While many people from Hindu or Muslim community may hesitate to study each other's religious texts, an octogenarian Muslim has been discoursing on SriRamcharit Manas (the religious text on Lord Rama's life) for the past six decades.
Born in a middle class family, Dawood Khan, 83, worked as a khalasi (porter) loading coal on buses. Those were the days, over six decades ago, when many buses used to be run on steam turbine engines.
One day his father inspired him to take up something that could suit his personality and lend him contentment. It motivated him to educate himself. He chanced to meet a highly learned person, Saligram Dwivedi, who later became his mentor.
Saligram encouraged Dawood to study Tulsi Das's Sri Ramcharit Manas, an epic poem composed by the 16th-century Indian poet, Goswami Tulsidas (1532-1623), available in Hindi and Avadhi languages, concerning the exploits of Rama, the prince of Ayodhya.
The study of Ramcharit Manas helped Khan to top in an All India competitive exam conducted on the theme of Ramacharit Manas, conducted by Allahabad University in the 1940s.
"My teacher inspired me to appear for the Ramcharit Manas examination and I was declared the winner, attaining marks of first division. Since then I am preaching Ramcharit Manas. I am opposed by many orthodox people but I tell them that this is what I have been doing and I will continue to do," says Dawood Khan.
Today, Dawood is well-settled and has three children: two girls and a boy. The eldest daughter, Kamrunisa. is working for a Missionary in Raipur, the second daughter, Badrunisa, is a Sub-Divisional Magistrate at Chatarpur in Madhya Pradesh. His son, Ayub, works for a reputed private company.
Khan, who today lives in a rented house, maintains that service to mankind is the biggest religion one can practice.
Raipur residents recently honoured Dawood for his dedicated work towards spreading secularism.
Preaching communal harmony, Dawood says he wants to continue his discourses on Ramcharit Manas till his last breath.