The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Festival here, wistful looks from Pakistan

Chamlayal (India-Pakistan border), June 26: The Pakistani Rangers officer and his pre-teen daughter say they can’t wait for the day when the border would be opened so they can walk across.

But unlike with most families in divided Kashmir, it’s not about meeting long lost relatives.

All that Colonel Najeeb, sector commander of the Rangers’ Chenab unit, and little Qayinat want is to pray at the shrine of a Hindu saint less than 200 metres across this frontier in Jammu. It’s a wish they share with thousands of their countrymen.

Every fourth Thursday in June, on the Indian side, thousands of Baba Chamlayal’s followers gather at the annual fair and collect the paste of holy sharbat (water) and shakkar (soil) that they believe is a miracle cure for skin diseases.

And every year, hundreds of Pakistanis put on their best dresses, throng the border, and stand in the blazing heat staring wistfully at the bustle and din on the Indian side.

They are not left out of it altogether. A long line of BSF trolleys shuttle to and fro, between the shrine and the border, delivering to the Pakistanis their share of the magic paste.

Barred they may be from attending, but the Pakistani crowd of onlookers is no less integral than the Indian pilgrims to this annual trans-border fair that has survived the wars and border stand-offs.

From behind the barriers, the Pakistani Rangers, led by Col Najeeb, hand the BSF a chadar covered with Urdu writing, to be offered to the Baba.

“One day we’ll be able to cross over and offer the chadar with our own hands,” he says. “It isn’t just me ' the entire population of our villages wants to take part in the fair. Inshallah, that dream will come true.”

BSF deputy inspector-general G.S. Virk shares his optimism. “The shrine has brought us close and I hope the bonds will grow. We are enjoying a quiet on the borders.”

Najeeb’s three children are excited and want to cross over immediately. They are told gently that one day they would be able to do that. “I watch all the movies of Shah Rukh Khan,” says Qayinat. “Indian movies are good, and the songs are good, too.”

Like most of the Pakistanis, she has a complaint. The earthen barrier set up by their government blocks a clear view of the celebrations at the shrine, where the Indians are dancing and singing paeans to the Baba.

The saint, whose real name was Daleep Singh Manhas, was believed to possess magical powers. He would bless devotees and hand them a paste that cured their skin diseases.

When jealous rivals got him murdered, legend has it that a well appeared where the Baba’s head dropped to the ground. Water from that well is the sharbat that goes into the miracle cure, and the shakkar is the soil that was stained with the Baba’s blood.

Romesh Verma of Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, said he had skin disease that turned parts of his body white. “I went to many doctors, but they couldn’t cure it. Three years ago, I came here and took away the paste. Now at least half of my skin has regained its original colour.”

The Pakistanis, too, have built a shrine to the Baba but the shakkar and sharbat is available only on the Indian site. When the BSF delivers the paste to them, the Pakistanis accept it with folded hands just like the Indians.

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