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Shivratri revives bond between Kashmiri Pandits & Muslims

Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, 62, returned after performing 'Umrah' (pilgrimage to Mecca) last month. He lives in south Kashmir's Pulwama district, but his current visit to Jammu has a special purpose and meaning.

He has brought walnuts to greet Girdharilal Daftari, his 68-year-old Kashmiri Pandit friend who lives in Jammu after shifting out of the Valley in early 1990 after outbreak of militancy.

Walnuts are traditionally offered by Muslims to their Kashmiri Pandit neighbours and friends ahead of Shivratri.

Bhat and Daftari have been friends for over 30 years. The turbulence of time has upset many equations in Kashmir, but the brotherhood between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims has somehow survived.

"How can I forget to be with my friend on an occasion like Shivratri. In good old days, I would look forward to the special feast of fish and nadru (lotus stem) at Daftari's home. The love and affection that went along the food, served on Shivratri, cannot be expressed in words," said Bhat.

Since the outbreak of insurgency in Kashmir over 30 years ago, there has hardly been a year when Bhat and Daftari haven't been together on the festival.

In a way, they are like hundreds of other Kashmiri Muslim and Pandit friends. They may not be able to visit each other on Shivratri due to geographical distance, yet continue to share the same feelings of nostalgia.

With their intertwined histories, culture and livelihood for centuries, most among the two communities believe they will withstand the present turmoil.

"Can you believe it? I was taught Arabic and Persian by a Pandit teacher. Isn't this a statement that dispels the fear about the shared future of these two communities?" said Nisar Ahmad, 69, a resident of Srinagar.

The close links between the two communities were more pronounced in villages than cities.

"I would ask my Muslim neighbour to bring mutton, fish, nadru and other things for the festival. But it would take me quite a bit of time convincing him that he must accept the money for these purchases," said Shamlal Koul, 63, who lived in a north Kashmir village before shifting out of the Valley.

The mutual trust has stood the test of time. Pandits would not eat pork and the local Muslims would not eat beef.

"That was the level of faith we had between us. It cannot be denied that under the influence of the changing times, our youth might not feel so passionately about their Muslim neighbours.

"That is something nobody can deny. Children of the two communities feel betrayed. They have not interacted with each other so often after 1990, and whenever there has been some social media interaction between them, it has been based on mistrust.

"It is the duty of the elders among the two communities to educate children about the love and respect Pandits and Muslims in Kashmir had for each other.

"The pain of migration, leaving everything behind, is something nobody among our community can forget. But Kashmiri Muslims have been more unfortunate because of the lives of youth snatched by violence during this period," said Daftari.

He said the Muslim festival of Eid and the Shivratri have to regain their historic meaning for the two communities.

"Unless that happens, both Muslims and Pandits would lose the most glorious chapter of their history," Daftari rued.

--IANS

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