With the Taliban takeover once again making analysts predict a speculative storm, a bygone Afghan arrival had only touched countless lives in Kashmir.
At the foothills of the Chinar-dotted postcard peak in Bandipora’s Chekreshpora village, a saint’s school, sanctum, seminary and shrine are speaking about Kashmir’s spiritual Afghan legacy.
The sacred signposts defy the treacherous Afghan rule (1752–1819) — whose kings and knights arrived in Kashmir by instilling dread in the dead.
The saint from Khorasan came as a young Afghan in the backdrop of the bloody partition confining people to new cartographic lines. He forever found a home in Kashmir.
Back then, Kausar Ali Shah Afghani had just arrived as a visitor whose platonic vision got burnished during his Kashmir stay. He went to Srinagar and Anantnag, before making Bandipora—known for its Alim, Adab, Aab—as his home. The village he changed now bears his name: Kausarabad.
The saint’s legacy is today intact in the form of a three-storey school building.
“There was a small masjid during his arrival in our village,” says Abdul Ahad, a villager who knew the saint during his lifetime. “He wanted to uplift people and for that, he started a school and seminary where kids were taught science and religious teachings.”This random Afghani’s arrival did alter the educational scenario of the grassroots then grappling with the political tumult triggered by the plebiscite movement involving masses in the valley. His contributions find mention in many chronicles.
In her small memoir about the saint, Fozia S. Qazi, a noted mathematician, artist and photographer of Kashmir, writes, “Kausar Sahib was an Afghan mystic who made Kashmir his home.”
The saint had performed Haj on foot and then travelled to Kashmir, she notes.
“My paternal grandfather met him in the Jamia mosque in Islamabad and brought him home where he lived for more than a year. He eventually settled down in a small village just outside of Bandipora and spent his days there meditating.”
One of the first things this Muslim Afghan did, when he arrived in the then-remote village, was to open a school, Qazi writes.
“A co-educational school that I watched grow from two-rooms to a 3-storey government-recognized high school where hundreds of children got an education. He built this school before he built a mosque.”
As a popular godman, Ahad continues, Kausar Shah would ask anyone approaching him for amulets to offer five-time prayer.
“He would assure everyone saying, Allah Khair Kare,” the village elder recalls. “He was an illiterate person but he had the capability to read and understand the holy Quran. He himself studied Islamic lessons in his Islamia Kausariya School.”
Since the school runs on public funds, it provides free education to poor kids besides giving them free uniforms and books. The idea, says Mohammad Akram, the incumbent school chairman, is to provide every sort of assistance to the needy kids.
“Kausar Sahab’s disciples donate to the trust, on which the school, seminary, shrine and sanctum runs,” the chairman says.The saint’s school has changed many lives around Bandipora by producing a good number of doctors, engineers, public servants, teachers and other professionals.
“During my school days, this school was at its peak,” says Dr Ather Ahmad, an alumnus of the saint’s school. “Apart from science and Islamic education, the school used to teach us etiquettes of life. It shaped my worldview. Kausar Sahib ensured that his school lives by the motto — enter to learn and leave to serve.”
Outside the campus, the saint’s conduct was equally compassionate.
During his times, when Bandipora was reeling under darkness, Kausar Shah was the only person to be given the electricity facility. “But being a man of principles, he accepted it only after lighting up the whole area,” Ahad says.
Most of these legends are now making many nostalgic about the unassuming Afghani who found a spiritual home in the mountains. “Whatever I’m today,” says Mohammed Maqsood, “it’s only because of the Kausar Sahib’s efforts.”
Some of the saint’s students are today staffers in his school. Among them is Maqsood.
“The school was founded in 1969 on the secular lines,” he says. “Kausar Sahib had a huge library where people used to donate every type of book. But unfortunately, the library rose up in flames in the year 1992.”
But 12 years before that incident, the saint at the age of 86 had breathed his last, leaving behind what his students call a “shimmering legacy” which continues to inspire.During his lifetime, it’s said, Kausar Shah never married but had two Man Fridays — late Haji Mohammed Maqbool and Haji Abdul Salaam Jan. Maqbool was an army man who devoted his life in service of the saint after his retirement.
“Kausar Sahib loved his students and never allowed any teacher to beat them,” says Mushtaq Bhat, his former student. “He would call students and distribute sweets among them.”
Those who know the saint are either making rounds of his school as a mark of respect, or write about his legend.
“Some of my favourite childhood memories are of our visits to see him, plucking the various fruits found in the orchard surrounding his small dwelling and drinking the ice-cold water from its spring,” writes Fozia S. Qazi.
“He would greet my brother and me affectionately and would, within minutes, smilingly motion us towards the fruit trees, knowing that our attention was fixated on the juicy apples and pears.”