By Yusra Khan
It is not just a building made of bricks and cement. For him, the school is a monument of dreams– an edifice of the aspirations of Kashmiri Pandits, which he has been preserving for last sixteen years. The only regret that 72-year old Ghulam Mohammad Malik holds now is that his Pandit brethren never looked back after they left the Valley.
Malik, a retired teacher became the care taker of Vidya Bhawan, a school started by a trust run by Kashmiri Pandits at Khankah-e-Sokhta in Nawa-Kadal in down town area of Srinagar, before the community left the Valley.
The school was established by the ‘Rupa-Bhawani Trust’ in 1959, in the memory of a poet who lived in the same area. After the community left Kashmir Valley in the 1990, the school was abandoned, more so after its last Principal Shiela Kour died. As the registration of the school was cancelled by the government, Malik, using his own savings, got the school registered and renovated it.
“I spent my own money to renovate the building and still pay a monthly rent to the trust for it. My daughter helped me a lot to rebuild the school,” he said.
The name ‘Vidhya Bhawan’ means a temple of knowledge, a place where children come to enlighten and educate themselves, Malik said, adding at one point of time he even thought of renaming the school. “I gave up the idea as I thought the name is perfect for the school. The institution was established by Pandits and it belongs to them. I feel bad that Pandits never visited the mandir or the school. The place belongs to them. It is theirs …I am only a care taker.”
When the minority community was allegedly hounded out of the Valley, a large section of Pandits accused that they were forced to leave by Muslims. Although a different school of thought attributes the exodus to the ongoing politics in the state then. “Kashmir witnessed communal division in 90’s and was ruined. Pandits blame us for their banishment in the valley but we never forced them to leave the state. It was their own decision,” Malik said.
In the “happy” days, the school had strength of over 1,200 students but then it dropped and slowly and slowly the school was reduced to an empty building. When Malik took over the school after his retirement, the institute had only 23 students. Malik claims to have increased the roll to 103 today.
Besides this, Malik takes care of a temple, which is housed inside the school. “When I started to run the school, I didn’t renovate the temple. But a couple of years back, a Hindu lady visited the temple and felt sad after seeing its condition. Only then I decided to rebuild it,” Malik said.
A new Shivlingam stands on the white tiled floor in the temple, surrounded by different idols, lamps and joss sticks. “We bought the shivlingam from Allahabad and last year the principal got the idols from Delhi. We decorated and maintained it like our home,” Shameema, the caretaker of the mandir, said.