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.

______________________________

290-Final-Ranjit-Birthplace
Ranjit Singh's birthplace. -Photo by author

This area was known as Rachnab. After Rahwali, the train traversed through open spaces and tilled fields till it reached Gujranwala. Between the wasteland of the Sugar Mill and wonderland of the city, there was a railway station. The building is a stark reminder of the punitive mentality that the British often employed. The high point of the year 1919 was the Jallianwala incident and Gujranwala lost 22 men to Dyer’s brutality. When the dead bodies arrived, they were hanged at Brandreth gate. It sparked violence. Local administration resorted to the old tactics of sectarian violence and threw in a slaughtered pig and calf in a mosque and temple respectively, but it did not gain the desired results. The memories of this incident were deeply etched in the residents’ minds. Finally they set the railway station on fire from where the Prince of Wales was to pass during his royal tour in 1921. The visit went well but the administration decided to shift the railway station three miles out of the city as retribution. Later on, the station was reverted to its current location.

There was a time when Rahwali was detached from Gujranwala. The stations of Rahwali, Gujranwala, Theri Sansi and Aimenabad were on a widely spaced layout on the railway line. The city was guarded by the gates, named as Sheranwala Gate, Khiyali Gate, Sialkoti Gate, Brandreth Gate and Thakur Singh Gate. These gates are long lost in the memories. It is impossible to map the city limits now. From Rahwali to Aimenabad, everyone is a proud citizen of Gujranwala. Showrooms, bungalows converted into hospitals and schools, workshops, gas stations, mosques and fried chicken outlets connect Rahwali to Gujranwala. The city officially starts from an intersection which has many names and people choose from amongst them to suit their convenience. Large hoardings provide solutions from hair-loss to faith-loss and dominate the skyline. One road leads to Daska via Nandipur, another connects Chan Da Qila to Rahwali and the third road leads to Gujranwala City.

Climaxabad, named after the Climax Engineering Company, is the first township. A century ago, these Khokhars migrated to this city and their sole possession was perseverance. They started casting horse shoes in the backyard and now produce large scale transformers. The first of the factories came up in 1940 and there was no looking back. They developed alongside the city and appeared as the first industry of the city. As of today, everything short of an aircraft, and of course a nuclear plant, is manufactured in Gujranwala.

Gujranwala is not a story but a candy store of stories. Now that the cities have come to define people, and people in turn characterise cities, Gujranwala has a rich history. It dates back to first century and according to few, Kalidas also had a connection with the place. Amongst the pioneers were Pratihaars Gujars, who named the city, Gujranwala. Other traditions link Sansi tribes for having developed the city and their chief renaming this place “Khanpur Sansi”. Documented history finds the mention of the city in Moghul diaries where Aurangzeb Alamgir passed enroute to Kashmir. It was during this era of Ranjit Singh that the city shot to fame. Hari Singh Nalwa, a Khalsa general, planned the city to be as it is today.

Ranjit-Birthplace-d
Ranjit Singh's birthplace. -Photo by author

Before the city is further explored, a story remains untold. In the surroundings of the Sabzi Mandi, there is a police station. A side room of the station, which housed criminals and was being used as a lockup a few years back, was originally the place where Ranjit Singh was born. Sher-e-Punjab, as he was known, Ranjit Singh was a ruler who was unique in his own way. He hired competent generals of European armies. These veterans brought along valuable military training and tradition. The military might, coupled with first rate diplomacy, courtesy Faqeers (Faqeer Syed Waheed uddin and Faqeer Syed Aziz uddin), helped the Maharaja put a stop to British expansionism. A few die-hard Punjabis title him as the first Punjabi ruler of Punjab and others call him the only Punjabi ruler of Punjab, to-date. Starting from a small estate, Maharaja consolidated his victories and gained prominence to an extent that history feels obliged to explain the 12 Missals and the Sakerchakiya dynasty, because of their Maharaja connection.

Ranjit-Birthplace-c
Ranjit Singh's birthplace. -Photo by author

Khalsa Darbar was bounded by the mountains of Himalaya and river basins. While this all was happening, Maharaja heard about a beauty called Jind Kaur. He sent his arrows and swords as a proposal and eventually married her, making her the youngest Maharani. Upon the death of the Maharaja, all his wives except Rani Jindan burnt themselves to death in accordance with the Rajput tradition of Satti. Jindan had to look after her young son, now Maharaja Duleep Singh. After a series of intrigues, three successions, loot and plunder, Maharaja Duleep Singh ascended the throne, with Rani Jindan as his regent. The British were wary of the Sikh uprising so on one pretext or the other; they kept the Maharaja away from Punjab and finally sent him to England. John Lawrence, the administrator of Lahore and of Lawrence Road fame, humiliated the Rani by exiling her to various forts across India. In England, the young Maharaja was placed under the guardianship of Mr Logins, instructed to raise him as a Christian. Every morning the Maharani woke up with a boxed heart to see her son starting his day, reciting "Our father who art in heaven".

After some 13 years, the Maharaja was allowed to see his mother in Calcutta and he did not recognise her. The eyes that once mesmerised the most powerful man of Punjab had lost their shine. On his insistence, Duleep Singh was allowed to bring his mother to England. She was nowhere close to Messalina, as some of the English historians refer. In the August of 1860, Rani Jindan passed away in Kensington, but this is not the end of this story.

Another bout of dialogues pursued before the Maharaja was given the permission to take his mother’s remains to India but not to Punjab. The dead body, meanwhile, was placed in an adjacent cemetery. On arrival in India, she was cremated at Nasik, six months after her death. The ashes were yet to reach their final destination.

On his way back, Maharaja Duleep Singh married a Christian lady and had six children. Bamba Sofia Duleep Singh was one of them. In the first decade of the 20th century, she moved to Lahore, getting weary of their superficial life at the Hampton Court. The self styled Maharani married Col Dr David Sutherland, the principal of King Edward Medical College. In 1924, she was given permission to bring the remains of her grandmother Rani Jindan. She finally interred these remains at Samadhi Ranjit Singh, but the story is yet to end.

Bamba took up residence in Model town and named her house “Gulzar”. After Sutherland died, she hired a secretary Pir Kareem Bakhsh Soopra who looked after her affairs. Like all other grandchildren of Ranjit Singh, she too had no children and spent her time in various estates at Simla and Farid Kot. Maintaining a life of royal exclusion, she saw the partition with pain and eventually settled in Lahore. The last Maharani would often retort that I cannot get a seat in a Lorry while once we ruled the entire Punjab. Queen Victoria was her godmother and she had inherited what the mother Queen liked about her father the most ... the dreamy eyes. On a February morning in 1957, those dreamy eyes finally closed. Bamba, the last of the blue blood, passed away silently and that is how the story ended.

There is a grave in a Christian cemetery in Lahore. Every Christmas, Shab-barat, Good Friday and Eid, this grave is visited and wreaths are laid by the family of Karim Bakhsh Soopra, the faithful secretary.

800px-Gora_kabristan_lahore_headstone_sutherland_bamba_1957
Source: Wikipedia

The inscription on the grave has a couplet in the official language of the Moghul court, Persian, and says it all:

“Farq e Shahi wa bandage Bar Khwast Choon Qaza-i-Nawishta Ayed Paish Gar Kisay Khaak Murdah baaz Kunad Na Shanasad Tawangar Az Dervaish”

There remains no difference between royalty and servility When the moment of (fore-written) death arrives If someone opens any grave He cannot tell the difference between the rich and the poor

To be continued…


hassan-miraj-80
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.

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.

More From This Section

Movie Review: ‘Bhoothnath Returns’, better than the original

Bhoothnath Returns talks about a mix of emotions with a simple message: get up and vote.

Fashion, destroying Pakistan from within

The liberal, extremist, secular, treacherous agenda at work in local fashion - now exposed!

Goodbye, Archie

We could relate to the awkward bumbling teenager because, like us, he too was far from perfect.

Movie Review: Main Tera Hero, ‘Govinda Ishtyle’

Main Tera Hero is filler entertainment – the kind that slides in between more serious works of cinema.


Comments are closed.

Comments (22)

Imran
December 4, 2012 9:58 pm
Chellianwala is nowhere near Rahim Yar Khan. Its in District Gujrat (now in district Mandi Bahauddin). I have seen the memorial at the site of the Anglo-Sikh battle. Roughly 110 miles south west of Islamabad.
Imran
December 4, 2012 10:01 pm
Relax Khan Sb. He's just interested in the subject of Punjab's history. We should be grateful that someone's doing it.
MAB
December 3, 2012 1:43 pm
Simply brilliant. It would be great to get all of the articles in this series combined in one book. I'd love to have that.
HSingh
December 4, 2012 12:43 pm
May a very few Pakistanis know that, a large number of Artillery Generals of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Khalsa Army were Muslims, eg. General Illahi Baksh, Maghe Khan, Imam Shan, Sultan Mahmood and Sardar Hukam Din. In battle of Sabraon (First Anglo-Sikh War, Feb 1846), General Mewa Singh of Khalsa Cavalry and General Maghe Khan of Khalsa Artillery together repulsed three attacks of might British Army, who was led by officers experienced in Waterloo against Napoleon. In second Anglo-Sikh war, battle of Chillianwalla (a villege in Distt. Rahim Yar Khan) was so fierce that contemporary British poet George Meredith wrote a full poem on it. He never saw this battle or ever visited India but just collected its horrific details from survivors in England. May people in Pakistani Punjab know their history and culture a bit more!
naim ur rehman
December 4, 2012 3:52 am
well done excellent article. Keep writing and keep informing people of their past
Koi-Kon
December 3, 2012 3:03 pm
Thank You
Circumbulator
December 3, 2012 1:19 pm
God bless you sir, for reminding us of our heritage so eloquently.
saleem tahir
December 3, 2012 7:39 pm
Touching and true. Please write more like this to enlighten the public of our heritage
Khan
December 4, 2012 4:10 am
Miraj all of your articles are full of praise for Sikhs and Punjabis only I think you believe in Greater Punjab than Pakistan the conspiracy surfaced during 1990's
Ghazali
December 4, 2012 6:11 pm
What a great article this was! Please continue to present these histories. They speak of a time that we will never see again.
Skaukat Farooq
December 3, 2012 2:30 pm
Very interesting.So many lessons to learn.Please continue and finish.
Arifa
December 4, 2012 6:34 am
Loved the article.... :)
Bikkar S BRAR
December 4, 2012 5:41 am
Dear Miraj Sahib, It is a great work that must be fascinating to all the readers. For training his Khalsa Army to match the British India Army it was good for Maharaja Ranjit Singh to have the service.of the European generals. But they were the one who betrayed him; first to kill Nau Nihal Singh his able son and than for the defeat of Khalsa Army during First Ango Sikh wars. No doubt the Faqeer Brothers and Gunner Commander Kale Khan and Makhe Khan remained true to their salt and have respectable place in the Sikh History. Can you please dig out where these European ended up after Punjab was annexed by the Britishers in 1849? With all the best BRAR
Ashutosh
December 4, 2012 9:42 am
Great work that you have highlighted some hidden aspects of History. Keep it on.
a
December 3, 2012 1:58 pm
excellent........
rich
December 4, 2012 7:36 am
great i wish all pakistanis read it, they will understand punjab was not just muslim ruers(invaders) buts was ruled by son of the soil too u sould have also mentioned there were muslim laskar too in ranjit singhs army love ur articles, shows how much history and geography we share Richie
taranveer singh
December 4, 2012 6:48 am
ranjit Singh was follower of all non Sikh rituals and crazy for women n wine. he changed blue colour of Sikh flag to saffron in every field.
Arvind
December 4, 2012 1:15 pm
Excellent as always.
Baber Khan
December 5, 2012 6:59 am
Simply awesome!!! Keep up the good work, please!
SAGA
December 5, 2012 12:10 am
Thanks for bringing together little known areas of history. This gives the intertwining of human touch to historical facts and lores...
Ali Khan
December 4, 2012 6:41 pm
All of your articles are very interesting. I have been sharing these with some of my Sikh friends who like me relish these articles
Gulbaz Mushtaq
December 4, 2012 2:32 pm
.... but this is not the end of this story. Gujranwala is not a story but a candy store of stories." The delighted people of Gujranwala are rich in history and culture. I'll love to read some more hidden stories of this city. Well done Miraj Sahib.
Explore: Indian elections 2014
Explore: Indian elections 2014
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
Bloggers
Tweets