By Muhabit ul Haq:
Mothers can be selfish, selfless, wicked and are always frightened, for their kids. They live for their children and they would die for them. Not everyone has this capacity to love! Gawri Shri, a Kashmiri Pandit, is one such mother who chose to stay back in the valley despite all the risks, to fulfil the wishes of her son Haidaynath Pandith.
The 83-year-old Gawri lives in Zaloora area of Sopore in north Kashmir. Behind the many ruins of the once flourishing Bhat Mohalla in Zaloora, Gawri’s house exists as an example of the legacy of Kashmiriyat. Both Pandits and Muslims in Kashmir have suffered a lot and Gawri, too, has lived a hard life.
In the 1990s when Pandits were being eliminated by militants in Kashmir, she relied on her Muslim friends, only. “Those days were fearful. The militants used to threaten us and they would take us with them but our Muslim brothers fought for us. I remember them requesting the militants not to harm us,” recalls Gawri.
In 2000, when normalcy returned in Kashmir, Gawri Shri was hopeful that it would knock at her door, too. She had almost forgotten what had befallen her and her community a decade ago. However, she says the fear and pain of the early 90s returned like a scary dream in 2008 after the Amarnath land row. Though Gawri speaks highly of her Kashmiri neighbours, she wishes she had left. She says she sacrificed a ‘better life’ just to be with her son.
Here is Gawri Shri sitting in her room as she cannot work anymore. The chill of the winter is unbearable now. So, she covers herself with blankets and hardly ever goes out.
Gawri Shri’s old house in which she had spent most of her life, during the 90s and after, until her younger son returned to Kashmir.
Haidaynath Pandith, the elder son of Gawri Shri, is a Sufi saint. He was the reason she had to stay in Kashmir as he was reluctant to leave.
Bita is the younger son of Gawri Shri. He returned with his wife and son from Jammu in 2000 and now works in the forest department in Kashmir.
Bita’s family – his wife and son, in the courtyard with a neighbour who is a devotee of Haidaynath.
Devotees throng village Zaloora of north Kashmir for his Haidaynath’s divine help to get cured.
Says Gowri,“The government has been sleeping over the issue of rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. If the Muslim community had not been there to help us, we would have not existed.”
Haidaynath doesn’t talk and mostly stares at things around him. His life changed when a saint, a Muslim from Kupwara, told Gawri Shri that her son was meant to help people, like doctors do.
Haidaynath is a chain-smoker. His devotees, aware of the fact, bring him cigarettes whenever they visit.
Gawri sits with her grandson, talking about his naughtiness, how much she loves him and is glad that he is there, close to her. “I wasn’t there when he was born but, now, at least, I can hold him and play with him.”