In Srinagar, an apt lesson in harmony
A Muslim teacher is keeping the spirit and sanctity of a Pandit school alive in the Valley. Zahid Rafiq reports
Temple of learning Ghulam Malik inside the Srinagar school
Photo: Zahid Rafiq
INSIDE A derelict building of creaking staircases, unlit classrooms and dusty old books, Ghulam Mohammad Malik quietly keeps alive the memory of years gone by. In Jammu & Kashmir, a state wracked by communal divisions, the 72-year-old retired government teacher has been taking care of a school started by the Pandits. Malik considers it a temple, a monument that he helped rebuild.
For 30 years, Malik has witnessed both the best and worst of times. He has seen Vidya Bhawan School at Khankah-e-Sokhta in Srinagar’s Nawakadal locality abuzz with life and light. Every year, he joined his neighbours to attend the Urs of Kashmiri mystic poet Rupa Bhawani at the temple inside the school.
The school was established by the Rupa Bhawani Trust in 1959 in memory of the poet, who lived in the same area. Malik also saw the school turn into a ghost house after most of the Pandit students and teachers fled their homes in the 1990s.
In 1995, Malik took it upon himself to keep the spirit of the school alive and its sacredness too. “The school once had 1,200 students. It was a respected institution where getting admission was tough. It was a Pandit school where very few Muslims were given admission. When I took over, the school had only 23 students and it had lost everything,” he says.
“The neighbourhood authorities asked me to run the school after its last principal, Shiela Koul, died. It had become a big empty building and shady people used to frequent it. I was asked to run it to preserve its sanctity,” says Malik.
Malik, his wife Shameema, and other family members set the school in order and removed the dead dogs from locked rooms and cobwebs from forgotten corners. “The temple had lost its sheen because it had been unattended for years now. We cleaned it all up,” says Malik.
In the room where the temple is housed, a new Shivling stands within the old woodwork, and several old and new votives are tied to the wire mesh. The floor tiles are new and clean and the room smells of incense.
MALIK RENOVATED the temple some years ago and takes care of it like the rest of the school. “We bought a Shivling from Allahabad and also decorated the place in whatever way we could,” says Malik. “We can’t replace the devotion of the faithful but we have maintained it like our home.”
Malik pays a monthly rent to the trust and has retained the name of the school. He knows that the name is not good for business in Muslim-majority Kashmir and his roll of 104 students says that but Malik insists on running it with that name. “That is what it is — a temple of knowledge.”
“We have suffered, both of us in our own ways,” says Malik. “They (the Pandits) suffer exile and we, occupation. Someday, I hope that we are relieved of both.”
Zahid Rafiq is a Correspondent with Tehelka.