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SOCIETY

Breath of fresh air

RAHUL CHANDAWARKAR

In an environment being vitiated by religious intolerance, the Sankhla family of Jodhpur is a shining example of communal harmony.



CARETAKERS FOR GENeRATIONS: The Sankhla family.

WHEN you see the bindi-sporting Kiran Sankhla bending down and cleaning the floor in Khwaja Farasat's dargah in Jodhpur, you stop dead in your tracks.

What on earth is a Hindu lady doing inside a Muslim shrine? Her husband, Om Dutta Sankhla, a retired government veterinarian, provides the answer. Sankhla explains how his family of chaste Brahmins have been caretakers of this important Muslim shrine for centuries. A breath of fresh air, considering that the country's environment is being vitiated every day with increasing doses of religious intolerance, courtesy unscrupulous politicians.

Historical background

According to Sankhla, Khwaja Farasat, a Sufi saint was minister in the darbar of Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur (1638-78). After his demise, the Sufi saint was buried with full military honours at his present resting place at Chandpol Darwaza on the outskirts of Jodhpur. Sankhla's forefathers purchased a plot of land opposite the dargah in 1727. Several generations of Sankhlas have continued to live on the same property.

Says Sankhla, "There used to be a large fruit farm next to the dargah called Mia Ka Bagh. The dargah was popular among travelling fakirs (religious mendicants). Our family always gave food and water to these travelling fakirs. However, as there was nobody to look after the dargah, my forefathers decided to do so. My ancestors cleaned and mopped the dargah every day. We are simply following this family tradition."

A couple of years ago, the Sankhla family motivated the pre-dominantly Hindu neighbourhood to contribute several thousand rupees to get the dargah painted. And during Diwali last year, they spent even more money in replacing the entire flooring and renovating the steps to the dargah. "The place looks very clean and attractive now," says Sankhla with visible satisfaction.

According to Sankhla, the place is frequented today not just by Muslims, but also by people from all faiths. "Newly married couples come here seeking the Khwaja's blessings. Mothers come seeking success for their children and sometime back, a group of Pakistani citizens also visited the dargah," says Sankhla.

Stories of the saint

Sankhla attributes his family's present state of happiness to the Khwaja's blessings. "I have been serving the dargah since I was a small boy. I have regularly cleaned and swept the floors. The Khwaja has blessed my family. I became a veterinarian, all my children are doing well in their chosen professions," he says.

Says Sankhla's wife, Kiran, "Logon ko pareshani ho, tho daud ke aate hain (People come here, when they have worries and tension). The Khwaja never disappoints anybody. He responds to all requests."

Om Dutta Sankhla never tires from narrating anecdotes about the dargah. According to the retired veterinarian, Khwaja Farasat, never disappoints visitors who come to him with a prayer on their lips and a wish in their hearts. Says Sankhla, "So many years after his death, the Sufi saint's magical powers seem to be intact. Some time back, an air force officer came and begged the Khwaja to ensure that his children get admission into medical college. A few months ago, the air force officer returned to give us the good news. His wishes had been fulfilled. His children, now study in a medical college in Kerala."

Inner strength

Sankhla also remembers a solitary visitor from Pakistan a few months ago. Says little Kunal Parihar (14), a class IX student of the Adarsh Vidyamandir in Jodhpur, "I always visit the dargah during my examinations. I get peace of mind." While my taxi driver, Nadeem Mohammed, says, "Though I live far away from the dargah, I try and visit it as often as possible. The Khwaja gives me a lot of inner strength."

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