This Article is written by Anvar AliKhan. It was first published by ‘Scroll’ magazine.You can access the original article as well as a whole lot of interesting articles by logging onto

From the time Panchgani was settled, it has been recognised as an ideal place for a boarding school. By 1920, there were already four schools. The St. Joseph’s Convent, started in 1895, Kimmins in 1898, European Boys’ (St. Peter’s) 1904, and The Parsi School (Billimoria) in 1908. Around the beginning of 1920, six rich Muslim gentlemen with philanthropic ideals met at the Panchgani residence of Nawab Ghulam Jilani Bijlikhan, the Nawab of Wai. They were: Mr. Chhotani, Mr. Khandwani, Mr. Sobhani, Seth Hussainbhai Lalji, Seth Jafferbhai Lalji, and Sir Ghulam Mohammed Azam.

They realised that following the events of 1857, the Muslim community had started falling behind the rest of the country. They took their inspiration from Sir Syed Ahmed Khan the founder of Aligarh University. In 1875, Sir Syed founded the Madarsatul Uloom in Aligarh and patterned the Mohommedan Anglo Oriental College (which later became Aligarh University) after Oxford and Cambridge Universities that he had visited while on a trip to London in 1869. His objective was to build a college in tune with the British education system but without compromising its Islamic values. He wanted this College to act as a bridge between the old and the new, the East and the West.

The six gentlemen who met in Panchgani had similar ideals. Each of them donated Rs. 25,000/-, while Sir Ghulam Mohammed Azam gave an additional Rs. 1,25,000/-, plus a donation of Rs. 50,000/- from the Abdulla Lalji Education Fund. The Daar-ul-Uloom (Gateway to Wisdom) Trust was formed, and things began moving very fast from then on.

165 acres land was purchased. 85 where the present Anjuman School is  situated, and another 80 acres on the opposite side of the Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar road. The foundation stone of the Muslim School, as it was then named, was laid by Sir Lloyd, the Governor of Bombay Province. It was decided to start the school immediately, so till the school buildings could be made, Nawab Ghulam Jilani Bijlikhan offered his Panchgani Bungalow, ‘The Ark’ as he had done on two previous occasions. (See ‘The Most Historic Bungalow in Panchgani’ 11/10/2011). Major Watson from the U. K. Became the first Principal.

The whole idea was to have a school in Panchgani where the children would get the best education on the lines of Eton and Harrow, so that students from India would not have to go abroad for a good education. The Muslim School seemed to be heading in that direction. For some years It had a wonderful academic and sports record. This was till Independence, when the country was partitioned.

After that, everything went wrong for the School. Most of the rich Muslim parents migrated to Pakistan, taking their children. The Dar-ul-Uloom Trust was also in disarray. The School started facing problems, and so naturally found it difficult to retain teachers. The Principals would also keep changing as no one was able to continue working under these conditions for long.

I was in school (St. Peter’s) at that time, and later in college, but I was aware of what was happening as my father was the local Trustee. Every now and then, the Principal would send a messenger with a letter asking for some money to feed the boys. I found these notes while going through my father’s belongings after his demise.

A frequent visitor to our house was Mr. Akbar Peerbhoy, an eminent lawyer from Bombay. He would also visit the Muslim School, which had been renamed The Union School after Independence. All the while, he had been trying to persuade the other Trustees of the Anjuman-i-Islam Trust, Bombay to take over the School. Finally in 1959, he succeeded, The School was taken over, and became The Anjuman-i-Islam School, Panchgani.

Happy days were here again. Captain Siddiqui took over as Principal towards the end of 1959, and with the full support of Mr. Peerbhoy, he re-established the School as a force to be reckoned with, both academically as well as in sports.

The School continued to progress even after Captain Siddiqui retired. He was followed by some very competent Principals. Mr. Gerald Peel, an Englishman who had spent most of his life in India and loved the country. After him came Mr. Mohammed Naeem, who was also a very eminent educationist, and after him, Mr. Shakir Syed who always considered the interests of the School as the most important things in his life.

Mr. Peerbhoy supported all these Principals in their endeavours. I think he truly understood the vision of the six original founders and was moving in that direction. This, despite opposition from the other Trustees who felt the whole thing was a waste of time, and that all the property could be better used. He passed away when Mr. Shakir was Principal. His wife, Homai tried to continue the good work, but she had also grown very old, and passed away a few years later.

With the Peerbhoys removed from the scene, the school began deteriorating. The Trustees, being big businessmen or politicians were unable to treat the teachers and even the Principals with respect, with the result that no one of any calibre was able to continue in the school for long.

Mr. Peerbhoy had visualised a Girls’ School, a Technical Institute, proper Staff quarters playgrounds etc. on the 80 acres on the other side of the road. At least for now, this doesn’t seem possible.

Maybe all this will change. Maybe someday there will be a few Trustees with an educational and social vision, who will once again take up the challenge and try to make real the dream that six men had almost a hundred years ago, and one man tried to fulfil in the sixties and seventies.