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 at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.

______________________________

-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/Dawn.com

The train rolled from Sialkot station and so did the tears from swollen eyes. Containing the pain was hard for these "internally displaced persons". They had buried their women and seen off their men to war, but this was rather painful. En route the freed land, there was another station, which had over-night become no man’s land … Gunnah Kalan, adorned in the post-rain freshness, standing solemnly to see off its children, leaving the quest for a better life, either because of their own decision or because of the decision of the others who thought they were better off without them.

Men and women started sobbing when the train neared Gunnah Kalan. Women hid their faces in their chaddars and Sardars started looking the other way, their usual reaction when they could no longer hold the tears. Hardened men, with steel courage, had developed the ability to stand through the thick and thin of life but this was probably too much. To the kids, the scene reminded them of the death of a family member who is seen for one last time before being missed forever. For them, Gunnah Kalan was minutes away from the funeral, the Antam Sanskaar. The kids were traumatised by all this and they were shocked, years after that journey, they missed home and cried for the village.

Every stroke of engine was like a saw-mill piercing through their hearts. By the side of the line stood Baroo, the local Christian, and waved the green signal flag to clear the train. All his play mates were inside the cabin but none got down to hug him for one last time. Talib Hussain, a class fellow since God knows when, was standing on the edge of a paddy field. They used to gather here before leaving for school. He always waited for them at the same place and entertained till everyone joined the clan. He had come to see them off today and stood there but did not gather the courage to wave the hand.

Through the window pane, Guruduwara Babay Dee Beri, Khalsa School, Murray College and Kangra Park, passed one after another. There will neither be any festivities in Babay Dee Beri on the 14th day of Chait, a month in Bikrami Calendar, nor will Sikh Jutts practice the traditional wrestling in the park. There was a time when people left their houses at dawn to witness these spectacles but not now. The independence had either come so far or was long gone.

After the stations of Alhar and Qila Sobha Singh, the train halted at Narowal. The driver refused to move ahead. Someone poked the pistol at his temple and soon the train started moving. Next to Jassar, was the double storey bridge and across the bridge, Hindustan awaited them. They got down at Dera Baba Nanak. A voice announced food and lodging at the Gurudwara. Walking through the mud and drinking from the ponds, filled with corpses, they reached Gurudwara. He roared, "You are free now, absolutely free, you are in the free India and have no place to live, lodge or prosper, Good riddance. Nothing belongs to you; so celebrate your freedom". With this, Honorary Captain Sardar Sawan Singh Bajwa, Sardar Bahadur, Order of British Empire, choked. The voice, which once halted the complete battalion, was miserably feeble. His hands hid his face, for the second time in the day and that was when everyone realised that he could weep too.

For those who had possessed everything, this dispossession came as a quick shock. They, somehow, are still unable to get over that 17th day of August 1947. Even today, when the day divides into two; the stoves in their Calgary and Alberta kitchens remind them of the rasoi from which they had departed. Many amongst them have left this world with the desire to see Gunnah again.

Is there any such thing as true love of the land or it is just greed, well concealed? Is it because of the grains it yields, binding human beings in love or the time spent together amidst rains or shine, fog and floods that cement these invisible yet strong bonds? I could not find an answer to this question and did not know whom to ask. It could be the clergy, who takes turns in playing the love of land up and down for the motives of faith. It could be the league of tiller, trader or landholders, who think that the land is only an agricultural commodity. Or lastly, it could be the bullocks that plough the field, kids that play in the crops and the old men who selflessly adore the land.

Another letter, from the neighboring village of Nidhoke, is written by Barkat Hussain, the mason. The fragmented script carries the pain despite the 65 years that intervened. The figure 786 sits atop the writing and after the greetings; whereabouts of the entire family are asked. Condolences for Numberdar Fauja Singh`s demise and the fading out of the village from the lives of those who migrated premise, the inquiry regarding Sardar Buddha Singh, Ratan Singh, Makha Singh, Pandit ji Maya Ram and Mela Ram. At the bottom, he has given his own address. The letter ends with emotionally endorsed remarks, "We have written to you with great love, (this is our second letter), please respond in the same manner ".

On both sides of Alhar, the battlefields of Chawinda and Bara Pind signify might, victory and power of the two neighbors. What matters most is not might, power and victory, but the bullet that pierces through the young flesh, the fire that burns the unscarred body and the destruction that engulfs lively settlements. Times have changed, Talib Hussain's son might have enrolled in military, Barkat's son in a madrassa and Gurudial's son in the Khalsa Panth, but this is not what the old men had dreamt about their children under that lone tree in past summers. The disappointment is great.

Migrating from Punjab is different. Anyone who abandons this land is bound to do it one more time. That is why every Punjabi has two 1947s in his life. Those who crossed Ravi, were up for another migration in 1984, when the place of Guru was the scene of violence and those who chose to stay behind, think about migration daily.

Note: While digging about Gunnah Kalan, I came across a few letters and a memoir of Sardar Balkar Singh Bajwa (an Indian school principal). Some aspects of this travelogue are attributed towards those memoirs. In line with the tradition of individual history keeping, a Bajwa in Gunnah Kalan has well guarded this forgotten treatise. Every Bajwa owes a lot to Imtiaz, who took Gunnah Kalan out of obscurity and put it on Google. Lastly, I don’t write for Aman Ki Asha, because governments, howsoever sincere, cannot evoke Asha, it has to come from within.

 


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 (31)

Haroon Rooha
October 31, 2012 1:22 am
Thanks for Standing up as a Muslim.
jd shami
October 29, 2012 5:54 pm
Pakistan is FACT. WHY DO NOT YOU INDIANS ACCEPT THIS FACT ANDV MOVE ON.
Muhammad Khan
October 29, 2012 2:35 pm
Very nice and thoughtful. again i would say what's done is done, either right or wrong. People of this region have great potential. We must learn to co-exist peacefully and burn all the hatred, conventional thoughts or extremism of any sorts. Any other country in world with a dynamic and progressive neighbor like India would feel luckiest, but in our case, the hatred which we have inherited by birth is taking us nowhere.
Rajinder Singh
October 30, 2012 11:28 pm
Miraj saab Loved every word of this heart warming article. My grandparents migrated from Gunnaur Gujranwala. Me and my father wish to see that pak dharti every day. Rajinder
Lion King
October 30, 2012 11:55 am
Article is not written by an Indian, contemplate on it wisely.
Babur ChughtaiMughal (@GenghizSon)
October 29, 2012 7:36 pm
Start to show some respect to the people of a neighboring country. Focus on yours. Solve your problems, and you have huge ones. Stop interfering in Pakistan and Pakistani affairs. It's none of your business, stranger.
anand singh
October 31, 2012 10:49 am
A well written article with a needless reference to 1984.
raika45
October 29, 2012 12:23 pm
Sit down and thing logically. What good did this partition bring to the people affected.Have your leaders past and present given the people a better life? Has India gained anything from this considering some 200 million muslims are still in India.The desire of politicians for power in their own created domain has resulted in a sort of anarchy especially in Pakistan.The ones that are lucky are the ones to left both countries and went overseas to build a new life.My parents were among them.The others are your corrupt politicians and their lackeys in both your country.What a shame when the use of religion can bring such agony to the people.1947 era wise.
raza
October 29, 2012 9:04 pm
Question Who wanted partition? who opposed the partition? How many people from the other religion stayed in each country? No One want answer it.
shakrullah
October 29, 2012 12:48 pm
raika45 I share your views and feelings about the humendous tragedy of 1947 . A classic event in which millions of people were divested of their humanity and turned into babarians in the name relgion . Religion activated the caveman and decent people turned into murderers and rapists. what purpose was served ? One wonders ! I
Koi-Kon
October 30, 2012 9:34 am
so why putting chughtai mughal in the name and genghiz son as an id
Koi-Kon
October 29, 2012 8:12 pm
Shahid Saheb, I think that every accident has some linkage with the past behaviours. Anyway, we can all live with differences.
Muhammad Ahmed
October 29, 2012 3:16 pm
This is indeed a very well written story about the pain and suffering of partition. It certainly gives a glimpse of history in a non-textbook way. It also provides vehicle of harmony indicating that if our ancestors were able to live in peace then probably we may be able to do that as well. It is however, a the much nicer side of the picture. Partition did happen for a very good reason becuase the idea was to ensure that type of communal disarray which still occurs in different places could be limited. A good case study would be plight of rohingas in Burma. I certainly wish that tolerance could be achieved overnight but it takes time, effort, education and understanding. We still have many issues to deal with on both sides of the border. I will happily applaud our eastern neigbors for progressing towards ideals which promote a greater level of tolerance. We will take our time in Pakistan but things will change. It is good to see someone bring the importance of our harmonized past because it becomes vehicle towards a brighter future.
sam
October 29, 2012 10:36 pm
Shahid its very logical of you to say so that one can not dwell in past and I agree with you 100% but we also need to know what our elders and old generations went through. Its an unending grief when you have to leave your birthplace, it eaves an everlasting impact on oneself if not on coming generations I guess...nostalgia and unspoken pain run deep!!!
Baighairat Kafir
October 29, 2012 4:00 pm
Really heart wrenching tale. Our independence is fake. Both sides are today ruled by corrupt, inefficient politicians who are much worse than British. At least people like the Bajwas of Gunnah Kalan were living safely in their homes and their ancestral village during British Raj! I wish we never became independent. Most of Indians and Pakistanis would migrate to a western nation if given a chance to do so. Then why make the western administrators leave us anyways? I hear stories of no hunger, no poverty during British times from older generation. Mullah Raj has dehumanized Pakistan. Both Muslims and Hindus in India are better off than Pakistanis, but its not that great either.
BRR
October 29, 2012 3:21 pm
Those that did not want the partition - the vast majority in today's India, have gotten over it. The trauma has faded, and they have moved on. And some are even glad that those who did not want to stay have left - what good is it to have people who do not want to stay?
Babur ChughtaiMughal (@GenghizSon)
October 29, 2012 7:35 pm
Pakistan is the present and the future. Doesn't matter what happened in 1947. What really matters is that this nation is the fulfillment of a destiny. Stop wailing over what did and didn't happen in some bygone era. Focus your energies on strengthening Pakistan, realizing the Pakistani dream, and making this country the best place to live for your children and mine.
Sarbjit Sidhu
October 29, 2012 3:49 pm
Mr. Miraz You are a wonderful person. I wish you and all the current residents of Gunnah Kallan a very pleasant life, my best wishes. Sarbjit S Sidhu
haroon
October 29, 2012 8:27 pm
I don't think the writter is asking anybody to live in the past but talking about human emotions and the agony one faces when you have to leave your dwelling. One should have the heart to look at the past as well and hopefully learn from it. The gist of the story is not about being a Pakistani or an Indian but humans and their emotions.
Bikkar S BRAR
October 30, 2012 6:54 am
Dear Miraj Sahib, May Allah (swt) give you strength to write many many more such wonderful articles. Look at the feeling in the comments. The people on both side of the fence are writing lovely comments on your writing. Your articles are bringing the people together. BRAR
suneel
October 30, 2012 1:30 pm
I would be happy to respect you if your identity is Harappa/Mohanjodro, Taxila university, Lahore/Pindi, Urdu/Punjabi or other local language and Sufi's of this land ; But if your identity has to do anything with invaders (Babur/Genghiz) who were mass murderer, I refuse to respect you. By taking pride in mass murderer, not only you are bringing shame to your own country but also to south asian identity.
shahid Butt
October 29, 2012 1:27 pm
I was borne in Pakistan and raised as Pakistani. You can not live in the past and you have to keep on moving for yourself and for future generations.
gul
October 30, 2012 8:27 pm
pretending to be babur,genghiz is the reason for not accepting people like you.you all belong to this land ,your ancesters were all hindus who ever you may be now and he who disrespects his forefathers is the lowest kind of a being
B. Ally
October 31, 2012 8:07 am
Babur and Changez were olden days Taliban. No different from present day Talban roaming around the same route of invasion
sbb
October 30, 2012 2:50 pm
The fact that you're (obviously) referring to people from your neighboring country as "stranger", clearly shows ignorance.
hitesh
October 31, 2012 3:50 am
O descendent of Babur ! Could you separate a child from his/her mother ? If you believe in soul could you separate it from body ? Even if you turned 60 or 70 could you stop your mother asking for your well-being. so is the case with Indians and Pakistanis. What soever far you go from us we will keep worrying about you.
s.d.gill
October 29, 2012 8:16 pm
i agreed with yoy , what a madness of religion, killing innocent people and thinking serving allah.. Gain nothing from this parttion.except some politions and mullahs gained lot of wealth and position. . Most of the people lost a lot. Lets forget about hatred and start loving and caring ,both countries will gain a lot. i am a punjabi from pakistan.. God bless people of both nations. s.d. gill
B. Ally
October 30, 2012 2:19 pm
Partition was a painful and remains painfully wrapped in memories. I wish people should be able to visit the land of their ancestors, those who came to Pakistan and those who went to India.
Haroon Rooha
October 31, 2012 1:16 am
Muslims are commanded ..... Commanded not take jews,christians are freinds workers neighbours.They must be killed ,any where you find them,as commanded by allah in every sura of the quraan. so practiticed faith fully by his only prophet. He headed ghajwas personalyThere is no way Islam can live in moderanity/Democratic Republics.
waqas
October 30, 2012 4:18 pm
We should stop this mud slinging, No one living in south asia belongs to the native race, even the aryans were invaders. So lets not go where nothing positive could be achieved. Partition was bitter but at that time it was inevitable. Lets move forward and work for the peace and prosperity of our respective nations. Hatred did us no good in the past and nor will it do now.
Khan(Canada)
October 31, 2012 1:43 am
Fully agreed suddenly Punjabis of Pakistan waked up and found love for the punjabi of India, if these federal employees and bureaucrats spend their energy for the welfare of Pakistan , it would be a better place to live. They are the one who run the bureaucracy, army and the country and everything is in a mess. Mairaj wake up and do some work for Pakistan stop living in Gunnah Kalhar or choo choo ki malia
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