Ever since the Pandit community left the Kashmir Valley in early 1990, Mahashivratri, locally known as ‘Hairat’; it has become a grim reminder of the injury inflicted on the multi-religious, eclectic character of Kashmir by violence.
Bashir Ahmad Rather, 65, is a sad man as he calls his friends in Jammu to greet them on ‘Hairat’.
Rather served in a rural bank for 40 years where many of his colleagues belonged to the local Pandit community. “I would buy walnuts for Daftari Sahib and those walnuts formed part of the Puja done by Daftari’s family on Hairat.
“I hardly remember a Shivratri when I did not have food at my Pandit friend’s home. Fish cooked with tomatoes and lotus stems called ‘Nadru’ formed an essential part of the Hairat feast in every Pandit household.
“The eldest lady of the family would serve food to her children and Muslim guests with such maternal affection that the borders defined by religion and faith did not seem to exist.
“Daftari’s mother was like a mother to all his Muslim friends and not once did she give a faint impression that she loved her son’s Muslim friends less than her son.
“That motherhood, that brotherhood, that trust and amity have suffered colossal damage,” Rather said.
There are very few families of local Pandits who still continue to leave in the valley.
Administration has made special arrangements to make fish, chicken and other essentials of life available to the Pandit families on this Shivratri, but the spirit of Hairat cannot be rekindled by just fish, chicken and Nadru.
“Bridges between the two communities have to be rebuilt by the local Muslims and Pandits.
“No administrative effort, however, honest and mighty can bring the magic and miracle of Hairat back unless Kashmiris strive hard to heal the wounds suffered by them during the last three decades.
“The biggest loss is not of property and land left behind by our Pandit friends. The real loss is that we have collectively lost our innocence.
“The lofty ideals of tolerance, co-existence and brotherhood are no longer there for us to claim.
“It will take ages for us to reclaim that innocence,” said Abdul Rashid Sheikh, another retired officer who lives in Ganderbal district.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently told a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits that they would be brought back to Kashmir with honour and security.
The most dependable and everlasting guarantee of honour and safety has to come from the Kashmiri Muslims who are increasingly feeling the loss suffered by Kashmir because of Pandit exodus.
“We welcome our Pandit neighbours and friends with open arms. Kashmir belongs to both of us and unless they come back and live alongside us without any fear, Kashmir won’t regain its lost innocence,” said Mehrajuddin, a local engineer.
In a nutshell, this year’s Shivratri festival has brought back memories those stand in good stead to prove that Kashmiri Muslims miss their Pandit brothers as much as the latter do while living in exile in their own country.
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