Thousands of Muslims straining to meet the deadline for the crucial re-verification of the citizen's register in Assam at a short notice earlier this month found succour from the Hindus.
These people from Kamrup, Goalpara and South Salmara districts in lower Assam had received the National Register of Citizens (NRC) notices on August 3 asking them to appear within 24-48 hours at NRC Seva Kendras 400 km away in Sivsagar, Charaideo and Golaghat districts in upper Assam.
Hard put to fund their journeys at such a short notice, many of the impoverished Muslims had pledged their valuables, including their meagre gold jewellery or sell their cattle and harvested crops at throwaway prices.
Their hardship was compounded as they were forced to travel with their octogenarian parents and babies in overloaded buses, which charged them a premium.
But, in the age-old tradition of communal bonding in 'Sankardeb-Azan Fakir ore dexh' (Land of Sankardeb-Azan Fakir), these poor people got almost everything they needed - food, water and even a doctor to attend to a pregnant woman - "in an unknown land, from a group of unknown people".
For 72-year-old Immamul Haque from South Salmara district, who had confined himself to his community in the area he lives, the forced trip to Sivasagar, the capital of the Ahom kings in the 17th century, opened a new world to him.
"I learnt that a Muslim preacher from Baghdadhad had come to Sivasagar and unified the people there. He had reformed and reinforced Islam in Assam and earned the name Azan Fakir because of his habit of calling the azan (the Muslim call to ritual prayer)," Haque said.
He also came to know that the fakir's popular devotional songs 'Zikr' and 'Zari' contain th local musical traditions and had similarities with 'Borgeets' of Srimanta Sankardeva, the 16th century Hindu polymath and socio- religious reformer.
"The youths of Sivsagar had provided hundreds of people like me with khichri and drinking water free of cost," Jahirul Alam said.
They had even arranged for a doctor to examine a pregnant woman who was summoned to appear before an NRC centre, recalled Jahira Khatun from Nagarbera.
The upkeep of the dargahs (tombs or shrines of a Muslim saint) by the Hindus at Sivasagar left a deep impact in Sukur Ali, a high school student from Goalpara.
"Humanism that was seen in upper Assam is supreme.
The cooperation from the administration and the local Hindu people changed the mindset of the Muslims.
"They understood that political and vested interests are trying to create Hindu-Muslim divide which goes against Assam's traditional communal harmony," said Jeherul Islam, spokesperson of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a minority-dominated party.
Islam said he felt emotional when he saw young local girls running to the district deputy commissioner's office to arrange ORS packets and preparing re-hydration drinks for children who had travelled long distances with their families.
"This display of humanism and Assam's culture have sent a strong warning to the political and other vested interests that they cannot indulge in divisive communal politics in the state", All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) working president Ainuddin Ahmed said.
The Supreme Court is monitoring the NRC updating exercise and is firm on the August 31 deadline for the authorities to complete the process.
Assam is the only state in India where the NRC exercise is being carried out after the first one in 1951.