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.
The train halts at Gujrat for a while but it looks like a lifetime. The shackles of shrines and lost love finally let go of the locomotive, only to be stalled by Chenab. The beautiful, artificial, expensive and expansive restaurant of Kinara, at the bank of river Chenab is not the first rendezvous of the river and the city. The blind date comes at a point much earlier than this. Before the boundaries were redrawn and wounds were etched forever by My lordship Cyril Radcliffe (under the auspices of Boundary Commission), many passages, roads and tracks moved along river Chenab. Oblivious of upheavals in the offing, settlements like Karianwala, Alamgarh and Guliana dwelled on these routes
Somewhere, in this area, a town, much famous has existed since what looks like eternity. It has been for so long that nobody can really tell when the mint installed by Alexander passed to the Maurya Empire and when they started casting the one-eyed image of Maharaj Ranjit Singh on coins. The “Who, What, When and Where” questions about Jalaldin, Shakla Nagar and Kalachur, remain unanswered. The ruins of Islamgarh Fort, however, can be seen. There were fewer Temples and Gurudwaras. The temples were demolished after a few men tried to redefine the history of the Babri Mosque in India and the Gurudwaras were converted into schools. The birthplaces of wisdom are now the deathbeds of truth. The hallowed corridors, where once history was created are now flooded with students who are taught the history, only that the latter has been altered for furtherance of hatred and enmity.
Jalalpur Jattan was a minimised subcontinent, much different than the small town notion it now carries. A 16 mile road connected it to Gujrat. Another road leaves Jalalpur via Shahbazpur and borders Chenab. The districts of Sialkot lie on the other side of the river which also serves as an administrative boundary of the two divisions. When the cold waters of the river did not carry the smell of tanneries and carbon footprint was nonexistent in this area, Jammu and Sialkot could easily be seen from the raised hillocks of Jalalpur. Love was nurtured by visions and glimpses, alone in those fascinating times.
Astride the main road, houses are constructed with modern bricks but on stepping into the alleys, old bricks can be spotted with ease. Regardless of its size, the city had its own distinct culture prior to the partition. I turned back in time and was, at once in the city … in 1940.
The city is humming with the strength of Kalia, the wrestler with the title of Rustam-e-Hind. Mukhtar Masood has lately joined Aligarh University. Both of them will be remembered because of their brilliance in their respective fields. The age of wrestling will sadly come to an end after a few years but that of creativity will continue. The weavers are busy in their craft; raw Pashmina is brought here from Kashmir and woven into shawls, Dhussas and Khais, only to cover India. A shawl is the emblem of love and a Dhussa is an insignia of apathy. The shawl worn by a mother extends amnesty and a Dhussa enveloping a father displays indifference, though both are indispensable and promise warmth.
In the centre of the city is an age old memorial of eunuchs. Loot and plunder, death and destruction, development and rehabilitation, all this will come in cyclic patterns until these lesser children of God will have their say. In a few decades, short of a century, they will be granted the right to vote, the right to register in the national database, the right to identity and may be ever the right to exist. As of now, this is a seat of reverence for eunuchs, and that too since four and half centuries. Their coronation ceremony is held here and eunuchs across India come here. They will continue to come here after the blood-stained August of 1947. Those who will be regretted visas, will send in their gifts. Around this place is a mosque, named after the eunuchs. In the centre of the mosque, the fresh water well is famous in the entire city. The refreshing water carries some other effects and is used for culinary specialties. Lucky are these days when divine blessings are beyond the gender differentials, which will not continue for too long.
The early morning, post azaan time echoes with Sitar playing. The instrument has not yet qualified as a delicacy and is commonly played in public. There will be a time when it will be confined to a few good men of taste and tradition. More so, it will be displayed rather than played.
On one side of the city, the streets of Mohallah Panditan and Mohallah Sadhoo intersect each other and on the other side is the confectionery of Taan Sain, a baker with a dream. Between Sadhoo, Pandit and the baker, the whole city co-exists peacefully. A day in the life of Taan Sain is marked with making dough, kneading flour and baking biscuits and cookies. The starch and sugar has precipitated in his tone and words. In the evening, when everyone sits down at Dr Boodhraj’s hospital, he goes on telling that Mr Jinnah and Pandit Nehru can take their Pakistan and India, wherever they want to. He won’t ever leave Jalalpur and more so his confectionery, which he refers to, as “Kaarkhana”. He will not go anywhere, until the Imam Sahib, whom he had sent fresh baked vermicelli every Eid, will infuriate the mob against the infidel and rally them to kill him. This dreamy baker will die with eyes wide open, filled with amazement rather than pain. Taan Sain will only be killed because he was born at the wrong side of history and at a very wrong point in time. Had he been born during the times of Nizam-ud-Din Auliya, he would have had luck, success and fame and might had qualified as a Khusrau, or worked in the reign of Akbar, and had qualified as one of the Nau Ratans. I think, it will come to him because of his over-reliance on the bonds of being born at one place and growing up in another. He probably thought that religion will subjugate the concealed inherent animal instinct, we human beings harbor, secretly but very very fondly.
(To be continued…)
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