For whom the bell tolls
The 16th day of April in 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.
Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have a few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-Fi communications, I hope you will like them.
In one corner of the shop, sits a model of the Taj Mahal made by Pirjha. This wooden replica is probably the closest any artist could get to the real wonder and can qualify as a resting place for any Mumtaz Mahal.
In another corner, Pirjha has placed the recently filled admission forms. His son Anas Ali is set to join an engineering college in RawalPindi to study Mechatronics. Pirjha believes that instead of excelling in ancestral craft, his son should graduate from a universal faculty. Pirjhah silently mourns the death of a heritage, while the city lies indifferent to the fallen jharokas of Gulzar Mahal.
From Chiniot, the rail moves to a desolated station. Almost 40 years ago, this station saw a small feud which eventually grew into a persecution; the honest account of which is neither told in public nor written in history. The place is Rabwah. Those who named the city, had a verse of the Quran in mind and those who desecrated graves, had the constitution to uphold. Nobody, however, recalled that somewhere in 1944 at Sri Nagar, Muhammad Ali Jinnah had something to say about it.
The road that links Sargodha with Chiniot cuts Rabwah in two halves. On one side, is the graveyard which is almost mythical for the children in the neighbourhood and on the other side, is the deserted city. The names of various settlements are reminders of medieval boroughs but the derelict appearance defies those. The opulent houses look neither vacant nor lived in. A day of wandering in the city registers only handful of faces. This state of the city is attributed to both, the devotion and hatred that stems from religion. Till time tells who is on the right side of faith, the city will, probably continue to live in this desertion.
Rabwah, Chenab Nagar or Chak Digian (whatever the constitutional committees chose to call it) gives way to Lalian, a city that claims political descendants from Tipu Sultan, and a police station from the year 1867.
Subsequently comes Dhoop Sari, now known as Sargodha. The city is a candy store of stories but the deserts of the South strike the same chord as that of the peacock that craves to be seen. Going any further is not an option.
After Jaranwala, the train halts at Tandlianwala. There in one of the graveyards, rests Naz Khialvi, in eternal peace. The legendary lyricist’s claim to fame was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s "Tum ik Gorakh Dhandha ho". The train whistles past Rehmay Shah and then halts at Kanjwani, a town famous for its mela. The fair, which was once a Baloch nomadic tradition, is now a Punjabi celebration.
Almost all participants bring a human dimension in to their relationship with their cattle. There are oxen that have been raised as sons and horses with phenomenal lineages. Often, the roosters and quails raised for the show, take precedence over blood relations. But, of late, the politics of democracy and dictatorship have made their ingress in these dimension as well. The Balochs, Jats and Syeds who once rode the wild stallions together are now more aligned on caste lines.
Staying away from the waters of Chenab and drawing close to the mystery of Ravi, the train reaches the Kot of Kamalia.
A dense jungle by the river was all that could be said about Kamalia centuries ago. On the river bank, Khokhar boatmen had established their settlements. Apparently peaceful, the Khokhars had what it took to defend their land, so when Alexander attacked them, they gave him tough battle. The account of this battle is not mentioned anywhere specifically, except for a hint of the glorious resolve here and there; the fact that remains, however, is that Alexander now finds a mention in the history of Kamalia.
After almost a millennium, Raja Sircup ruled the area. Known for his brutality, he played polo with heads at stake. The notorious Raja manipulated easily to see the opponent lose his head, a trophy he would decorate on the walls of his fort. That was until he came across Raja Rasaloo, the son of Raja Saalbhan of Sialkot.
Despite his manipulation, Rasaloo won the game and had Sircup’s head and as a matter of ritual, his daughter, Rani Kaukalaa. Rasaloo, in this folk lore, appears to be an adventurous spirit who spent his time hunting and building palaces near game grounds. Dhoosar was one such palace, where Rasaloo had housed Kaukalaa, when the Raja of Attock, Bikram saw her. The two met accidently, but fell in love instantly. Before the romance could prosper, Rasaloo became aware of it. He had Bikram killed in the woods and sent Kaukalaa, the kebabs made up from his meat. Devastated, the queen jumped out off her window to her death.