A bright computer engineering student with a fondness for long hair, Facebook and Urdu poetry, particularly of Allama Iqbal who inspired the movement for Pakistan. His equally shy, harmless and religious batchmate, whom a staunch Brahmin family treated as own son. That’s the verdict of families, friends, teachers, neighbours and acquaintances on 23-year-old Mohammed Maroof Nirban and Waqar Azhar (22), the two alleged Indian Mujahideen operatives arrested last week by the Delhi Police from Jaipur and accused of plotting a terror attack.
“Waqar has almost grown up in my house, celebrating Dussehra and Diwali. People would sometimes mistake him for my son and call him ‘Panditji ka beta’. He spent the last Diwali too in my house in New Delhi. Had he been such a staunch Muslim, would he have felt so at home in a Hindu’s house?” says Vidyanand Sharma, Waqar’s neighbour in hometown Pali and his father Tasleem Raza’s bosom friend since 1979.
Waqar’s father, a scrap dealer, is often in Delhi for work, where he lives with the Sharmas, sharing a common prayer room. “The Quran and my Gita lie next to each other. I thought we had set an example,” Sharma says, refusing the possibility that Waqar might have “strayed”.
It was through common acquaintances that Maroof and Waqar met in Jaipur and struck up a friendship. The two introvert and shy men found a common passion in Urdu literature, poetry and Islamic studies. Maroof’s Urdu was so chaste that he often put his erudite engineer father Mohammed Farooq to shame in translating Quran’s couplets.
Apparently a romantic at heart, Maroof often evoked classical poet Allama Iqbal on Facebook and among friends. When it came to debates, he seldom lost, recalls Saif-ul-Islam, a batchmate.
Maroof’s growing orthodox leanings and beard did unsettle his parents but on January 26 this year, he posted on Facebook that he had cut his hair, attaching a sad emoticon. “Walidain ne pressure dala (Father forced me),” he wrote. His parents were also reassured that Maroof didn’t let other interests come in the way of academics.
A final-year computer engineering student, he was one of the four boys in his engineering college to be selected by Wipro during campus placements. He also had an interview coming up with Tata Consultancy Services, but that might never happen now.
Gaurav Bagaria, director of the college where Maroof studied, pulls out his consolidated marksheet to back his disbelief. “It is almost impossible that a bright young boy like him could have taken to such radicalism,” he says.
However, given Maroof’s shy nature, Bagaria remembers little of him apart from the collective request made by minority students of the college, including him, a few months ago to be allowed to go to a nearby mosque for Friday namaz. Bagaria suggested that the students offer prayers in a separate room within the campus continued…