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 at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.
The train approaches sluggishly toward its last abode on the East. Next to Kartarpura, is Shakargarh. In the British Raj, it was part of the Gurdaspur district and after the partition, it formed part of Sialkot. In 1991, when Narowal was made the district, Shakargarh was declared its part.
Baein Nala flows astride the Ravi River and the railway line. It starts short of the border in the north and drains into Ravi towards the end. Across Baein, is the town of Masroor Bara Bhai. The name comes from a saint, Khwaja Abdul Salam Chishti, who was affectionately referred to as an elder brother. He did not only illuminate the hearts and minds of the locals but also solved their water issues. According to local belief, water rose to many wells because of his spiritual powers. These fountains, now powered by tube wells, have been instrumental in greater yields.
Shakargarh is a sizable grain market besides being a prominent city. Its proximity to the border results in mass migrations during wars. While people in the other parts of the country head home during war, the Shakargarh residents leave their home and the city for safer areas westward.
About a hundred years ago, Pashori Mal was a reputed lawyer who practiced in Shakargarh. At the birth of his third son, he named him Dharm Dev Pashori Mal Anand. The boy was schooled in Dalhousie and by the time he enrolled in Government College, Lahore, he was struggling with the long name. The next cut came when he joined the British Military as a civilian. Years after, when he shot to fame, he further edited the long name. On both sides of the border, reel life and real life have surprising similarities where one thrives on the other, hence little did people know that Dev Anand was originally Dharam Dev Pashori Mal Anand.
Lohtian is a small village on the other side of railway line where Javed Iqbal lives in his ancestral home, allotted to his father as a refugee in 1947. The wooden door is not carved but radiates antiquity. A chain hangs around the hook and serves the purpose of door bell. An inscription on the wall says something about the date but is illegible due to rains and paints. Inside the house, the walls have been decorated by lining up metal utensils. A Chinese TV set sits between utensils, beds and windows where occasionally Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sings...
“Maye ni maye .. meray geetan day nena which birhon dee radak pavay” “(O Mother) .. my songs reflect the sufferings of separation”Javed does not know that the poet of this famous song, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, was born in this room and he had spent his childhood in the streets of Lohtian.
The father of Shiv Kumar Batalvi was a Brahmin and Tehsildar. He was aged 11 in the August of 1947 when his family moved to Batala. In his early years, Shiv sat long hours with snake charmers and Jogis. Later on, these characters frequently appeared in his poetry. He never liked school and spent most of his time along the river side and temples. This impulsive nature prevailed and he did not graduate from any educational institute. Shiv’s is an ordinary story of pain but an extraordinary epic of creativity. He fell in love with a lady whose parents turned him down for an expatriate from their own caste. The old dilemma of caste and status hit him hard. The deprivation and the pain set his spirits free and his poems were instant hits across the Punjabi world. Shiv Kumar smouldered inside, only to produce the poetry of unmatched pathos. He died at the young age of 37, re-telling the John Keats and Israr ul Haq Mijaaz tale. The youngest recipient of the Sahitya Academy Award had prophesied his early death in many of his poems.
Asaa’n ta’n joban rutte marna Tur jana’n assa’n bhare bharaye Hijar tere dee ker parkarma Assa’n tan joban rutte marna
I will die young, Leaving the world satiated Completing the circle of this departure from you I will die young --Shiv Kumar - “Bid Me Farewell”Chak Amru is the last railway station on the Pakistani side. The ticket counter has been cemented plain, as if the states have given up on any future relations. There might have been a train which would ferry passengers across Ravi to Sialkot but it appears too old to be true. The instruction of rechecking the change has been painted in black. Nobody had ever thought that there will be a time when the change will actually be in rupees, and coins will be discarded. Dampness on the walls has taken dark shades and testifies the abandoned status of the building. The track is lost beneath the shrubs. It appears that other than occasional herds, no one crosses this line. The train returns to Narowal on the same route via Jassar.