “There were no cartoon channels, no mineral water and not many entertainment options apart from parks, the zoo and cinema halls. We went to the exhibition over and over again and sometimes I skated in the rink there. I thought the US was better in many ways. When you grow up in the US, you are brainwashed into believing that the life there is the best. You wonder why everyone else drives on the wrong side of the road!”

She grew up staying true to Indian culture. “We spoke Urdu at home. When I was 14 or 15, I used to write shayaris and was more culturally oriented than others around me. I watched Bollywood movies… Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Sharabi were some of my favourites. The films back then gave such a romanticised view of love and friendship,” she laughs.

Meeting Salman Babukhan

Anjum and Salman were as different as chalk and cheese when they met in Chicago. “I was studying psychology at the Loyola University at that time. I kept my distance from most desi guys in college because if you spoke too much they would think you were interested in them. I wasn’t keen on dating. I was open to the idea of my parents looking for a right match for me but I wanted to know the person and feel comfortable.”

While she was an extrovert Salman was just the opposite. “Salman and I were good friends. He always told me that he’d marry a girl that his parents chose and return to Hyderabad. And I never wanted to move out of Chicago. Since I saw no scope for a relationship between us, I was comfortable in his presence. I thought I was not his type of girl anyway. He never flirted with me or complimented me. So I was rather shocked when he proposed to me one fine day. When he said ‘Hyderabad chalte’ I knew he was talking of marriage. I thought over it and then agreed. He wanted to marry me for what I was and not just going by my looks or qualification etc. But both of us were sure that we would marry only if both our parents approved.”

The nikah ceremony followed and Salman and Anjum moved to Hyderabad a year later, after Anjum completed her post graduation. “Salman egged me on to pursue education and administration since he felt I could do something in the education sector,” she says. “The formal reception happened in Hyderabad a year after the nikah. I visited his family earlier for his sister’s wedding. Since my mom and dad, both working people, were caught up with work and home, I travelled on my own and people thought ‘kya himmat hai, she’s come alone to her sasural for the first time’. A day later, election results were announced and my father-in-law (Bashiruddin Babukhan) had won; he was inducted into the cabinet a week later. People thought I had brought in good luck. Thank God he won!” she laughs.

The dream project

“Glendale Academy was a dream project for the family. Making money was never the motive. There were other areas, like real estate, where the money came from. My father-in-law set a precedent with high-rise buildings in Hyderabad. But the school is a legacy he wanted to leave behind,” she recounts.

It wasn’t easy introducing new ideas, she admits. “There was always a need but no awareness in schools for a councillor a decade ago,” she says. “Today, I start teacher training workshops with Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Teachers need to empower themselves before teaching.”

Role play, working in groups, communication and interpersonal skills are some of the things she emphasises along with practical work. “Social quotient (SQ) and emotional quotient (EQ) are as important as IQ.”

She quotes Einstein and says, ‘What I hear I forget; what I see, I remember; what I do, I understand’. To teach surface tension, give children a five rupee coin and a dropper and ask them to count the number of drops the coin can hold. They count 30 or 35 and see the drop swell until it can take no longer. It would take five minutes but they will remember what is surface tension,” she explains.

Finally, she says, “The success in running a school well is to teach your staff to handle things such that everything moves smoothly even when you are not around.”

l Being an educationist makes me a good mother. It helps me teach my kids to organise things better. Once I am home after school, I don’t do anything related to work.

l It’s important for women to use their time productively. A mom who stays at home can be taken for granted. If you can afford it and have good staff take care of the house and the kitchen, women can go out and do some work. Indian women are lucky that way. It’s easy to sit back and lead a laidback life but where do you get the creative satisfaction from? I’ve seen women who don’t use their time well and make life miserable for themselves and those around them. Kitties and parties are not the be all and end all of everything.

l I’ve been lucky since I wasn’t expected to be bound to the home and kitchen. My in-laws believed that the house can be looked after by the staff and the women are free to go out and work.

l I cook occasionally, with my three sons for company, just to spend time making a dish.

l Some people even say with arrogance, “hum apne bahu se kaam nahi karathey”. Of course, no one should be forced to work but women should be let to do something productive outside home and make a difference. Also, it’s unfair to expect women to work outside and do all the work at home.