For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April 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 few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing on the doors as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

Chaar Baans, Chaubees Gazz (Four paces, 24 yards) Hasht Ungle Per Maan, (Eight fingers apart) Taa Ooper Hay Sultan (Atop sits the Sultan,) Mat Chookay Chauhan (Don’t miss him Chauhan)

-Prithvi Raj Ras.

Shabd-Bhedi Baan, as this famous couplet is known, belongs to the Lahori poet Chand Bardai. In the Second Battle of Tarain, Sultan Shahab ud Din Ghowri, defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan and took the defeated king to Ghazni. Prithvi Raj was accompanied by his royal poet, Chand Bardai, who also happened to be his friend.

While in Ghazni, Sultan Ghowri blinded Prithvi Raj and quite often summoned him to his court. In one of such ceremonies, Sultan challenged the archery of Prithvi Raj. The blind king accepted the challenge. Chand Bardai, then whispered this couplets to Prithvi Raj, who managed to shoot his arrow at Sultan and avenged his defeat.

It sounds fantastic but history does not support this incident. This story remains a myth well told, on the other side of the border, by the Rajput mothers of Ajmer to their kids for an unfounded hero worship. It may sometime qualify for the soap-cum-epic-TV serials. On this side of the border, however, the reality is totally different.

After crossing Pandora Railway Station, a road intercepts the track and leads to Dhamik Village. The dusty old road has crumbled under the fatigue of time but despite antiquity, the village has a historical significance. In one of his campaigns, Sultan stopped at Dhamik while going back to Ghazni. A group of local Hindu Ghakhars raided the camp and killed him. Sultan had dictated his will that he must be buried where he fell, so a tomb marked the resting place of this Ghowri King in Dhamik Village. Few years back, when Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan was revered by the people and establishment alike, he directed the renovation of the tomb. On the outer periphery, stands a model of Ghowri Missile, an answer to India’s Prithvi Missile. Decades before Sultan Ghowri attacked India; his uncle settled a dispute with the neighboring Ghaznavi kingdom by setting Ghazni on fire. The city burnt for seven days and nights, without fail. After this heroic act, he titled himself “Jahan Soz” (someone who burnt the world). People on this part of the world, are probably destined to face the wrath of Prithvis and Ghowris. As far as Shabd-Bedi Baan is concerned, when creativity dons religion, history is the first heretic. The trigonometry of religion, literature and history manages to defy the line of truth, most of the times.

The gas-fields of Missa Keswal and the river of Kanshi wind around the track. The scarlet thread of small, yet historically significant towns runs astride the track. While in the train, the scene remains static, outside locales change frequently, physically and emotionally. The untiring train traverses the long distances without break. Huge pylons stand atop the undulating landscape with their hands around the waist, giving a notion of responsibility. Oblivious to the passengers of the train, a wedding goes on merrily in some village far off. Poorly lit, welcome neon signs indicate the financial stature of the family. Somebody has stood long hours at Carrefour, Metro, Tesco or Wal-Mart to finance this wedding

Sohawa is the next train station. A grain market by the name of Bishindaur was famous for its supplies. The advent of the League of Muslims conditioned the surge in the vote bank with the change of name to Deewan Hazoori, thankfully the Sharifs complied. Domeli and Rattial are the two stations after the loop of Tarraki, where the train refuses to stop. Across the channel of Tain Pura, dwells the city of Dina. A city with two references, the forts of Mangla and the artist called Gulzar.

The road to the Mangla Garrison passes through the empire of Raja Porus. He ruled the river corridor between Jhelum and Chenab but subsequent extensions included the area upto the basins of Beas River. For the love of his daughter, Mangla, he ordered the construction of this fort which now oversees the Mangla Lake. On the other side of the lake is the neglected fort of Ramkot, built by Muslims and used by Sikhs for guarding respective frontiers. The fort recently attracted the attention of an expat who now suffers at the hand of bureaucrats, only to acquire this fort on lease. The idealistic but passionate Non-Resident Mirpuri exhausts his energies in explaining the concept of Archeological Tourism to “Baboos”, who in turn tell him about the fabulous vacations, they have planned in Rome.

It was here, that the famous battle of Hydespes was fought between Alexander and Porus. The commemorative coin has the famed elephant cavalry being defeated by horses on one side and on the other Alexander is shown taking blessings from Zeus. The victory was not a spatial conquest alone; Alexander also won the hearts and minds of the locals. Despite the lapse of millennia, people still name their kids after the invading king rather the local Raja. The love for invaders is deeply etched in the Indian spirit.

Sampooran Singh Gulzar is not only a perfectionist in name. His association with the glossy world of the film industry has never influenced his simplistic style in prose, as well as poetry. The son of an Arora Sikh, who lived in a small village of Dina, Gulzar clearly remembers the lanes and alleys of his ancestral place. The month of August in 1947 turned his life upside down. Jhelum was Pakistan now and so was Dina. The family packed their belongings and with swollen eyes bid farewell to the village, they thought had eternally belonged to them. On their way to India, young Gulzar left the convoy to pick up his fallen toy. This is the 65th August and he has neither found the toy nor his family. The story, this time, is same on both sides of the border.


The author 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.

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 (21)

July 30, 2012 1:44 pm
Prithvi is not named after Prithviraj Chauhan as you Pakistanis think. So you named your missile after a foreign invader just because you think that Prothvi has been named after the Rajput king. Prithvi means Land. Prithvi, Jal and Aakash are the three elements in Indian mythology. We also have a missile named Akash and as far as I know there was no king named Aakash.
Ajay Vikram Singh
July 30, 2012 1:24 pm
What you call wandering, Manasi, I call it a search to know more. To know each other more. I have been wandering this earth for so many centuries. A lost moment from a knot of time, like that. Found my Nation, then kept searching for my street, Kept searching for a sign of home in the street for years. Now I wander in your soul, in your body, Maybe if I take birth from you, I will find refuge.
July 30, 2012 10:48 am
Brilliant and poignant. A rare view from Pakistan.
July 30, 2012 11:35 am
... it is so just fantastic.. Just loved the narration. It however brought the pain of partition alive. :(
July 30, 2012 12:48 pm
Good article except that I do not agree with the statement "The love for invaders is deeply etched in the Indian spirit." May be true for Pakistani people not for Indians unless you chose to call pakistani people Indians based on their ethnicity.
July 30, 2012 2:39 pm
The article is well written with lots of thoughts put into it. Great work. What's the point the writer is trying to prove? Muslims Kings and empires superiority over that of Hindus - Now and forever? If all the non Islamic countries in the world give a written certificate that Islam is indeed superior, is it going to solve all problems that the world is facing? Or M. A. Jinnah's Pakistan is facing right now? This country has the best of irrigation system, fertile land, good healthy people, why should it still need to prove that they are better than others? Focus should be on technology, development, education, sports(cricket and non cricket), classical music, traditional arts, tourism. Why not write a new operating system? Why not create a new APPLE, a Honda? a Samsung? a cadbury? What about a General Electric?
July 30, 2012 2:37 pm
Any such narrative, especially by one not a historian, is bound to contain biases of various kind, and opinions that color the story and make it interesting while not necessarily being true or fair. It is an interesting narrative and a good read, but just that - a personal narrative, not history.
July 30, 2012 2:31 pm
Without explicitly stating it, you continue the false equivalence between the names of the India & Pak missiles, Ghauri & Prithvi. Prithvi in Hindi simply means Earth and fits with other Indian missile names of Agni (Fire) and Akash (Sky). There is no attempt to create a Ghauri-Prithivraj Chauhan proxy battle via the missile least from the Indian side.
July 30, 2012 1:04 pm
July 30, 2012 11:39 am
... it is so just fantastic.. Just loved the narration. It however brought the pain of partition alive. :(
July 30, 2012 8:18 pm
Giving connected historical tidbits was an excellent idea. You conveniently forgot to mention that Sultan Ghowry owed his life to Same Prithviraj who he blinded and tortured later. I guess magnanimity doesn't pay is the lesson future generations should take. Secondly, myth about Alexander's victory over Porus is being questioned now. Besides barbarous Alexander never managed to endear himself to the defeated. He mostly adopted scorched earth policy.
July 30, 2012 9:26 pm
BTW.. Prithvi missile is NOT named after Prithviraj Chauhan. It is just one of the "elements" of nature, namely, Prithvi (Earth), Agni (Fire), Jal (Water), Akash (Sky/ Space) and Vayu (Air). India has other missiles like Agni and Akash named under similar fashion.
July 30, 2012 11:46 pm
Porus is not the name of a person. It is the Hellenized version of the Sanskrit/Hindi word purush, which means "person" (in general) or "man" (specifically). Who will name his/her son "purush"?
July 31, 2012 2:25 am
Dear Aditya, just because the author is Muslim does not imply that he is glorifying the Muslim Kings. I wrote it with as much of "Creative non-prejudice" as I could. These battles, now and earlier, IN MY OPINION, were never about the religion. About M A Jinnah s Pakistan, Though the debate is out-of-place at this blog, but I think there is something called leadership, there will be a day, we will have a better leadership and hope is my religion. Your advice as a concerned nieghbour with all the good faith has been taken in positive spirit. By the way, I hope you liked the article.
July 31, 2012 2:25 am
Thank you for recalling what a gifted poet wrote.
Naim ur Rehman
July 31, 2012 2:53 am
Allow people of both countries to visit each others land free of visa hassle..Produce your passport at the border and enter.We will have problems initially but later on it will work as smooth as any thing.No harm in trying
July 31, 2012 5:14 am
Didn't Gulzar die last year?
July 31, 2012 5:23 am
Rakesh: Your bit about Prithviraj's magnanimity is wrong. Ghouri was never captured. He fled from the first battle with Prithviraj alright. Prithviraj's forces wanted to capture him but their cavalry were inferior to do the act. The magnanimity bit is a Rajasthani humdrum. Your Alexander piece is currently relooked at, so your comments are just fine as of now.
July 31, 2012 8:46 am
Its not about going into the specifics. I think the article has been composed with a generalist point of view. And its very touching indeed. Its very important that our Indian friends read such article without their biases and sometimes hatred toward Pakistanis.
August 1, 2012 6:37 am
This was beautiful, soulful reading. I was not too familiar with the whole Prithviraj - Ghauri episode so that was interesting learning -as rightly mention facts mixed with fiction. The other interesting observation was that of using the name of Iskandar the invader, rather than Porus the defender...indeed makes you wonder why. The last paragraph was symbolic of the pain of division so many went through. I accompanied my father to Northern Bangladesh, to find his old village that he left behind but there is no trace of the place, the might rivers hitting plains full of silt, and thus frequently changing course have gobbled up the place once he called his own. Finally on Gulzar....Let us pray for his L-O-N-G life. He is one of the finest specimens of a human being.
August 6, 2012 7:40 pm
Who wrote it, and when?
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