Arzan Kakh

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Pandits left and kept their keys with Muslims. Pandits who stayed back died and were cremated by Muslims. This all is reported already. But Saqib Mir tells the amazing story of Nissar, a man who took care of a family comprising an old mother and her son. He mourned their death and inherited their small assets, years after they had adopted him as their only heir

Arzan Nath’s only major asset, his home, was inherited by a Muslim boy who was his only heir. KL Image: Saqib Mir

On way to Pahalgam, the picnic spot, there is Seer, 12 kilometres from Islamabad. In its Kralpur mohalla is situated a two storied old desolate house surrounded by a newly constructed concrete wall on its two sides. Behind a few trees, there is vegetation in its back yard. A newly constructed single-storied house is visible. The courtyard has a wooden, old fashioned grain house and a cowshed, located side by side. The gate, now rusted, is shared by both the houses. A silent stream flows calmly along the walled portion of this courtyard.

The rundown house was home to Arzan Nath Raina and his mother Prabavati Devi. He was an employee in J&K Fire and Emergency department and his mother was a home-maker. Raina was her only child. Raina was deeply religious and did not marry.

Just at a stone’s throw lives Abdul Rehman Wagay who has two sons. Nissar, his elder son, married and constructed his own house. Rehman lives with his younger son Hameed and his family.

Rainas’ and Wagays’ were neighbours and friends, a relation that spanned decades. Their faiths hardly mattered in their routines. They were part of happy and sad moments of each other, shared food and trusted each other.

But Arzan Nath was popular and respected. Not only Rehman’s family but the entire village would call Raina: Arzan Touth (Arzan the dear) or  Arzan Kakh (usually a reference to an elder uncle).

“As I started staying even during nights with Rainas’, Devi told her son to purchase a copy of the Koran and a praying mat for me and Raina did the same” Nissar said. “When the Muezzin would call for Fajr, the dawn prayers, Devi would knock the door of my room and wake me up for prayers.”

Before 1990, Kashmiri Pandits lived happily with Muslim. Conflict changed everything. Most of the Pandits migrated.  Seer was also impacted. Residents said their Hindu neighbours left their ancestral village during nights without informing them. Quite a few families stayed back. One of them was Rainas’.

“Every morning, we visited Rainas’ and were not only surprised but happy to see them present in their home,” Nissar Wagay said. “When all others left, we had the apprehension that they too would leave someday.” Even Raina was shocked over the mass migration of his community from the village.

As guns continued roaring and newspaper front pages were literally drenched in blood on daily basis, Raina’s aged mother had only one thing on her mind: safety of her son. Devi always used to put on Hijab and would hardly venture out of her home. Her only concern was: After her death how will Arzan Nath manage the household chores?

Residents said the mass migration added to their insecurity. Soon, they started feeling lonely and insecure. One day, Devi approached Wagays’. She asked them to permit Nissar live with them. They permitted.

“As I started staying even during nights with Rainas’, Devi told her son to purchase a copy of the Koran and a praying mat for me and Raina did the same” Nissar said. “When the Muezzin would call for Fajr, the dawn prayers, Devi would knock the door of my room and wake me up for prayers.”

Already frail and weak, with the passage of time Devi grew older and became bed ridden. “One day, she called my father to her house. She asked him to give his hand into Raina’s hand and promise that he, his family and particularly me would continue to visit their home and take care of Raina after her death” Nissar remembers, every single word, even today.

In 1993, Devi breathed her last leaving behind Arzan Nath. After her death Nissar continued to visit Raina’s home as usual. In 1996, Raina retired from his service.

Nissar Ahmad

By then, Nissar got a job in the forest department as a casual labourer and was posted in a nearby forest in his own village. Nissar’s day began with preparing tea for Raina and himself. After breakfast, Nissar would cook food for lunch. Then he would leave for attending his duty. After returning from his duty he would straight way go to Raina’s house and would prepare afternoon tea for Arzan Kakh.

“Besides cooking food and making tea I would help Raina in doing house hold chores,” Nissar said. “I would even help make his bedding.”

Nissar was grown-up and still bachelor. As the hunt for his bride started, it was not his father but Arzan Nath succeeded in getting a suitable match for Nissar. “Raina bore almost all the expenses of Nissar’s marriage,” Hameed, Nissar’s brother, said. “He even bought golden jewellery for his bride.”

“The death of Arzan Touth came as a blow to our family particularly to Nissar. We, abandoned cooking food in our house and our neighbours fed us for three days of mourning,” Hameed said. Muslims are ordained to mourn a death for three days.

Time elapsed and Raina felt weak and old. One day, he summoned Nissar and his family, especially for something very important: He announced his decision of transferring his property to Nissar because he had no heirs. His assets included 32 marlas (20 marlas make a kanal) of land, two storied old house, walnut trees and a paddy store.

“Transfer of property to Nissar was really a right decision taken by Raina because Nissar had taken every care of him throughout,” Kashmiri Pandit Soamnath, 80, one of the few other Pandits, who stayed put in the village, said. He is himself very respected in the village and is perhaps the only practising Hakeem in the belt, who still treats people.

By the year 2010, Raina had grown older and become physically weak. His eye sight was so weak that he was unable to move around without help. As Wagays’ felt Raina needed more care and attention, they shifted him to their home.

“He lived with us for about a year and we nursed him,” Hameed said. “For his failed eyesight, we insisted him that we will take him to some hospital in Chandigarh for the treatment but he refuses and preferred a treatment in Kashmir.” He died in the home of Wagays’ on March 10, 2011. He was around 75.

“It was a death in the family and we mourned that like that” Hameed said.  Arzan Kakh’s death spread like wild fire in the area and within no time the entire village, mostly Muslims and those Pandit families, who had stayed back, assembled. There were school children as well.

“When Raina was carried in the coffin towards cremation ground, Muslims jostled so that they can give it a shoulder” Hameed remembers the scene vividly. Muslims carried firewood to the cremation ground. “He had willed that his ashes should be immersed in Lidder that flows nearby and we fulfilled his will.”

Wagays received the condolences and the mourning was for a few days. People from all walks of life visited Rehman’s house to express their sympathies. “The death of Arzan Touth came as a blow to our family particularly to Nissar. We, abandoned cooking food in our house and our neighbours fed us for three days of mourning,” Hameed said. Muslims are ordained to mourn a death for three days.

A few years back Nissar constructed a single story house in the backyard of Raina’s old house and is living there with his wife. “I do not want to dismantle this old house which belonged to Arzan Touth because a lot of my sweet memories are connected to this humble house” Nissar said while looking at the old house.

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