On the day when thousands of migrant Kashmiri Pandits are thronging Tulmul on the annual Kheer Bhawani Mela, a house in Kashmir’s district Pulwama stands as a symbol of the age-old bonhomie in the Valley. The house is apparently an answer to the hate campaign done in the name of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits.
Inside a three-storey traditional Kashmiri architectural house in Sirnu village of Kashmir’s Pulwama district, the holy Gita and the holy Quran share the same space. Walls are pasted with photographs of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, along with different shrines of the valley and the Khane-e-Kaaba. The believers of Hinduism and Islam pray to their respective Gods without making religion a hurdle in their relation of humanity.
The house sheltering a Muslim family of Mohammad Akbar Wani, a baker, and a Pandit family of Rakesh Kumar, a government teacher, is a symbol of syncretic culture. Both the families have been living together in mutual respect for the last 12 years now.
Back in 2006, Ashok Kumar, the house owner and a migrant Kashmiri Pandit settled in Jammu, gave the responsibility of his abandoned house to his relative Rakesh whose family stayed back during the peak of Kashmiri Pandit migration in 1990s. Later, the Wani family living in a rented apartment in their neighborhood joined them.
“My maternal house is located adjacent to this house,” says Rajni Bhan, Rakesh’s wife. “After our marriage, we lived in Srinagar for a couple of years. We came to Pulwama after our relative Ashok Sahib offered us his abandoned house to live.”
But the two-member Bhan family felt uncomfortable to live in the big house. “We approached the Wani family and suggested them to live with us,” Rajini says. “I told them we will take good care of each other’s family. They didn’t refuse.”
That’s how the two families came together to live in an abandoned house. With the shift, the haunted structure bereft of life resonated with laughter and liveliness, once again.
The house has two-stories and a semi-finished third floor. Each storey has three rooms. The Wani family is living in the first floor, while Rakesh’s family lives in the ground floor. Akbar has one daughter and a son; Rakesh has two sons. Both the families share a common washroom, lawn and even use each other’s space in good and bad times.
The house is an example of how members from different religions can live together in a peaceful manner, respecting each other’s faith.
Akbar hails from Murran village of district Pulwama and for decades has been running a bakery shop close to the house.
“We are living in this house for free along with Rakesh Uncle’s family,” says Tawseef Wani, Akbar’s son. “Ashok Sahib rarely visits here. He stays for few days, and returns to Jammu. He trusts us and we never infringed the same.”
Connected with the bond of trust and credence, these two families say that they never hesitate to lend their hands to ease each other’s hardships.
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“We live together, sit together, and go to the market together for shopping. We never think they are from other religion. Whenever we felt each other’s need we always extend our hand to help,” says Sakina, Akbar’s wife.
“Sakina is like my sister,” Rajni says. “Sometimes, if I find something missing in her home I give her half from my own possession and in return she also does the same. If I buy something for my kids from the market, I prefer to buy for her kids, too, as they are like my own kids. Her daughter often teaches my two sons in her free time.”
The two families have built a strong trust on each other. If either of the family goes away for a long time, they leave their rooms unlocked.
“On the eve of Herath,” Tawseef says, “Rakesh Uncle’s family went to Jammu to visit their relatives for couple of days, but they didn’t lock their rooms. We also never did, because good relations are based on trust.”
Like typical Kashmiri joint families, every evening when the Wani and the Bhan families return from their daylong work, they sit together in a single room and watch television till late evening.
“We love the moments of life that we live together,” says Tawseef. “We sit together for hours, crack jokes and laugh. This is our daily routine of life. We never hide anything from each other.”
Whenever there is cricket match between India and Pakistan, he says, the families always make that moment joyful by passing comments on each other amid laughs and enjoy the game.
“On every Eid, Rakesh Uncle buys chicken and other sweets for us and on Holi or Diwali, we also buy for them whatever they like,” says Tawseef. “Every year we give gifts to Rakesh Uncle’s two sons on their birthdays.”
Once, he says, when Rajni’s sister living in their neighborhood was getting married, the family took Tawseef’s sister with them to Jammu for marriage shopping. “They also bought clothes for us,” he says, smiling.
Years back when Rakesh’s father Jaggar Nath died, Wani family was the first to reach, mourn, console the family and take full part in last rituals.
“We still miss him,” says Tawseef. “He was lovable. He was like our grandfather, too.”
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