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.


This blog is part 2 of a two-part series. Read part 1 here.

Pre-partition Khanewal was interesting in its own way. The city comprised of 16 blocks and at every four blocks, a well or a place for worship served its residents and guests alike. Besides the gurudwaras, mosques and temples, a church built by William Roberts also invited men towards divinity. The residents of Khanewal had fair space for other approaches to God too, so apart from religions, they looked upto jogis, who frequently visited Khanewal. Chup Shah was one such man who sat silently under the Peelu tree in the Quli Bazar.

During the evenings, Jagdish Babu, the owner of the only printing press of the city would come and sit with Sunder Singh from Kot Ala Thing in the Civil Club. An hour later, Wazir Chander Lal would join them for discussions about Unionist government, while Kora Ram cribbed about the changing times. The majority of the Muslims resided in Kuhna Khanewal. From the fewer Muslim houses in new city, Malik Muhammad Hussain was also active in these gatherings. On the other side, Teerath Das and Tek Chand, the two prominent businessmen, spent their evening walking in Gol Bagh and complaining about the youth. In this almost cyclic life, whenever spring graced the city, a fair was held at the outskirts of the city, called the “Chakro wala Mela”.

Between 3rd June and the last week of August in 1947, the majority in Khanewal thought that partition was a temporary political thing. They hoped, because of their proximity to Toba Tek Singh, that everything would settle down in a few days time. But as days passed, all hopes succumbed to reality. Kot Beerbal was the first settlement to be vacated, followed by Jaswant Nagar and Bheni Sadhu Ram. A plague stalked the city to daringly hunt its prey hence house after house, Khanewal was vacated. Karrar Muhallah was the last one to fall. The lush green fields between Makhdoom Pur and Khanewal, once tilled by Hindus and Sikhs, turned barren.

During partition, the young Muslims of Khanewal had formed an armed group that recovered women abducted by the mob. Saqlain’s father was 23 then, and was a part of this group. Even after 66 years, he clearly remembers that everyone left with a promise to come back. In fact, his neighbors were so confident about returning that they took their house keys with them, so they wouldn’t have to wake up the neighbours. After a decade of stalemate, they reviewed their illusion and returned to take back their precious belongings. Though all these years had seen a Martial Law, some religious violence and a lot of loot, they were still able to find most of their effects.

Across the border, few displaced idealists arrived at Khanewal in quest of place and solace. The magnificent station misled them about the splendor of the city, so many of them left the train at Khanewal and never returned. Muhammad Naqi was one such idealist from Soni Path, once known as Son Prasath. The epic of Mahabharata mentions Son Prasath as one of the five villages demanded by Yudhister from Daryodhan, as the price of peace when things settled down between the Kaurava and Pandoa tribes; the name, however, literally meant the city of Gold. As sandy winds blew around in Khanewal, Muhammad Naqi missed Soni Pat but gradually with his glorious resolve, he turned the sand into gold. His family is now settled all the way from Khanewal to Lahore and Connecticut to Boston but for all of them, Soni Pat is just another old name from Khanewal.

With Independence, the metamorphosis of Khanewal started. Gurudwara Bazar was named Akbar Bazar and Nanak Bazar was renamed Liaqat Bazar. The wells were converted into water pumps which gave way to mosques, and subsequently the madressahs along with their residential quarters. The primary school Sardar Pur said its farewell to Master Lala Kishan Ram and welcomed Maulvi Ghulam Rasool. The orchard of Jodh Singh near Marzi Pura and the adjacent arena were soon isolated. Colonies of Jodhpur and Sham Kot were so quick to disappear that within a decade no one knew if they ever even existed. The same was the case of men like Jeevan Das and families like Ram Singh’s. When so much had happened, Gol Bagh too had little reason to exist. Within a few years, its floral beds were leveled and it was made the seat of DCO.

At the junction of Baans Bazar and Liaqat Bazar, there stood an old well guarded by heavy chains. Eventually the well was turned into a mosque. With the increase in population, the rifts between cycle riders and car drivers also grew. In 1958, the mosque was demolished to construct a crossroad and regulate traffic. Because of the chains, the crossroad was called Sangla wala chowk. As Deobandi influence grew, the chowk was renamed Ya Rasool Allah Chowk. Soon the Ahl-e-Hadees school also gained prominence, registering their objection on the name. Shortly, new signboards of the names of all four Sahaba also appeared at the chowk. Despite all this, the locals still refer to it as Sangla wala chowk, with a naive smile.

On the other side of the track, the city of Mian Channu thrives with a myth. Like many common folklore, this one also reflects the collective psyche of Punjab where the good prevails over the bad. Mian Channu was a local robber who accidentally crossed paths with a religious man, Bahaullah. The charismatic personality of this mystic had a reforming influence on Mian Channu, turning him instantly into a saint with a sinner’s past. A fair is held on the 9th, 10th and 11th day of every sawan in Mian Channu to mark this transformation.

Though no clear demarcation exists between the cities of Kabirwala and Khanewal, Adhiwala is located equidistant from both. The road joining the two cities bustles with industrial activity, with factories churning out fiber to wear, poultry to eat and milk to drink. Before Khanewal dissolves, Kabirwala establishes itself. Due to its fertile lands, it has been a grain market for almost a millennium. Developed by Pir Kabir, another saint, the city remained part of Multan for a very long period. The history of the city revolves around a 125-year-old police station, a 114-year-old post office and a relatively young Darul-u-loom Deoband.

A road joins Kabirwala with Raipur, where a Patwari named Khurana maintains the revenue records. When he was blessed with the son, he named him Har Gobind Khurana. Little did he know about the records his son was going to set. Graduating from the Punjab University and ending up at MIT, this Nobel Laureate, was a genius in genetics.

As the train moves southwards, the mystic melody fills the air, but before the riddle of Multan, a story of Chak 72/10-R yearns to be told…

Read this blog in Urdu here.
Listen to this blog in Urdu here:


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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (30) Closed




SUNIL
Oct 21, 2013 02:47pm

All the footprints on the sands of time eventually fade unless the community consciously makes attempts to preserve the memories of the predecessors.

Raju
Oct 21, 2013 03:32pm

Boss !! Hats off to you !!! You actually take us on live tour of our past and make us aware of how we have all contributed to downfall of our own people. Your writings make me wonder, how you have access to all these accounts of people.. were they actually real people or is it your creative mind at work. Wish someday we are able to hear you read your works to live audience here in delhi.

Raj
Oct 21, 2013 05:03pm

Very well written. I almost felt I was there, physically and in that time!

Please continue on.

I do find the mad rush to erase the past, in Pakistan, and to some extent in India, by re-naming cities, neighborhoods etc. to be counter-productive. It achieves nothing, other than disconnecting the future generations from the past.

If one really wants a Kolkata or a Mumbai, have the guts and the barins to make one! Leave the current ones the way they were developed!

MANOJ
Oct 21, 2013 05:28pm

GOOD WRITING IT RECREATES THE NOSTALGIC MEMORIES KEEP IT UP

Avtar
Oct 21, 2013 05:44pm

Another interesting tale. Thanks for enlightening me the original name of Soni Pat. As a retired person when I visit Punjab I still come across that old names are preserved in our village. I always wonder going in the train from Delhi to Punjab, what is it about the plains of Pani Pat and Soni Pat that so many battles were fought in these two places!

Good stuff

makraja
Oct 21, 2013 05:55pm

Sirjee the time of accolades has long gone with no parables or comparisons of what have achieved with a mere 26 letters to bring all these characters to life. When I read your smooth flowing narration I feel I am apart of the scenery till your blog lasts and then it is back to reality of what if? Why? how? Who is responsible. As I have said before you need to make a book out of this so that people all over the world know that we once were tolerant, have a history to be proud of , can live peacefully with other faiths and yet be progressive. Salam to your efforts and troubles as being an amateur writer myself i know how much effort it takes to write even a single paragraph. Keep on writing and if you convince even one of us you have won your battle against intolerance that afflicts us now

makraja
Oct 21, 2013 06:02pm

@Raju: well said raju This man is in the version of the saints that we all know

SBB
Oct 21, 2013 06:51pm

This is very enjoyable - thank you for the superb tour sir.

Naseer Zafar
Oct 21, 2013 08:37pm

Ur each and every blog refresh my pains, my agony. I m the 3rd generation of the Punjabi Refugees frm Jallandhar settled in Chakwal,Pakistan.But the pain of 1947 still follows.How the millions became stranger in their own homes and crossed the border on both sides.Lost their love ones and now the Religious Vultures have established their sanctuaries drinking the blood and the flesh of the mass. Then Ur blog reminds us the old days when things were a little better. Wishing U the Best.Please write a Blog on Chakwal and its sorrundings too.

observer
Oct 21, 2013 08:46pm

Your writing recreates the magic of an era bygone. I am happy you are chronicling all this before it is lost forever. Respect.

Eldrick Lal
Oct 21, 2013 09:03pm

Thank you very much for taking us on a swashbuckling adventure of the past. Apparently, it just sounds the other day. Wow, time has flown like a jet plane. I am looking forward to read the continuation of your esteemed blog.

Asma Malik
Oct 21, 2013 09:59pm

Whatta ride!!! I just wanted to let you know that I find your write ups entertaining, connecting, inspiring, thrilling, puzzling all together and I do not want your tales to end. You are amazing with words and It seems that you go to some place within yourself where words live. I look forward to reading your next informative work. Thank you for such uplifting coverage. God bless you!

vbv
Oct 21, 2013 10:39pm

That was something!

EQ8Rhomes
Oct 21, 2013 10:51pm

@SUNIL: Some ideologies and their pushers intentionally alter existing place names and monuments to erase the past and impose their own ideological nomeclature to indoctrinate the younger generations so they do not learn about their origins. The resulting ignorance only encourages fear of the past and hate. Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai are "correction" of British arrogance and insensitivity to local nomencalture. In Pakistan, it is ideological and "nation building"---like building my prayer house on top of yours.

pathanoo
Oct 21, 2013 11:51pm

It is necessary to know your history even if it is painful. Thank You, Muhammed Hasan Miraj. Please write more regularly.

M. Omar
Oct 22, 2013 12:13am

You give life to history...

Kuldeep Singh
Oct 22, 2013 01:52am

one word....awsome.

Narinder Singh Parvana
Oct 22, 2013 04:16am

May God provide indefinite amount of ink to your pen.

Shahid
Oct 22, 2013 08:18am

Bravo!

farooqsa
Oct 22, 2013 09:15am

GOOD,very good boss you took us to the past which our new generation cannot see like the European nations they preserve there past for previous generations and generations to come and our past we can read in the books of people like you keep it up

Koi-Kon
Oct 22, 2013 11:04am

@Raju: I am honored by your words. All these people and places were / are real. Muhammad Naqi`s Grandson Dr Shafqat teaches anthropolgy in Connecticut. Maulvi Ghulam Rasool recorded his memoirs and praised Lala Kishan Ram. (Reference Tarikh e Khanewal). Jagdish printing press existed in the city in late 50s as well. Old Residents of Kot Ala thing still remember Sunder Singh with love.Teerath Das and Tek Chand were not only prominent buisnessmen but were very sintrumental in developing the city. About Dehli....I will live this hope

saqlain
Oct 22, 2013 11:31am

A very well told story, never listen before in that manner. you have made Khanewal Live and intersting for the visiters. Lots of best wishes for you.

syed baqar ahsan
Oct 22, 2013 06:27pm

wonderful recall-keep doing at large I surprised to know how these mollahs spoiling every thing of history and social only God Almighty can put them on right path of oneness,deep divide they have ensured and enemy is taking advantage.

zak
Oct 22, 2013 09:53pm

Harping on useless past which has no consequence to the present or to my current generation. So what, next lets talk about the Mughal era going right back to the time of the dinosaurs. Looks like only followers are poor old Indians still dreaming of angungat mata. Even though India was never a one nation but many nations , the mughals brought them under one great empire. Now the empire is reverting back to its original form.

Suma
Oct 22, 2013 10:40pm

Dear Writer, i read your posts without fail. The sheer charisma of your writing is enchanting to my Hindu ears who has not seen united India. God Bless you, you connect with me. I cant tell the difference between people when i read your article. You are one of us "Human".

Indian
Oct 22, 2013 10:56pm

Sir... aap Delhi aaiye na kabhi... :) Would love to hear such lost tales about Delhi too.. :)

Gulbaz Mushtaq
Oct 22, 2013 10:52pm

Only reason to read Dawn.com. Jeetay Raho, Sir G.

shafqat
Oct 22, 2013 11:52pm

Wonderful! Thanks.

Krish Chennai
Oct 23, 2013 09:37am

Could a reader or the author kindly provide a link where all of the author's articles, including the Urdu translation, is available ? I am sure that it will be well appreciated by hundreds who have taken to his writing and style, including myself.

Raj
Oct 24, 2013 10:57am

@zak: You forgot chadragupta maurya.