For whom the bell tollsThe 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.
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.