Monday, April 19, 2010

The Last Kashmiri Beggar

Khandaaro! A voice would be recognized by every household in Kashmir some two decades ago. It was a voice of a beggar. Many beggars would come to our locality to collect alms.
They had all names. The residents would call one Koull, (dumb) as he was seldom entering into any conversation after raising the first cry of Khandaaro. Other was Safida. He was called Safida because his complexion was fair.
Other one was called Motta because he was fat. They knew the residents, by names. Even they knew the children of the area. The residents were also familiar with them.
If on due date Safida would not turn up, the residents would try to seek information about his well being from Koul or Motta, whosoever comes first. The concern of residents about them was genuine.
The beggars were part of Kashmiri culture, if I am not offending anyone. They were part of my childhood as well. I have seen them. Joked with them, teased them, and conversed with them except koull. They were part of us. Nay, they were us. There was no Us verses Them between Us. There was dignity in their begging. And I have not come across an incident where the beggars in those days were given long lecture about the wrongs of begging.
Safida, Motta, Koull however were aged and graceful too. Taking whatever was given to them gracefully. They would inquire about the well being of children, aged and move on.
But over the years Safida, Koull or Motta have been replaced by new breed of beggars. Most of them non-locals. I should say entry of non-local beggar in our house terrifies us. The wedge between them and Us is so deep as it is between India and Pakistan. They alms giver and taker are suspicious of each other. They are they. And we are us. It always Us verses Them. We want they should leave our home as quick as possible even though they seek alms in name of God.
The killing of Habibullah khan in the Handwara forest by the Army had shock for me. His age was 70 years. And he was beggar. The photo of hid body reminded me of all those faces of childhood who were part me. I don’t know fate of beggars of our locality. Perhaps they might have confronted same fate as that of Khan. Who knows?
Some three years ago there was protest in Abiguzar. The residents said Darwaish (ascetic) of the area was killed by the security forces in the den of night. The women shouted slogans. So did the men against the killing of the man who had harmed no one. And after protest they returned to their homes dejected and frustrated. They were even weeping. No one in the area knew from which part of Kashmir the Darwish had come. But over the years he had become part of the locality. He would sit on roadside, the women of the area would provide him food. The nights he would spend in mosque, on roadsides, and at times he would knock at the gate of any house, and the family would feel blessed that he has to be his host for night.

Like all ascetics, he was owned by the Mohallawalas.They lost him. So did the number of other localities. Over the years in the evening these ascetics were seen roaming in localities and in the morning their bodies were found. Like Habibullah Khan of Dewar Lolab valley.
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