KARACHI: The Muslim saints of Subcontinent left an indelible mark on the culture and attitudes of the people of South Asia. Due to their message of universal love and humanity, they were cherished and revered not only by Muslims but also adherents of other religions.
Even today, many non-Muslims are devoted to Muslim saints, revering them as much as their Muslim devotees. Ishwar Das, a grocery shop owner belonging to the Hindu community in Bhit Shah, is one such person. He is a devotee of Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and is often seen at his shrine, trying to facilitate visitors in whatever manner possible.
At times, he is seen collecting the shoes of devotees outside the shrine. Often, he is pouring water in glasses to help visitors quench their thirst at the main gate of the shrine.
"There is no better sight than seeing a Hindu devotee of the great Sufi serving visitors at his shrine," said Khuda Dino, a Hala resident who visits Bhittai's shrine on a regular basis.
According to Dino, it is Das's spiritual relationship with Bhittai that has compelled him to serve at his shrine for the past 20 years at least.
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As soon as devotees cross the alley to reach the main entrance, they have to take off their shoes outside the compound of the shrine. Earlier, visitors had to pay Rs10 for the safe keeping of their shoes, however, now when people take out money from their pockets, they are told that a Hindu devotee of Bhittai has already paid for it.
"You just deposit your shoes and take them from us when your return," Ahmed, a devotee, said, adding that Sain (Das) has got a contract from the government after paying Rs700,000 for taking care of shoes at the shrine. "He will not charge the devotees of Bhittai Sarkar," said Ahmed.
After depositing the shoes, one enters the compound to a find a make-shift stall (sabeel) where a few workers are filling glasses with cold water and offering them to visitors to quench their thirst.
The sabeel not only offers water at the shrine, impoverished residents of Bhit Shah also take cold water for their houses from it.
"This sabeel, which is serving visitors for the past 20 years at the shrine day and night, is managed by the same Hindu," said Abdul Ghani, a worker who was busy filling glasses with water from a big tub that had large chunks of ice.
Das has set up an ice manufacturing factory specifically for the sabeel, Ghani explained, adding that around 4,000 kilogrammes (kg) of ice are consumed daily at the sabeel, which come from Das's factory. The remaining ice is sold at Rs100 per 40kg.
According to Ghani, there are 23 workers working in shifts 24 hours at the sabeel and shoe depositing facility, who are being paid between between Rs9,000 and Rs12,000 per month.
When Das was asked how he had been managing the facilities at the shrine, he replied humbly: "I'm no one to do all this," he said. "I have no power to pay all these workers and spend money for arranging all this but my faith in Sarkar [Bhittai] enables me [to do so]."
According to him, he still does not know how he has funds available at the end of each month to pay salaries to his employees.
He has been managing the sabeel for the past 20 years, whereas, three years have passed since he started the shoe storage facility. On learning that Das was not earning any money through the shoe facility, the Sindh government offered a discount of Rs300,000 to him this time and handed over the contract to him for Rs700,000 instead of Rs1 million.
"Sarkar is giving me and in return I'm giving it to his devotees. This act of mine has to do with my God, Sarkar and me," said Das softly.
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