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.
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.
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.