Work and other things have been making me lazy enough not to upload stuff on this space. This piece has been long overdue.
It was a pleasant February afternoon. I had just finished my lunch and was sitting under the mess (hostel). Medhavini walked up to me with a newspaper cutting from the Hindi paper Hindustaan. She had carried this story from back home (Sitapur) and now wanted it me to post on my blog so that more people from this space get to know it. I appreciate this effort of hers. So here goes the story...
Lucknow, 23rd December 2010
At the look of it, it seemed that the Akhara at the Alambagh area of Lucknow was gearing up for some procession, some fair or some wrestling championship. That's what Akharas are used for- wrestling or Kushti. But this one had a different story. On the contrary, it was gearing up for a day to celebrate PEACE.
Lucknow is the capital of the same state which has witnessed Babri Masjid which led to riots accross the country. In a time when we are still thinking about the recent Court verdicts on the Babri issue and the Godhra case, this akhara comes accross as a special space. The story goes back to 25 years.
Jaykaran, a Hindu farmer's son lived in the Bhilawa area of Alambagh area. He had started learning wrestling or Kushti as a part of his family tradition. At the akhara, Jaykaran became friends with Usman Khan, who was the son of Lucknow's renowned wrestler Nanhe Khalifa. They practiced kushti together at this very akhara. Then came, Sardar Kanwarjeet Singh, their third friend into picture. Singh was a not a wrestler himself. His family had shifted to Lucknow in 1947 during the partition. This bearded Sikh used to serve lassi to the wrestlers at the akhara.
Over a period of time, these three became very good friends, irrespective of their different religious backgrounds. In the time of communal differences, the friendship of Jaykaran, Usman Khan and Sardar Kanwarjeet was like straight out of some work of fiction.
But in December 1983, Sardar Kanwarjeet passed away. This untimely death of Sardar Kanwarjeet, left a deep impact on Jaykaran and Usman Khan. They couldn't get over the news. Over a period of time, this sad news affected their health, and both Jaykaran and Usman Khan passed away soon.
In the memory of their friendship, the akhara started organising a function every year since 1984. In this great example of communal unity, there was no representative of Christianity. Therefore, it was decided that this function would be organised every year on Christmas, the 25th of December.
This year the celebration of their friendship completes 25 years. Many people attended the function on Christmas of 2010. Sardar Kanwarjeet Singh's son Tejpal Singh Kohli, Jaykaran's son Dr. Desh Deepak and Usman Khan's son Taj Moahammad have been working hard together to keep this 'celebration' going.
They don't take any corporate sponsors or funds from the government. They collect funds from the people in the form of donations (chanda) to keep it going. The soil on the akhara is changed with these funds and a wrestling competition is organised. Many pehelwans or wrestlers from accross the country come to take part in this competition.
During the crisis
This annual 'celebration' at the akhara has always helped people come together during communal riots or tougher times. When it was organised for the first time, it was just 2 months after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assasinated and the anti-Sikh riots were going on. But the organisers went ahead this, and this helped to a big extent in promoting peace.
In 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished, the then DM-SP of Lucknow did not allow the function to be organised, because of the communal riots in the country. But the organisers convinced the authorities, and went ahead with it. That year, the 'celebration' was very successful, and brought many people together. That event at the akhara in 1992, is still considered to be one of the best examples of communal unity in Lucknow.
Thanks Medhavini for getting this story to us. In this era, when politicians are hypocrites of the highest order, it is important for WE, the people, to respect each other as human-beings first, and let our religion, community and nation take a BACK seat.
May Jaykaran's, Usman Khan's and Sardar Kanwarjeet Singh's souls rest in peace.
Congratulating the organisers on the silver jubilee of this beautiful 'celebration' of communal unity.
(The story was originally published in Hindustaan, Sitapur edition, on 23 rd Decemer, 2010. Covered by Dayashankar Shukla Sagar. Medhavini Yadav is a batchmate of mine, studying PG Textile Design, at the National Istitute of Design.) (c) K. Harish Singh 2011