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.

______________________________

Before it enters Gujrat, the train whistles past the introvert town of Mandi Deona. Mysticism, from Rumi to Kabir, has remained the art of binding together, binding with love. The essence of Gujrat comes from this market town. Once famous for its weavers who produced, from their hand mills, wonder pieces called Khais, Deona Mandi has reduced to a grain market now. Khais, as Punjabis throughout the world call it, has slowly receded to the junkyard of memory. The civilized world has adjusted itself to the coziness of the comforter and the rugged feeling of Khais is long gone from the bedrooms. The warmth it provided in the setting-in autumn is badly missing in modern days comforters. The town has also switched over to more refined industry of manufacturing tarpaulins and shelters which facilitate occasions, weddings and funerals, alike.

The city of Gujrat is captivating enough to take over all and any sensations. Shrines, legends and unaccomplished love are the anchors which hold the city. Besides dynamic human beings, the city is inhabited by aspirations and sighs.

The history of Gujrat remains a routine affair with a passing reference to Surya Vanshi (Born from Fire) Rajputs and King Bachan Pal. There is a mention of a 2500-year-old town of Uday Nagar, a warrior prince Ali Khan who founded the city and our very own Akbar, who built the fort. Khawas Pur of Sooris and Behlol Pur of Lodhis also serve as milestone in the rich chronicle.

The last three centuries are the episodes of destruction, development and prosperity by Durranis, Sikhs and the British Raj respectively. Then on, the revenue record preserved on the white cloth called Latha tells the official history of the city. This Gujrat, however, is entirely different from the Gujrat of Chaudharies, Nawabzadas and the Non-residents. From the shrine of Shah Dola to the Palace of Ram Piari, it’s a long ballad of love, the lost love.

The city had four entrances, a deep well for fresh water, a recreational bath and a fort. The deep well is probably lost in the maze of narrow streets but is surely guarded by some vigorous red pump. The fort is buried in the concrete jungle that has grown around it. The Turk rulers loved the heritage of harem, baths and language and took it along wherever they went. A similar bath with geysers underneath the floor was constructed by Akbar in Gujrat. The keepers of the bath proclaim the magical medicinal effects of bath and mint money in the name of unnamed diseases.

Away from the city is the lost settlement of Shah Jahangir. It houses the shrine of a saint, the tomb of a king and a few graves of soldiers. When Jahangir died, Noor Jahan concealed the news for some political reason. She carried out the surgical procedure and buried all the internal organs susceptible to decay, here at this place. The death was made public at Shahdara, where the transfer of power took place according to the design. This story, however, is the narrated version of history; the documented version indicates this burial somewhere in Kashmir. The place is also known for a saint, Jahangir Shah. After the battle of Chillianwala, the British chased the Sikhs and the final battle for Punjab was fought here. The Sikhs were defeated and Punjab was finally part of Raj. The remains of Sikh soldiers laid in the open, and decayed to the tune of time. The fallen British soldiers were buried in this small graveyard. As long as white men ruled this land, the Union Jack fluttered and the bugles called. After the fall of the British Empire, the carved angels, from the mini crosses erected as tombstones, left and the psalms faded away. Time is such an unfaithful aide.

The city boasts the traditional Zamindara College, where, almost every Gujrati has studied once in his lifetime. The land was provided by the famous Nawabzada family, who has now taken it to court to reclaim the property. Impulsive charity on the part of the elders has cost them too high. The industrial base of the city evolved around pottery, ceramics and electric fans. Furniture also remains a specialty in the area. These days the city is more into power fragmentation rather than assembly lines.

The Circular Road was once known as Sohni Road. Prior to this renaming, it was called Ram Pyari Road. The famous Ram Pyari Palace stood on this road. This astounding beauty was the wife of Sundar Das Sibal, the entrepreneur from Dinga. The building is a confluence of the British, Greek and Roman style of construction. Amongst imported Italian Chandelier and Murano glass, Ram Pyari was the lone local beauty. The city saw the first car driving in because of her. At the time of partition, she chose to migrate to India. The palace initially housed a training institute for administrative officers but was subsequently converted into a hostel for a local girls’ college. The fate of neighboring Kedar Nath Haveli also remained the same.

Sir Syed called this place Greece because of the wonderful men and women it produced. The beauty of the land is not only confined to Sohni, but it posses the bewitching eyes of Sabiha Khanum and the melodious voice of Tasawar Khanum. Men of unmatched talent like Inayat Husain Bhatti and his brother Kaifi and vocals like Shoukat Ali hail from Gujrat. The sights and sounds here filled in the locales of novels of Abduallah Hussain and theatre of Rafi Peer.

Sohni remains the emotional brand ambassador of Gujrat. How she carved those delicate pots and how Izzat Baig fell for her craft and beauty? How he gave up his caravan only to tend her cattle and how she floated across the ravaging river? This all is but a trivia; the fact remains absolute and that is from Chenab, in Gujrat, to Indus, in Shahdad Pur, the story of these lovers is writ large on sprawling waters.

Gujrat now expands limitlessly. The lush green fields have given way to multi-storied colorful houses. Everything has changed less the emotional attachment of Gujratis with shrines. The city remains imbued with the prayers and hopes at mausoleums that dot the whole city. There is hardly any street without a shrine and hardly any house without a devotee. From the three villages of Syeds including Moeen ud Din Pur to the small town of Gondal, devotion is channeled through a series of graves, madressahs, mentors and followers.

On this tight rope stretched between the aspiration and capability, desperate men trapeze with devotion. The evening sets on these shrines before it blankets the city. The arrangements are made at Shah Dola for visitors, water is sprinkled at Hafiz Hayat's and incense is lit at Kanwan Wali Sarkar.

Frantic and needy, men and women flock these places in search of comfort, solace and calm. They walk with calculated steps looking either into the ground or up in the skies, sit down with the wall or hold the mesh-work around the grave. They pray not with their words but with shivering lips and trembling hands, drop something into donation box and walk away.

If you move around in the city, it looks like God attends this city diligently and answers all prayers, but if you visit the shrines there, it dawns upon you that no prayer has ever been answered.

 


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 are closed.

Comments (54)

Khaksar
September 3, 2012 5:11 pm
"our very own akbar" ???
Taxla
September 4, 2012 9:16 pm
Your blog needs no praise, it's hidden within it, if one can see. Last lines not only apply to Gujrat but all of that sub-continent. Praise thy Lord.
Jolly
September 4, 2012 5:02 am
Very nicely written...!!
Aejaz
September 4, 2012 9:01 pm
ofcourse he was our own Akbar. He became part of this land (india & pakistan) and never looked back. He created all the fusion that you can imagine.
Altaf Tammal
September 5, 2012 3:16 am
should visit ASAP ,
Guddoo
September 4, 2012 10:46 am
U r still in half part of Lalamusa... that in Lalam USA... Form an old citizen of Lalamusa
USMAN
September 4, 2012 9:27 am
Surinder Jee, May we extend you an invitation to visit your birth place, if intrested you are welcome
qayyum
September 4, 2012 3:19 pm
A well written piece about Gujrat. Much appreciated and well elaborated. Just succient enough to hold the attention . well done.
sb
September 4, 2012 4:13 pm
Mr. Hassan - Thank you for this excellent article. I love your writing style. The closing lines of this article say more than the entire article. One piece of feedback - you are much more than a Federal Government Employee. You're an excellent author.
nimesh
September 4, 2012 10:35 pm
Excellent piece very poetic and a pleasure to read.
ADEEL IKRAM
September 5, 2012 6:56 am
Beautifully put together. Good research and details.
Ali
September 4, 2012 9:26 am
Very touching comment... maybe one day you will be able to make it back to Gujrat!
Q
September 4, 2012 7:22 pm
A wonderful write about my beloved city, I am also a Gujrati who spent some of his most memorable years at Zamindara College. I would like to add that a stone's throw away from village of Syeds is another historic village Sook Kalan, which traces its history back to Mogul era and beyond. on another note, is it not PC to mention the brave men of Gujrat e.g Aziz Bhatti and Co? and finally there are probably more people form Gujrat in Greece now than any other part of the sub continent.
Pro truth
September 4, 2012 3:25 pm
Like my forefathers, I am also son of Gujrat and still have native village on banks for Chenab, where i go whenever I am in Pakistan! very well written article, Thanks. Surely you cant possibily write all about Gujrat, you missed 3 famous brave sons of this land who went on to get highest galantary awards(Nishan-e-Haider) of the country!
Masood Hussain
September 3, 2012 7:12 pm
Yet another wonderful piece of writting.
Koi-Kon
September 4, 2012 2:25 pm
The train shall move through Kunjah...
Akhter Husain
September 3, 2012 6:49 pm
Gujrat also produced an Olympian hockey player by the name of Iftekhar Shah.He was a very good sprinter and represented Pakistan in Asian Olympic in 100and 200 meter races.He was second only to Abdulkhaliq the fastest sprinter Pakistan ever produced.
arslan
September 3, 2012 2:18 pm
very nice.
Koi-Kon
September 5, 2012 1:54 pm
Gill Saheb, Do batain, I am working on the series of three cities, Mukat Sar, Amrat Sar and Taran Taran. There will be another series on the Sufis of Punjab soon. You can contact me for the pictures you have mentioned. Regards
Shah
September 5, 2012 7:51 am
Saint Syed Nizam Ud Din's grandson, General Dawood, was recuted by Emperor Akbar while camping in Gujrat and went on to become his cavalry commander. He is said to be buried in Fatheypur Sikri: the then capital city.
B. Ally
September 5, 2012 5:24 am
History is a wonderful teacher only if we do not lace it with our prejudice. The writer is a great story teller and hope shall maintain a fine balance between truth of history and fiction.
pnpuri
September 4, 2012 11:24 am
i am some one born post partition in delhi my father and grand father came from kunjah gujarat .my father went to school in gujarat. pyareLal nayyar personal secretery to gandhi and his sister dr. sushila nayyar personal physician belonged to kunjah will some one write about kunjah gujarat
Koi-Kon
September 5, 2012 1:55 pm
Thank You SB, I wish someday I am known as such
M.Asif Gondal
September 5, 2012 11:26 am
I read the beautiful article with great interest. Very poetic mode was adapted to describe the beauty of the GUJRAT. I would like to say to writer that if you have some historic views on Gondals and Sandals then please include in this article because the two tribes made the ravines of Chenab rich and later migrated to different areas because they were unable to pay huge taxes to British raj to spare their lands located along the chenab that extended from Gujrat to multi miles laong the river. M.Asif Gondal
ehsan
September 3, 2012 2:28 pm
wow a great piece again by the writer and beautifully summed up in last lines. bravo
Ali Ahmad
September 5, 2012 5:59 am
I am from a village near Kunjah.
Jat
September 5, 2012 4:58 am
Descendents of Porus were called Poru Walle and in moderns times, it has abbreviated to last name of Purewal.
Asim Mushtaq
September 6, 2012 12:24 pm
Gujrat is my home town, 28 out of 40 years lives in Gujrat. Pleasure to read and refreshing memories
Koi-Kon
September 4, 2012 10:29 am
Surinder Ji, Thank you for your kind words, Deeply appreciated. can you tell me more about LalaMusa and Gujrat. I can be reached at Hassan1657@yahoo.com
Iftikhar Ahmad Qazi
September 5, 2012 7:09 am
Annas your comment itself is excellent
Annas
September 4, 2012 4:52 am
I have to write these last lines some where to learn them by heart. A very nice work indeed.
Mansoor Butt
September 3, 2012 3:05 pm
Ram Piayri did not bring the first motor car to Gujrat, there were used to be only two motor cars here; one belonged to Ram Piyari and while the other was owned by Colonel Asghar (the Nawabzada). 2. The place where internal organs of Jehangir were buried gave birth to a tomb known as Jehangir`s tomb (though Jehangir was a saint from Lahore whose mausoleum is in Lahore, some historian say) 3. Circular road was never called as Sohni road. It was Ram Piyari Road prior to the partition. Kidar Nath was not related to her.
Hasan
September 4, 2012 4:41 am
The writer missed the most important person of that region and that was Porus his state Peruvia that existed from Potohar upto Gujrat regions thousands of Years ago and the Ultimate Battles of History known as Battle of Hydaspes. Porus was the king of Potohar region and he lived on the outskirts of Gujrat and he was the bravest king of that region upto Gujrat and he fought the Alexander so bravely that Alexander decided that he will not take the throne of Porus from him. Also the words of Porus are still famous in Greek Historians that when Alexander tried to capture him and asked him how he should be treated then he said " Treat me as a King or Porus Fails to Comply". The battle between Porus and Alexander is known as the Ultimate battles in history as both sides fought upto their last men and it ended Alexander Expedition in this region and this battle is known as Battle of Hydaspes. Also the two people which are also worth mentioning in history are Malik Sultan and Baba Pir-e-Shah Ghazi or 'Damrian Wali Sarkar' Mian Mohammed Baksh.
Mohammad Ashraf
September 5, 2012 8:07 am
A rather cursory look at a rich in history topic. Most of the things mentioned, as if , in passing.. You cannot do justice with Gujrat without telling how the city came into existence and the people from which it derives its name.
H.Syed
September 4, 2012 9:59 am
I am Gujrati from one of the Syed's 3 villages you have mentioned. I am living abroad since 30 years. Thank you for writing this wonderful account with minute details & this has taken me back to mid seventies when I was stydying in Zamindar College. Beautiful piece of writing that strengthens my bond back home with my beautiful Gujrat.
raju
September 4, 2012 8:19 pm
Though I have no connection to these places, still I enjoyed reading the blog as well as the comments.
Surinder M. Singh
September 3, 2012 8:30 pm
S.M. Singh, Sacramento, California, USA I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Gujrat. The writer has done a tremendous job in digging up and putting together a very informative account of this city. It is an excellent historical piece. My reading was very nostalgic. It brought back many fond memories. It probably was in1945 when I as a small boy happened to visit Gujrat along with my father. It was a very busy and bustling city at that time. My father used to go there for shopping. Gujrat - a district town then, which perhaps it still is, was much bigger than Lala Musa where we lived. My father remained the Headmaster of the Khalsa High School, Lala Musa until about mid1947 when - to escape the blood shed and atrocities of partition, we made a hasty move to Patiala and thence to Jalandhar ( Punjab, India ). While living in Lala Musa, I have walked with my father along the Jhelum river. I distinctly remember its majestic ebb and flow. One of my aunts had got her first job as a high school teacher in the Jhelum town. To escape the wrath of partition she also did move along with her family from Lahore to Simla ( Punjab now Himachal Pradesh, India ) Although I have lived in Canada since 1966 and in the US since 1994, my heart does often go back to where I spent my childhood and that was in Lala Musa, District Gujrat ( Pakistan ). While in Grade IV in Lala Musa my real first friend was Mohammad Latif who was the son of the ( Railway ) Station Master at Lala Musa. I read the online Dawn almost everyday. Thanks for reading my comment.
Anilsheth@rogers.com
September 4, 2012 1:32 pm
Ihave never been to Gujerat (pakistan) . Your impressionist style(ala Van Goghs paintings)evokes A nostalgia for readers asthough they were sitting with you in the " train of history " Thanks and pls write and continue to entertain us with fusion of yesterday as they blur into present..
Christ John
September 4, 2012 12:56 pm
My comment didn't get posted.I heard Dawn encourages freedom of speech.
MAHENDRA DEV
September 3, 2012 10:56 pm
nostalgia keeps you ever young my people moved to india in august 47. but still my fond memories of childhood belong to our village on the banks of mighty INDUS
Bareeha Kazmi
September 3, 2012 11:05 pm
It is beautiful how you pen the most tiny of the details and then use them to promote meanings and stories that are too huge to be held in words and paragraphs. While reading the article, there is always so much that I want to appreciate but whenever I start commenting.. I find myself a little too short of words.. However, I must still say that this was yet another magnificent piece of writing. And of course, I have once again fallen in love with the last lines of your articles. I think some years later we can publish the compilation of your articles with the title of "glimpses of sub-continental history". these are just like nehru's work.. no facts and dates yet all the history. on a different note, It is good to know that the rugged feeling of khais is missed by other people too.
Christ John
September 4, 2012 12:41 pm
Akhbar was a Mongolian invader and not a Pakistani.Pakistan was not even a country then nor Islam the religion of this area called Pakistan.The language of Mongols or Moghuls was Mongolian not Urdu.Mongolia is now a Buddhist country.Urdu is formed when Parsi with Persian language migrated to India and Persian mixed with Sanskrit.Urdu is a sub dialect of sanskritized Hindi.Christians of India do not call British "Our own British".
Koi-Kon
September 4, 2012 10:56 am
Saheb, Google a bit and you will find past episodes of the series. The episode named Three Musketeers dealt with Porus and " Soldiers and Saints" was about Mian Muhammad Bakhsh.. I hope I have not missed much... Regards
Koi-Kon
September 4, 2012 10:57 am
Appreciated.
Essaar
September 4, 2012 12:54 am
Thanks!
Mohammad Ashraf
September 10, 2012 7:40 am
how can an article on gujrt can be worth anything if it does not mention Rani Gujri and her conquest and susequent naming of the place. Also Raja Porus and Alexanders forces clashed on mong tilla which is only a few miles towards Lala Musa. from Gujrat. My earlier comments about the articles have not been included. Perhaps any critical appreciation is not welcome.
makraja
September 4, 2012 9:16 pm
keep on writing it is like taking me there and when i read it i detach from the present and can the red coats fighting the brave sikhs. Yes time is a healer but it is unkind to and thansk for the origins of the khais
surrinder gill USA
September 4, 2012 10:46 pm
Very interesting to read and know about different cities of lovely PUNJAB. I was born in 1953 at Patti dist Tarn Taran. But I love Punjab as a whole from Sindh to Jamuna rivers. I have travelled to Pakistan just to see my west Punjab 3 times. Though I am US citizen but still being born in India the Pakistan embassy does not grant visa for more than 15 days only to restricted places. I want to go each and every city of Punjab Like, kasur (at majar of baba Bule Shah) and also civil courts where many of my senior lawyers practiced before partition and told us many stories. Majar of Waris Shah, kabar of mai Heer, Pakpatan and Multan the cities of peers and faqirs. Panj Nad where all 5 rivers of Punjab merge with Sindh river. Politics might have divided us but hearts of all punjabis love each other. I hope one day GOD will bring hte day when every Punjabi will free to go anywhere he/she likes like USA, Canada, or Europe. Please print some photos of land marks of each city. I read Dawn every day to know about my lost Punjab.
Haider
September 5, 2012 7:20 am
Brought back the childhood memories of summer vacations spent with my family in Gujrat. Love your writing style!
Iftikhar Ahmad Qazi
September 5, 2012 7:20 am
I was born in Gujrat hailing from Gujjar Khan,pothohar.never lived in this district but being midway to Gujjarkhan ,have passed through many a times.Apart from this reference I read your article ,it is marvellous. beautifully written very informative as well. May i point at lighter aspect,( if it doesn't hurt any Gujrati countryman) regarding the shoes.ofcourse not the famous shoe factory there
Sohail
September 5, 2012 3:26 am
My roots goes back to Gujrat (Mangowal), but never realized this city is so rich in history. Realy enjoyed your writing. Best of all last lines "God attends this city diligently and answers all prayers, but if you visit the shrines there, it dawns upon you that no prayer has ever been answered" .. so true. Keep up the good work. Your next stop is Kunjah, my dad used to be student in Kunjah school and I vaguely remember him mentioning famous poet Maulvi Nazeer Dehlavi as his teacher. Looking forward to it ..
Iftikhar Ahmad Qazi
September 5, 2012 7:24 am
I second your opinion. No doubt he is so.I ve never gone through any of his other work but i can foresee a historian in offing
Koi-Kon
September 4, 2012 2:06 pm
Dear Christ John, I am well conversant with who Akbar was and where did he come from. Our very Own Akbar was infact a sattire, which I guess you took rather seriously. By the way, no malice, intellectual or emotional , intended.
Mansoor Butt
September 3, 2012 3:09 pm
Roshan Ara Begum belonged to Lalamusa close to Deona Mandi.
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