Bandipora: While India reels under a renewed communal onslaught and as Kashmiri Muslims are targeted by Hindutva elements in the state, a village in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district is quietly maintaining local traditions of communal harmony.
Koulus, a village on the outskirts of Bandipora town, is an example of mutual harmony, showing up the Indian media’s propagation of communal disturbances in the state.
Moti Lal, 80, is considered the head of the village and is deeply respected by the Muslim majority. Moreover, Muslims from different areas also come to him. And that is because Lal is a known faith-healer in Bandipora, whose followers cut across religious lines. In fact, he himself says that most of his followers are Muslims. Retired as a mid-level official in the Bandipora Post Office, Lal inherited this practice from his father. One of his sons, though, works in Kashmir University.
Dotted by old fashioned houses and walnut trees, Koulus seems a picture of peace. But one of the houses is bustling with life, and that belongs to Pandit Moti Lal. A small wooden gate leads into the compound, where a lush garden is adorned with different flowers.
A dark corridor leads to the room where Moti Lal sits, wearing a pheran and an Afghani hat. He keeps a window of his room open, with a view on people streaming in through the gate. And he often, as his followers sit around, looks at the wooden ceiling of his small room chanting the verses of Makhdoom Sahab (RA) and of other revered saints, while counting the beads of a rosary. The walls of the room are decorated with portraits of Hindu gods and goddesses. There are also photographs of his youthful years.
Visitors keep coming, describing their miseries and problems to Lal. He listens to them patiently, and often says “Sultan-e-peer and the Almighty will help you”. Students, men, women and newly-wed couples et al are among the visitors.
Wetting the nib of his ‘Qalam’ in ink, he draws some shapes and verses on a white paper, folds it and gives it to people seeking a solution to their problems.
Living with his wife and grandchildren, this family is happy living in this Muslim neighborhood. When in the 90’s, most of the Pandits migrated. Lal also packed up his things. When he went to the villagers to bid them adieu, “They came wailing, undid my baggage and did not let me go,” he says. “Their teary eyes and the love for our family kept me here forever. They said they would sacrifice their lives if we left,” he adds.
The village had around 60 Pandit families till 1990. As most of them migrated, Moti Lal stayed back and has lived a peaceful life with his Muslim neighbours all these years. The locals say that people from different places throng to the ‘peer saeb’ and they often return to thank him too.
But Lal doesn’t credit himself for helping the people who come to him. “I am no one to make things workable for people who visit me,” he says, “It is the Almighty who is doing it. I consult religious literature which offers solutions as how to tackle ill phases of life, misfortune, mental imbalances and other behavioural issues. As for the rest, the Almighty is the supreme healer!”
When it is time for the neighbouring children to go school, they sneak in and stand near the window, and Moti Lal picks up a few sweets and dates kept near the window and drops them into their tiny hands. “They know a festival is coming,” he says, with a smile on his clean-shaven face, his blue eyes sparkling
In between, he often calls to his wife to make tea for the visitors, as his grandchildren play around the house. And this man has been attending to his followers for almost 50 years now.