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The Poet and Kartar


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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.


-Photo by author

This place marks the time zone of Pakistan. Arore Hindus initially settled here and converted to Islam by a saint Shah Shams of Multan. A man named Naro decided to set up a city. The Brahmins warned that the city might not see the light of the day unless the foundations were laid by a Syed Muslim. Strangely enough, a few miles away at Qila Sobha Singh, Muslim blood had inaugurated construction. The quest of a Syed willing for the task, took Naro to another saint, Habib Ullah Shah, who accompanied him back to this place. On one of the mound settled the family of Habib Ullah Shah and on the other, the children of Naro. The history of Narowal is all about these two families.

Nothing ancient remains in the city. The buildings have been razed, temples caved and the Guruduwaras demolished. All public offices are now housed in a large compound on Shakar Garh road. This small haven of government officials and their families, away from the masses, is growing fast. Upon failing to find anything historical, I asked a school teacher about the ancient buildings. He brushed the dust off his worn out waist coat, once a trade mark of teachers, and replied, “Where individuals did not survive, how could the buildings?”

I gave up on buildings and picked up on personalities. A triangle of love, truth and expression emerges, which has Jassar, Narowal and Kala Qadir at its three corners. Narowal is the first angle and Hashim Shah is its identity. His mysticism shadows the description of Sassi’s plight. When left to the cruel dunes of the desert, which changed shapes with the wind, Sassi lost her way to death but found her course to eternity.

The second corner of this triangle is the abandoned city of Jassar, an important railway station that was once the rail and road crossing for Ravi River. The waters were still shared and the division had yet to step in the physical and mental domains. Jassar Bridge was blown up in the 1965 war. One wonders, that despite the three wars, ideological issues, Ghauris vs. Prithvis, Ajmal Qasabs and Bal Thackereys, whenever an Indian comes across a Pakistani whether on the banks of River Seine, malls of Hamburg or the ruins of Rome, there is an involuntary acquaintance in the eyes. Before the enmity takes over, there is a moment of friendship. When the sun starts to fade, and twilight engulfs everything, a Pakistani and an Indian miss their mothers alike. Some have traded family jewelry, while others have mortgaged skills and academic excellence but the diaspora acquired by both is emotionally painful, yet materially rewarding.

Besides the destroyed bridge, there is another connection between these people of hostile governments: Punjabi. On this side of the triangle, the poetry of Afzal Ahsan Randhawa binds the two. The vicinity of the river and the association with the fields has granted his words the strength that influences decisions.

Main Daryawan daa hani saan, Tarnay pay Gayay Khaal nee Mayay

I grew up treading the oceans  …  Alas! I am confined to seasonal streams.

The anonymous town of Kala Qadir sits at the apex of this triangle. Dusty streets, busy cross-roads, fields and straw-shelters with interspersed electric poles best describe the village. It wears the humility personified by Faiz. His life and time were as simple, yet illustrative as this village. From the military service to the conspiracy case and the editorship of progressive papers to heading the arts council, Faiz was every bit a glory.

Another reference to Narowal is Dr Imam ud Din Shahbaz. He is famous for the Punjabi translations of Psalms and has composed many carols. Every Christmas, in the small rural churches, those who sit at the organ revere him for the service.

The road from Jassar is accompanied by the border and the rail line. Next is Kartar Pura, a city set up in the name of God by Baba Nanak. Rarely has anyone taken to lay the city in the name of God, though everyone is eager to fight for His cause. Baba Nanak stayed at this place in his last years and died here. As with all great man, he left the legacy of faith and conflict. His Muslim followers wanted to bury the remains while the Hindus wanted to cremate him. When tones got louder and daggers were to be drawn, somebody indicated the absence of the body beneath the sheets. There lay a bunch of flowers but the body of Guru Nanak Dev had disappeared.

-Photo by author

Contemplating the divinity, the faithful divided the sheet and distributed the flowers amongst themselves. Muslims buried their part of the sheet and flowers and Hindus cremated their share. Inside the compound, a marble grave is decorated with sheets, on which are couplets written in Shah-Mukhi script and inside the building, the Samadhi with the same marble has couplets inscribed in Gurumukhi.

-Photo by author

On the arch facing the main entrance, a plaque commemorates more of the services of the Maharajah and lesser about the glory of Baba Nanak. It explains, how with the grant of Rs. 1,35,000 the Maharaja saved the Gurudwara from the floods. The Gurudwara was closed down after partition and when both the countries were tired of war, they realised the existence of these symbols of peace. It has been renovated, courtesy Pakistani Government and the Guruduwara Parbandhak Committee.

-Photo by author

The standard of Sikh faith flutters on a large pole and can be seen from a distance. A well neighbors this standard and is located next to the grave. Manjit, the soft spoken curator, takes visitors on a tour of the Gurudwara, and one becomes helpless in succumbing to the humility of this faithful.

On the first floor, lies the Granth Saheb and the recital podium. The windows open to the vast expanse of the River Ravi and in the far distance the Gurudwara of Dera Baba Nanak can be seen, across the river  ... across the border. In the verandah, rations are stacked for the langar and construction activity is all around, a hostel, a medical complex and an education institution, welfare best shadows the religious mind.

-Photo by author

Walking in and out, chaadar clad women and head covered men are reminders of a deep seated faith. The outer periphery is marked with the lines of trees and river Ravi flows amidst maze. Before leaving, Manjeet politely demands the Gurudwara cap I had worn. I noticed it was the same I had worn for Eid prayers, a few days ago. The Keertan voices started spreading the message …

-Photo by author

Awal Allah noor upaya qudrat kay sab banday, Aik nor say sab jagg pujia, kon bhalay kon manday

With one light, he created all, and everyone is a man of God He lit the whole world with one light so who can tell the good from the bad --Bhagat Kabir

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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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (35) Closed

Capt C M Khan Nov 13, 2012 06:16am
Excellent article, keep writing, we were not taught this part of history in shcools although I am from Jhang very near Narrowal. . Abrout Pakistani meeting Indians in foreign countries I have been encountering since the past forty years. Beleive me abroad we are all good friends except for CRICKET, but not even that has changed in recent years seeing how AVERAGE this present cricket team is !
Jadoon Nov 14, 2012 07:51am
The very text of your rejoinder explains who is more extremist.....Pakistanis or Indians.
Pitambara Mishra Nov 13, 2012 05:44pm
I agree with you.
george Nov 13, 2012 08:38pm
People must accept that religion was created by Man for the well being of man. The holy books were also written by Man. This explains why in some holy books you will see contradictory things which is incompatible in the modern world. Problem is you cannot convince a Muslim.
Kamal Nov 14, 2012 07:46am
Great article. I believe people belittle themselves by hiding behind religion. The last quote in the article from Bhagat Kabir, simply sums up everything. God bless.
Kamaal Nov 14, 2012 11:07am
Why not include Bangladesh, which is more closer(Culture / Religion) to Pakistan than India. Why authors normally forget Bangladesh or is it deliberate...
Shoaib Nov 13, 2012 02:07am
I know it is hard to see a simple love of humanity irrespective of religion affiliation in today's Pakistan but there are a lot of Pakistanis who are thinking like the author. I know many of my friends have similar views about others in South Asia,10 years ago it was impossible to see this kind of writing in the popular newspapers like Dawn.
far2cool Nov 14, 2012 11:00am
In my humble opinion sir,India isn't as secular as it pretends to be. according to a recent news report...a muslim was threatened for sacrificing cow which is a part of islamic ritual.Muslims do not hate anti islam. Infact islam teaches strict politeness with other religions .i suggest that we must have complete knowledge before judging and commenting on something.Pakistan is the state bearer of war against terrorism for international peace and yet our sacrifices remain unappreciated!
Shoaib Nov 13, 2012 01:51am
Your mentality is part of your history, mother land and your believes it does not change by just changing your religion.
Avtar Nov 13, 2012 01:27am
Nicely done. I have heard the story in Gurudwaras but did not realize that it was Ravi river that Guru Nanak spent his last days.
Koi-Kon Nov 13, 2012 09:35am
Anil Saheb, I think (and I can be wrong) that religion is a very necessary part of our lives but unfortunately, we do not live upto it. Its followers that bring bad name to a faith not otherwise
raj kumar chhabra Nov 14, 2012 07:33am
Well done are bringing love , and your bloggers are too doing lovely works, keep it up Dawn Salaam to you People
Muhammad Saim Nov 14, 2012 06:47am
U claim tht Pakistanis have huge amount of jealousy as he is taught to hate. However from your post it looks like you are the one who has been taught to hate ppl esp if they are from Pakistan.
Muhammad Saim Nov 14, 2012 06:48am
Wrong usage of anything can be dangerous and so is the case with Religion, but this does not mean that religion itself is evil
Awakenedhindu Nov 14, 2012 06:28am
I am an Hindu and an Indian.I strongly believe in my Bhagwan/God/Parvartigar/Kudha/Allah. Anil being kafir is not good. Anil believe in our Hindu gods and goddesses like lord Sri Ram,you have forgotten god,let god forgive you and bless you, he will give you peace,liberation and Paradise. :)
raghu Nov 13, 2012 01:09pm
There is no comparison between a Indian and a pakistani as for the later, religion holds the primacy over other issues.India is a democratic and secular country which is progressive while pakistanis follow a semiic faith of middle eastern origin whose book is a code for for genocide .......there is a great urge with author to equate india with pakistan. There is a huge amount of jealousy in a typical paki's mind since he is taught to hate anything which is not islam though he pretends otherwise. pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism and it will remain so
Truth Hurts Nov 14, 2012 12:29am
The true religon is the code of life as well, most of the cultures are totally different then the true religon; Changing the religion means a total change towards success here and hereafter...
Truth Hurts Nov 14, 2012 12:26am
The world is a perfect place if the true religon is practised-but if one understands....
Malcolm X Nov 13, 2012 10:39pm
In my humble opinion I simply can't make what the author has aimed to get across through this article.
Srini (UK) Nov 13, 2012 10:08pm
Sorry to burst your bubble. Most Indians I know avoid Pakistanis like Plague. It is Indian custom that we appear polite even in front of the people we do not like. So please do not mistake that for our love, or respect for you guys. One immediate red flag that goes in our head is the inconvenient conversation about religion, that you guys invariably subject us to. We are comfortable with our religion and in fact do not hold the Abrahamic religions in that high of a regard. So please do not try to convince us about Islam and/or its peace loving nature. We know what we see, we hear and feel. We can form our own opinions. Also, please do not behave as if we are the same people. We might have been in the past. We certainly are not now. Your minds are closed and it is filled with hatred for other religions, secularism, and India. So don't expect us to look over all that and respect you. May be in 50 years, after you purge all the ills from your minds and your society, we can talk as equals. Right now, you guys are just a nut case that we all want to avoid.
ammariftikhar Nov 13, 2012 06:06pm
I'm afraid that is not true, on the contrary it is religion that has taken the world to life
Jadoon Nov 14, 2012 07:55am
Were the WWI and WWII fought on the basis of religion? Religion has contributed to conflict but is not the only cause of conflict. There are others. Religions have also united people.
Sue Sturgess Nov 13, 2012 02:56am
The world would be a much better place if religion did not exist - it creates too much dissension between people.
sharad Nov 13, 2012 02:49pm
Thank you very much sir for nice article....keep writing like these things....Sharad, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
Ranjit Nov 13, 2012 11:59am
Yes but coverts tend to be the biggest fanatics.
simon mumtaz Nov 19, 2012 08:11pm
Amazing Miraj Sahib, mera shehar Narowal
anil Nov 12, 2012 07:27pm
@Muhammad Hassan Miraj No doubt you are a very secular person . So let me ask you a question ? Religion hasn't served any good purpose till now , If I consider some major religions . It has divided the country, it has polarized the people ,it has made people extremists and has taken us away from logic and science and the people responsible for that are the people who preach it. But the community who doesn't believe in religion are relatively stable(communists) , though they have other issues . So why not dump all these religions and follow the path of truth and logic .People have conquered the moon , but our religious festivals are incomplete without moon .In this age , Logic gives you the right path . Why shouldn't we follow the truth , in stead of finding answers from books which were written hundreds of years ago. If only these books are there to guide us , why we are born with a brain and analyzing capacity? So the only path to be followed is logic and nothing else.Only logical thinking and distance from religion can save this world, because we have already seen the more we become religious, the more we become extremist.
Madan Nov 12, 2012 06:52pm
What a thought provoking article.Reminds me of Jhelum river in Bhera on the banks of which both Hindus and Muslims were celebrating baisakhi.There used to be a muslim festival across the river from Bhera in ahmedabad village where we use to assemble.Wish those days come back.
farhanshahidkhan Nov 12, 2012 01:45pm
Wonderful but I would add a correction. whenever and Indian and Pakistani find each other across the border facing each other, there is a strange ice not enmity. We pretend as If we do not see the person in front. If one of us breaks the ice, it seems like we know each other from eternity. It had happened to me on Sialkot, Wagah, Qasur. I don
farhanshahidkhan Nov 12, 2012 01:43pm
Wonderful but I would add a correction. whenever and Indian and Pakistani find each other across the border facing each other, there is a strange ice not enmity. We pretend as If we do not see the person in front. If one of us breaks the ice, it seems like we know each other from eternity. It had happened to me on Sialkot, Wagah, Qasur. I don't think there is any individual level enmity, the enmity is at state level. All over the world, Indians and Pakistanis make the best friends. Even the military officers who have served together under UN Flag become better friends than some of their own counterparts
rahul Nov 12, 2012 12:13pm
Great article...just one thought comes to my mind...why cant men and women being thinking men and women and discard religious barriers and immerse in spiritual love....while religion demands loyalty...creates fear and hatred...spirituality is source of human spirit and only radiates love....Strong spiritual movements (art of living, sufiana) are getting strengthened in india...hope to see the same in pak
Jack Nov 12, 2012 12:13pm
It is funny that the author quotes some unknown examples to state that his nation is secular!!
ZXY Nov 12, 2012 12:43pm
Why does mentality change with conversion ? Those who converted may have found the Arab religion to be the true one. Those who didnt obviously dont agree with those who converted. Then why the hostility ? Isnt everyone entitled to his/her opinion ?
raika45 Nov 12, 2012 02:25pm
He is not talking that his nation is secular.He is basically talking of Guru Nanak whose teachings were secular.This man considered that religions mainly Islam and Hinduism had one common objective. That we are all the product of the supreme being. Read the last part of this column.
farhanshahidkhan Nov 12, 2012 02:11pm
I think all he wants is to tell people, the history which has never been told