Najeeb Ahmad, an MSc Biotechnology student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, went missing on October 15, 2016. A year on, there is no trace of the 28-year-old student. HT travels to Budaun, Najeeb’s hometown, to know more about him.
Outside the primary school in western Uttar Pradesh’s Budaun, a seven-hour drive from Delhi, Talat Jalalan elderly school principal recalls the verse from Milton’s Paradise Regained — The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day.
In order to know the person behind Najeeb Ahmad, the JNU student who had disappeared from the university hostel a year to date (Sunday), HT went to the town where the 28-year-old MSc student had spent his childhood and went to school.
“He was different,” Jalal, the owner and principal of the Budaun Public School says, remembering Najeeb whom she taught when he was in the primary school.
“He never shied of taking a stand. If he felt strongly about an issue he would be ready to take risks. When some kids indulged in mischief and I asked students who did it, Najeeb came forward and named the troublemakers despite knowing that it would earn him the wrath of his classmates,” says Talat, remembering an incident when Najeeb was in Class 5. Najeeb studied at Talat’s school up to Class 8.
Mohammed Asim, who studied with Najeeb from lower kindergarten to the fifth standard, remembers Najeeb telling his friends that he would become a doctor.
Born to a carpenter and a homemaker, his classmates say that Najeeb had always wanted to be a doctor.
Maybe, it was also because he was born and lived in Vaidon Tola. The locality was once home to doctors and physicians in United Provinces, during the British rule. Hence, the name Vaidon, meaning a healer/doctor or a physician and Tola, which translates to a community or a home.
A month, before he went missing, another childhood friend Yasir had met Najeeb in the local market. “We were not in touch for many years. At the market, we recognized each other. He told me he had got admission in JNU. It was a short meeting but he seemed fine.”
Though HT was able to trace anecdotal memories of the young student, Najeeb’s life starts to become a blur once he leaves the village school. At Florence Public School, on the state highway leading to Budaun city, where Najeeb studied till Class 12, not one teacher remembers him. Everyone knew about Najeeb, the Budaun boy who went missing but nobody knew him as a student of the school.
Naveen Kumar Singh, who has been the school principal for past 12 years says, “We did not know he studied here.” Singh could not even recognize him, when we showed him Najeeb’s pictures.
The only person who remember Najeeb beyond the narrative of the “missing JNU student”, is Mohd Qasim, his roommate at Mahi-Mandvi Hostel. “I did not interacted with him much. We spent maybe just 10-15 days together,” recalls Qasim.
Qasim says Najeeb was an introvert. He spoke of how Najeeb adhered to a strict schedule, which included attending classes, studying after the classes and talking to his mother
“He had no political affiliations, or even expressed any interest in joining any party. I remember I was talking about something, I don’t remember exactly what now, but I had mentioned ‘AISA’ (the left wing All India Students Association) in passing. He asked me ‘Bhai, ye AISA kya hota hai?” recalls Qasim.
While Qasim still holds onto Najeeb’s place at the hostel, in the hope of his return, others on campus are not as sure.
A professor at the School of Biotechnology, where Najeeb had been pursuing his MSc programme, says they do not discuss the case anymore. “I think all of us (the faculty) at some level probably know he might not come back. So we do not discuss the case, even among ourselves,” he says.
Outside the school in Budaun, Najeeb’s childhood friends and locals gathered again. The sight of cameras and hopes that a journalist from Delhi may have news of Najeeb brought them together. The influx of reporters in this otherwise nondescript locality since the last one year also irks a few residents. “What is the use of giving interviews if you cannot find him?” a local tells HT.
Inside the school, Najeeb’s younger brother Mujeeb is talking to another group of journalists from Delhi.
“Najeeb was the brightest among us all. He always ranked in the top five in his class. We had this firm belief that he would make it big some day. He was very excited when he got admission in the big and prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU),” says Mujeeb.
One of Najeeb’s childhood friends comes to us. He looks at Mujeeb to make sure he won’t hear the conversation.
Then he asks carefully and softly, “Do you think Najeeb is dead?”