SRINAGAR: Defying terrorists' threats he clung to his roots and, when 78-year-old Ram Jee Kaul died, his Muslim neighbours not only mourned the demise of the Kashmiri Pandit village elder but also helped his children perform the last rites.
'Kashmiriyat', which is about the bonding between the majority Muslims and minority Hindus of Jammu & Kashmir, something many say is on the wane in the restive state, was on full display at Waibug in Pulwama district, 25 km from here, following Kaul's death.
Kaul never migrated from the Valley despite perennial threats faced by Kashmiri Pandits since the onset of militancy and now the village of about 1,000 households is in mourning.
Kaul, who worked with Power Development Department and had retired in 1999, breathed his last on Friday afternoon after prolonged illness with his daughter Renu and son-in-law Vinod by his side.
The news of his death spread like a wild fire and soon the neighbours started thronging Kaul's residence.
Ghulam Nabi, village head, Nissar Ahmed and Mohammed Akbar wept inconsolably as if they had lost someone from their own family.
"He was the head of my family too. The entire village used to take his advice on every crucial issue and his word was always final," said Akbar.
The village has eight Kashmiri pandit families, who never migrated to Jammu and other places after militancy reared its ugly head in 1990.
"It was his decision to stay on and not to leave," recalls Vinod, who himself did not migrate from the Valley.
After his son, who was away in Jammu, and other three daughters arrived on Saturday, their Muslim neighbours comforted them and opened the doors of their homes to accommodate Kaul's relatives coming from other places in the Valley including Budgam, besides Jammu and Delhi.
On Saturday, the funeral procession mainly comprised the Muslims, who arranged for wood at the cremation ground.
"To help our neighbours irrespective of their religion is our duty which we performed. And, in this case, he was a part of us, we have lost the head of our family," said Mohammed Akbar.