Ludhiana is where the heart still beats, simple tales of humanity and brotherhood

Recently I read about a heart-warming story from my birthplace Ludhiana (Punjab) about Sikh residents of village Hedon Bet who refuse to let anyone demolish the 100 year old Mosque in their village despite having no Muslim residents. The village elders stated that the Mosque is the house of God and no one has the right to demolish it. An old man quipped, “If any Muslim brothers happen to come through here, they can pray and visit the Mosque, and we will invite them into our home and serve them food.”

composite culture

There are similar stories of Sikhs in Ludhiana building a mosque for the two Muslim families who lived in their village Sawarpur and of them sitting down with the families to break Ramzan fast, Sikh and Muslim residents coming together to renovate a Mosque in Malla village, and Sikhs in another village donating land to build a Mosque.

Ludhiana is Punjab’s largest city and is one of the best cities to do business in.I lived in Ludhiana for 15 years and I grew up with a complete sense of communal harmony all around. The people of Ludhiana are hardworking, creative, resilient, and they cherish their brotherhood. As an artist, I have witnessed the rich culture which is an amalgamation of Sufism, shayari, ghazals, Punjabi poetry, folk songs and dances.

The city has been witnessing a folk revival in the past year with initiatives like Jeevay Punjabwhich provides a platform to folk performers keeping away from political and religious differences. Founded by Kumar Saurabh, Inderpreet Singh, and Harnoor Singh, Jeevay Punjab promotes quality poetry and music in an eclectic manner. When Sabrang India talked to Kumar Saurabh about the inclusivity of their platform, he commented, “When we talk about Jeevay Punjab, we are referring to the ‘entire’ Punjab and its art forms, be it in India or Pakistan. Majority of our viewers on YouTube are Pakistani Punjabis. Our platform started in Ludhiana with small audiences and now we’re doing shows that accommodate 700-800 audience in cities like Chandigarh and Delhi, besides Ludhiana. We have always made a conscious effort to showcase artists from all communities. Some of our Muslim artists are most beloved by the audiences which is also composed of people from all religions. One of the artists, Adil Khan from the Patiala Gharana, plays the sarangi beautifully.UstadJohar Ali Khan, the famous violinist, has also performed for us and lent his support. We promote the celebrated artists along with the young budding talent from the Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu communities. This is how communal harmony grows in the culture, through art.”

To truly illustrate the beauty and harmony of Ludhiana, Sabrang India spoke to young residents from the city about stories from their daily lives. Nusrat* was born in a village near Jammu and came to Ludhiana a year ago to pursue higher studies. She told us the story of her first day at college, “I was nervous as I didn’t know how my classmates and teachers would react to my Hijab. Just as I entered class, I spotted a Sikh girl wearing a Turban and dupatta on her head. I immediately went and sat next to her. I have formed such a nice friendship with her. I am happy to see that as different as our religions are, we are both strong and pious girls wearing our religious clothing by our choice.” She also narrated a recent incident that moved her to tears, “After the Article 370 abrogation, I lost touch with my family for many days. I was sitting in canteen with red eyes. Two senior boys I hadn’t even talked to, came to me, gave me a chocolate and told me it’s my Rakhi gift. They saidthey are my big brothers and I should not cry,everything will be okay. At such a time when I used to cry every day thinking of my family, they made me smile.”

Madan Kumar (35) works in a garment store in the Chaura Bazar area of Ludhiana. He migrated there from his birthplace in UP when he was 15. He recounted the different experiences from his native village and Ludhiana, “The situation in my village was very different. We had separate neighborhoods where Muslims lived. Elders would tell us children to not venture into their area. I was scared. When I came to Ludhiana, I made friends with a Muslim boy who was training to be a tailor. He shared his meals with me and he was the one who got me my first job in a garment shop.I learned to speak good Punjabi there. Then I joined this job in main market 10 years ago and lost touch with him, but I always remember how he would call me by shouting ‘Chhotey!’ (a reference to his short height) and hand over his tiffin. I have put both my children in a good school now and I teach them to always share their food.”

Mohammad Ali, a 27 year oldwriter who has been a lifelong resident of Samrala, Ludhiana district, has a wonderful story of friendship transcending religion which he shared with Sabrang India. Mohammad, who works for Jag Bani newspaper, recounts how his group of friends supported each other through thick and thin, “We were working in another newspaper earlier and my friend was pushed out due to office politics. Our group supported him and helped him find this new job at Jag Bani where I have also shifted. We go out for dinners every 3-4 days and we have pure vegetarians and non-vegetarians eating comfortably next to each other on the same table. The question of religion has never even come up in my entire life here. My cousins from other cities of India tell me about how people are insensitive to them, and I feel bad. In my Punjab, my Samrala, we are all so mixed with each other, we don’t even remember religion is there.”

Where vested political agendas are using divisive tactics to cause communal disturbances, these stories of ordinary people in Ludhiana can not only pull at our heart-strings but also act as an inspiration. Prayers and practices may change, but the faith and love preached by all religions is the same. As Rumi wrote, “All religions. All this singing. One song. Peace be with you.”
*name changed to protect privacy

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