People who restored our faith in humanity!

“I am a Hindu but I was born in a house which taught us that no religion is greater than humanity. My Dada and Dadi were friends with the Nawab and the Rajmata of Rampur in the 40s. Dada even helped the Nawab in resettling the Sikh Community during Partition. I grew up witnessing the love that dadi gave to all communities and celebrating each festival with equal elan. And my Nani always had one thing to say, ‘There is no such thing as a Hindu or a Muslim, what matters is how you treat people.’ Such were the women who brought me up. It’s been many years since I lost both of them, but their teachings stayed with me. Over the years, I’d visit churches, shrines, and temples to pray for their souls. Last year in December, a few days after my Nani’s 16th death anniversary, I decided to visit Haji Ali to offer Chaddar in her memory. Although I had been to Haji Ali before, this time around, I felt lost. I walked up to one of the shops and asked, ‘Bhaiyya, dargah ke liye ek chaddar dena.’ The shop wale bhaiya helped me with the chaddar and even advised me to buy a few more items which I later learned were meant for offerings of the departed soul. It included a phoolon ka chaddar. He told me how I should start my prayers with ‘Bismillah’ and end by blowing air. He noticed my confusion on the same and without me asking the reason said, ‘This will ensure that the prayer reaches the person I am praying for.’ I was touched. He then even offered to send his assistant to accompany me to the shrine. I politely refused but his concern stayed with me. As I turned around, I heard him say ‘Allah aap ki Hifazat kare. Aapki saari dua qabool ho.’ I was so moved. I didn’t know this person at all. There was no need for him to help me, but he did! I had visited Haji Ali before but I never had such a surreal experience as the one I had that day. That day I felt the importance of what Nani had taught, ‘There is no such thing as a Hindu or a Muslim, what matters is how you treat people.’ As I went inside the Dargah and offered the Chaddar, I felt at peace. The kind of peace you feel that makes you feel at ease. I made dua for the souls of my grandmothers. I also made a small prayer for the shopkeeper and his well-being. As I stepped out, I felt lighter. That day, I fell in love with the diversity of my country and the incident reaffirmed my belief in humanity. It’s been over 2 months since this incident and now when I see the news about the hate being spread between the communities, my heart sinks. I keep thinking about that shop wale bhaiya from Haji Ali, the one who decided to help a lost stranger without asking if she was Hindu or Muslim. Hate only makes the heart heavy, we need to learn to let it go.”

“I was 5 when one night Papaji announced, ‘Kal subah jaldi nikal jayenge!’ I was scared. I didn’t want to leave…Pakistan was my home– my school was there; all my friends were here. But we had no choice. The next morning as we prepared to leave, we heard a commotion outside. We were under attack...Papaji looked nervous and Beji hugged me and my brother tight. Just then, our neighbour Chacha, a Muslim man came to our rescue. He said, ‘No one will harm me. Aap mere ghar aa jao.’ So we took refuge at Chacha’s house. And in the evening, Chacha ensured we reached the train station safely. Before leaving, I hugged him. I didn’t want to go but Chacha looked at me and said, ‘Nahi jaoge toh nahi bachoge. Inshallah phir jald mulakat hogi!’ We boarded the train and left our home behind. We managed to reach Amritsar and start afresh. But when I had a family of my own, it would pinch me to think that my children would never know where I came from. So, when my first born turned 5, I proposed the idea of revisiting our home back in Pakistan to my brother; he agreed. We played office-office for a month and signed a lot of documents but soon, my family and I were on a train to Lahore. I can never put into words how I felt upon returning! Our movement was restricted, but walking the streets that I ran as a kid was overwhelming. Each nook and corner had witnessed my childhood. And I broke down seeing my home– it looked the same, but felt different. There was a new family living there. I tried asking around for Chacha and my friends but no one had a clue…I never saw any of them again. That 5 year old scared kid has today, made it safely to his 80s because Chacha, a muslim man, decided to put humanity before religion.”

“It was a Sunday– our kirana shop was closed and my parents had gone to the market. Dukaan me Daddyji ki jaan basti thi– he had invested all his life savings and even taken a loan to build it. Within half an hour, Daddyji got a call from one of his friends– ‘Tere Dukaan me aag lag gayi hai!’ Mummy broke down, Daddyji panicked and rushed to our shop. By then, the fire brigade had arrived. My father couldn't bear to see his shop being burnt to ashes– he fell unconscious. It took over three hours for the fire to be put out. By then, it had spread to our house which was adjacent to the shop. We suffered a loss of 15 lakhs. My parents were devastated. Mummy would cry all day– ‘Sab kuch barbad ho gaya. Kya karenge ab?’ I’d reassure them– ‘Main kuch na kuch kar lunga, daro mat,’ but I didn't know what to do. At the time, I was working in Chandigarh– I would exhaust my salary on rent and food; paying our loan installments seemed impossible. I helped my parents move in with our relatives and a week later, came back to Chandigarh. But I wasn’t able to focus on work. I contacted every NGOs in my locality, my parents spoke to a few politicians but nothing worked. One day, I got so stressed that I broke down in front of my colleagues and told them everything. Many of them offered to help me out financially but I was hesitant to accept– how would I repay them? To that, they said, ‘What’s the point of having friends if we can't help each other in difficult times?” Even my school and college friends were keen on chipping in. Within half an hour, 10 of my friends gathered their savings and sent about 2.5 lakhs to my account. I started crying and thanked them. When I told Daddyji, his only question was, ‘Karza lautanege kaise?’ I convinced him to take the money by assuring that I’d repay the loan amount bit by bit. With the money, we renovated our shop and gradually got back on our feet. It’s been two years since and not once have my friends asked me to return their money. A few months ago, I started a business and was in a position to repay them. I told them that I’d return their money soon. Their reply was– ‘Koi nahi yaar, think of it as a new gift for your new life,' and another one said, 'Kakke tu mast reh bas.’ I was speechless again. I plan to repay their money in installments, but there are some things that you just can’t put a price tag on. A lot of people think that the world is going to shit, but I wanted to put it out there that humanity, relationships and friendships are still very much alive and that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.”

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