This is not a tale about ‘once upon a time’ it is a story set in the ‘here and now’. The hero of the story is Kabir who lives in Dinapur a prosperous village in central India. Dinapur is situated between the towns of Sonipet and Minarpur. Kabir has no surname, in fact he has no religion. No one knows whether he is a Muslim or a Hindu.
Dinapur has a masjid and a mandir which are next to each other, separated only by a narrow pathway. The Masjid is looked after by Mullah Hyder while the caretaker of the Mandir is Pandit Gopal Das. Many years ago, early one morning, the Mullah and the Pandit heard the cries of a little baby. They had gone out to investigate and found a three month old infant lying on the pathway crying away to glory. The Mullah and the Pandit looked at each other and then looked around.
“Whose child could this be?” the Pandit mumbled.
“Some unfortunate mother must have abandoned it?” the Mullah muttered.
“What do we do now?”
“I think we should give it refuge?”
“Yes, we cannot abandon it. After all it has been left on the door step of God.”
“But who is to take it?” asked the Pandit.
“Good question. We don’t even know whether he is a Muslim or a Hindu,” the Mullah said picking up the child and examining it carefully for any hints that would help him solve the mystery.
The two of them kept pondering over the issue for sometime.
Dinapur was a village well known for its unity. Hindus and Muslims were in equal number and lived together peacefully. During Diwali and Holi the Muslims joined the celebration with enthusiasm and during Id the Hindus never lagged behind in greeting their Muslim brothers.
Finally the Mullah said, “Panditji does it really matter whether he is a Muslim or a Hindu. He is the child of God and let us treat him as one.”
“You are absolutely right. He belongs to all of us. I think let us bring him up together. Let us also give him a name which is common to both religions.”
That is a good idea. Let us call him Kabir. After all no one knows the religion of Sant Kabir and he was equally loved by the Muslims and the Hindus.”
“Wonderful. I will teach Kabir all the Hindu scriptures,” the Pandit declared taking little Kabir in his arms.
“And I will teach him to recite the Koran Sharif,” the Mullah said.
And so Kabir grew up in the Masjid and the Mandir. If in the morning his breakfast would be the prasad in the temple, his lunch would be with the Mullah in the Mosque. One day he would sleep in the Masjid and the next day in the Mandir. Both the Mullah and the Pandit had no family and treated Kabir like their own son. He too had great love and respect for them. He learnt the Koran from the Mullah and the Bhagvad Gita from the Pandit. He would perform namaaz in the Masjid and puja in the mandir. The villagers too had accepted him as one of their own and being a fun loving child he was liked by all.
At the time when this story unfolds Kabir was a young lad of sixteen. He was tall and well built and a real asset to his guardians Chachu Mullah and Kaka Pandit. He would help them in maintaining the mosque and the temple. He would run errands for them and if any of them fell ill would tend to him like a son tending to his father. Every two months Kabir would be sent by his Chachu and Kaka to the town of Sonipet which was around thirty kilometres from Dinapur to pick up provisions and whatever else that was not available in the village.
Two days after Shivaratri, Kabir took the money from his Kaka and Chachu and went by bus to Sonipet. He finished his shopping and hitched a ride in a truck back to Dinapur. The truck dropped him on the main road, two kilometres away from the village. When he reached the outskirts of his village it was dark. In the horizon he could he could see a golden glow. Puzzled he quickened his steps. He saw a group of villagers running towards the main road. He recognised one of them and called out, “What happened Hariram? Where are you all going?”
Hariram came up to him panting. “Kabir, haven’t you a heard? Riots have broken out in Minarpur. It seems some Muslims burnt a bus full of pilgrims. The Hindus reacted immediately and attacked two Mosques in the town. An hour later our village was attacked by both Muslim and Hindu mobs. A few houses were burnt and some villagers hurt. The mobs then fought with each other for sometime and then left, possibly to return with reinforcements. It is not safe to be here. That is why we are leaving for Sonipet. It seems it is peaceful there.”
“I am coming from Sonipet and I had no idea about this madness. What about our Masjid and Mandir?”
“I think Mullah Haider and Panditji are still there.”
“Then I better rush,” Kabir said and started running.
“Wait, Kabir, don’t go there. Mandir and Masjid will be the first targets when the mobs return. It is madness to go back to the village.”
“I can’t leave my Chachu and Kaka in trouble, Hariram,” Kabir shouted and dumping the bags in his hand in a nearby bush he ran as fast as possible in the direction of the Mandir and Masjid.
When he reached the Masjid it was quite all around. The silence was eerie. The door was shut.
Kabir banged on the door. There was no response. He banged harder and shouted, “Chachu, it is me, Kabir.”
After a few agonising moments the door opened a few inches and Chachu poked his head out. Kabir had never seen him so scared.
“Kabir mian quickly come in,” he said dragging Kabir by his arm and shutting the door. Kabir followed him. In the courtyard he could see at least fifty women and children huddled together.
“What’s all this?”
Chachu sat down on a cot with his head in his hands. “I have been living in this village now for fifty years but I have never seen this kind of madness. Some of the men have been hurt, some have even joined the mob. Some have left to go and get help. I gathered as many children and women as I could and brought them here. Thank God beta you are safe, I was so worried.”
“How is Kaka?” Kabir asked.
“I have no idea,” Chachu said.
“I’ll go and have a look.”
“You stay put. If the fanatics return you will be chopped to pieces. At least inside the Masjid we are safe.”
“Then let me go and bring Kaka here?”
“Are you mad? If the Muslims come to know we have given shelter to a Hindu they’ll butcher all of us.”
“Then why are you giving me shelter? I too am not a Muslim?” Kabir said looking straight at Chachu.
“You are one of us,” Chachu replied avoiding Kabir’s gaze.
Kabir quietly got up and walked out of the Masjid.
He went next door to the Mandir. The story was almost the same except that there was no one else with him in the Mandir.
“Beta, I am so relieved that you are okay.”
“Kaka, why didn’t you leave?”
“How could I leave my bhagwan and go Kabir.”
“What if the mob comes back?”
“I’ll face it. I’ll die if I have to.”
“Chachu has given shelter to some women and children. In case Hindus attack the Masjid we will have to give them shelter in the temple.”
“We can’t Kabir. If Hindus come to know we have given shelter to the people who destroyed our temples in Minarpur they won’t spare us.”
“But Kaka I too am not a Hindu? You should drive me out of here.”
No, beta you are like my son, you are not a Muslim,” Kaka said.
Just then they could hear someone banging on the door.
“Open up, you infidel.”
“We know you are hiding like a rat inside.” They could hear several shouts.
Kabir sprang forward.
“What are you doing?” Kaka shouted holding his arm.
“Kaka, I have to face them. Or they will burn the temple.”
Wrenching his arm free he ran towards the door. He opened it and stepped out.
Outside it was quite dark. He could make out a crowd of more than twenty men. They had sticks, swords and daggers in their hands.
“Catch him and butcher the infidel.”
“Don’t leave the pig alone.”
“We’ll scatter his pieces in the mandir and then set fire to it.” The angry screams echoed in the still night air as the men surged forward.
“Wait.” Kabir shouted his voice rising above the din. “Will you butcher a man of your own community?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you a Muslim?”
“Of course I am.”
“He is lying.”
“I can prove it,” replied Kabir and slowly began reciting the ‘Surah Fateh’ from the Koran. Kabir had learnt the beautiful verse in praise of Allah, from Chachu. As he recited each word perfectly the crowd stepped back.
“Okay we are convinced you are Muslim. Now get out of the way and allow us to burn this place down.”
“I won’t allow it.”
“Why? You are a Muslim - this Mandir should hold no value for you.”
“It does. It is the abode of God, just like a Masjid.”
“Get out, or I’ll chop your head off,” shouted a tall and burly fellow advancing.
“You can’t kill me. I am not only a Muslim, my guardian is Mullah Hyder the mullah of the Masjid next door. If you shed my blood you will rot in hell.”
The men looked at each other uncertainly. “Come on, let us leave this madcap and look for some Hindu houses to destroy,” one of them snapped and the crowd turned and vanished.
Kabir went in and told Kaka what had transpired.
“My son, I will forever be grateful to you for saving my bhagwan and his abode.”
“Don’t forget Kaka, he is my bhagwan too,” Kabir said.
Ten minutes later carrying some provisions from the temple Kabir went to the masjid.
“Here Chachu I have got something for all of you to eat.” He then related to Chachu his encounter with the Muslim mob.
“Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram,” suddenly the still night air was shattered by strident cries. Chachu went to the window and tried to see through a crack in the pane.
He came back shaking with fear. “There are more than fifty Hindus with trishuls in their hands shouting and screaming. I think we are gone. They will cut all of us to pieces.”
Asking everyone to stay in the shadows Kabir opened the door and boldly stepped out.
“Kill the traitor, kill him.”
“You can’t kill me. I am a Hindu.”
“You coward, you are lying to protect your skin.”
Three pairs of hands grabbed him and a trishul was placed on his throat.
Kabir started chanting the Gayatri Mantra, which he had learnt from his Kaka. As his strong and clear voice rose above the din one by one his captors released him.
“Now get out of the way. We have come to destroy this Masjid. We will lay the foundation stone of a Mandir today itself. Jai Shri Ram.”
“I will not allow you to do it?”
“Why? If they can destroy our temples why shouldn’t we destroy their mosques?”
“Whether it is a mosque or a temple it is the abode of God and you can destroy it only over my dead body.”
“Then be prepared to die,” roared one of them.
“If you kill me you’ll land in hell. My guardian is Pandit Gopaldas, the priest of the temple.”
The attackers looked at each other. We can’t kill a high class Brahmin even if he is a supporter of Muslims,” one of them mumbled. They turned around and ran in search of another quarry screaming “Jai Shri Ram.”
By early next morning the police pickets had been posted in Dinapur and the residents had started returning to the village.
In the evening a meeting of all the important people in the village was called by Pandit Gopal Das and Mullah Hyder.
Pandit Gopal Das was the first to address the gathering. “Friends, what has happened in the last two days has been shocking. Our village has always been a symbol of unity. But this fabric of unity was destroyed by one single gust of communal breeze. We have always lived like brothers. But just in a few hours we became strangers and yes, in a few cases, even enemies. A handful of fanatics were ready to make us forget our years of love and bonding. In this hour of madness there was only one sane voice. And Hyder bhai will tell you about that voice.”
“Panditji is absolutely right. This madness that gripped the village did not spare even Panditj and me. We, who are servants of God, who are supposed to preach brotherhood and faith, started thinking in terms of Hindus and Muslims. Our Masjid and the Mandir would have been destroyed and the Hindus and Muslims would have lived and died like sworn enemies but for one person. He is not a sadhu or a mullah, he is not a leader or a dada. He is a sixteen year old boy who values our unity more than his life. His name, as you must have guessed, is Kabir.”
Mullah Hyder then went on to narrate the incidents of the previous night and how Kabir had risked his life to save the Masjid and the Mandir.
Mullah Hyder sat down. Panditji got up and started speaking. “I think Kabir has taught us a very important lesson. If we are united then no one can touch us. If Kabir alone could stand up to so many thugs just think had we all faced them together would they have been able to even touch our village? If we start thinking in terms of Hindus and Muslims then we are doomed. Every time there is a communal wave we will be swept away. Just as Sant Kabir brought together the Hindus and Muslims the modern Kabir too has shown us the path of unity. Now it is up to us to follow his example.”
The words of Mullah Hyder and Panditji left a lasting impression on the villagers. The Hindus and Muslims took a pledge to live like members of one family. Every attempt to create differences between the communities failed.
Today Dinapur is no more known as Dinapur it is called Ektapur - the abode of unity.