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.

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While this place was inhabited three centuries ago, it has been a little over a century since the train arrived here. The old name of this place was Saidpur. The change of its name tells the story of a king’s magnanimity and an inn-keeper’s innocence. Shahjehan, as legend goes, was very fond of Saidpur and on every trip to Kashmir, he would stop here at this particular inn, kept by a lady named “Eimen.” During one of his stays, he was particularly gracious and granted her a wish. Eimen replied that she did not need estates but eternity, so the place may be named after her. The king himself was a sanctioning authority and required no ratification so with a flick of his tongue, Saidpur was renamed Aimenabad.

The origins of this city are linked with Babar’s arrival by several old historians. Baba Nanak saw this march from a roori (bed of pebbles) and has portrayed this invasion as an act of barbarianism. The roori was made into a gurudwara (Sikh temple) later on. After the city fell, Baba Nanak was taken to prison and ordered to grind the flour on a hand-mill. As he touched the mill, it started rotating automatically. Since those were the times when miracles did happen, the king was informed. Upon seeing the mill, Babar apologised to the saint and thereafter, a dialogue life and hereafter ensued between the two. This dialogue was written as a poem by Munshi Tilok Chand Mehroom and was published by Fort William College, Calcutta. The chakki (mill) was developed subsequently as Guruduwara Chakki Saheb. A well, which was owned by a carpenter named Laloo, is another religious monument present here. A committed follower of Nanak, Laloo was amongst the first few Sikhs. The well has been preserved and made into a gurudwara known as Gurudwara Laloo Dee Khoee.

There is a place in a nearby reservation forest, where Ali Hajveri meditated for 40 days and two brothers watched him silently. One converted to Islam and the other did not. The one who converted, made Gujranwala his home and his children still dwell in the city while the other, who stuck to his old religion, is believed to head the family tree of famous Prithvi Raj Kapoor.

Away from the mosque, gurudwara and temple, there are other colours in this portrait. Amongst the old buildings is one Kali Kothi, constructed by Kartar Singh Manchanda. The building carries its name from the fading shadow it wears. The traveller, however, is looking for something else. While wandering in the streets of Eimenabad, I heard a whisper: Gujranwala pehlwana daa, Eimanabad deevana daa (Gujranwala belongs to the wrestlers and Eimenabad to the Deevan family). From the dust of obscurity, I picked up the shining stars and started looking for the Deevans, the men with genius of bureaucracy.

The story starts when everyone in Kashmir had some estate in Punjab to visit and stay at occasionally. Deewan Amarnath Chopra was one such minister for Kashmir. The old letterheads mention his office near Forman Chapel and residence near Gumti, in Lahore. In Eimenabad, he built three havelis which were referred to as Haveli Deevana’n. While the other two buildings have collapsed, only one haveli has survived it all. At the time of construction, it had seven floors, 64 rooms and innumerable memories. The buildings were built to perfection and matched the acumen of its residents. Constructed inside the city, they displayed artistic carving and exquisite woodwork. The spiralling staircases, jharokas, and decorative windows speak of the finesse that the Deevans inherited. And then India was partitioned. Amarnath had died and Bishan Nath now headed the family. Within a night, the family rolled up their luggage and left for India through train via Lahore. On their way to railway station, Bishen Nath’s wife stopped for a while and told his son and a daughter, aged nine and ten respectively, to go home and bring the jewellery. “And if you fail to find the home, just go to mosque and ask somebody there,” she threw them the caution. The kids never returned.

Bishen Nath’s family left for India and Shafqat Ali Shah, a farmer and imam at a mosque emigrated from Karnal. On arrival to Eimenabad, the family stayed the abandoned Haveli and started making attempts to legalise the property. The allotment had to come through claims and that meant palm greasing. Getting the claim verified took almost eight years. The haveli was formally purchased by Shafqat Ali Shah and his brothers in 1955. By then, the cracks appeared in the walls but the hearts remained intact.

Iqrar Hussain Shah, the present owner of haveli remembers only five stories. The first two floors were lost to earthquakes and rains. As the family grew, the space shrunk and the brothers decided to partition it. They counted the rooms and divided the area. The brother who acquired the eastern side of Haveli, razed it to the ground, stuffed the rubble in the well and sold the wood. Blue and yellow concrete cellars called houses have mushroomed in this half of Haveli. The second brother who acquired, the other half has preferred to stick to the ruins, which remain.

Some eight years ago, the grandson of Bishen Das, Mahirr, reached the haveli, looking for his roots. He had camera in one hand and cell phone in the other. From other side of the border, Jogindernath, his father, guided Mahirr towards every corner of the house. Joginder told him the exact number of steps and the directions and Mahirr captured the moment with his camera. As he reached stairs, the voice trembled. “Can you see the small space created by the winding of stairs? I used to hide here.” Mahirr bent down and looked under the stairs. In an empty shoe box, a pair of chicks sat snuggled against each other.

The riddle of memories is the strangest one and not everyone possesses the wisdom to resolve it. Even after trying hard, men cannot see what they don’t want to and this is where the difference starts. A tree in the backyard reminds one brother of his love lost and the other of an impending reunion. Many rooms in the house were yet to be opened. In the inner folds of the house was the safe room. The jewellery was hidden inside the earthen pots which in turn were placed inside the walls. They could only be seen after displacing a brick or two. The room was guarded by a snake that was fed milk daily and if any stranger entered the room, he was stung to death.

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Other than haveli, Mehirr also saw the inaugural plaque placed by his great-grandfather at a local school wall, 99 years ago. When the day turned orange and the brain-fever bird cried for fourth time, the taxi driver honked the departure signal. Mehirr turned to leave. The loudspeaker of the mosque, right then, started with the announcement. “Attention everyone, a boy and a girl aged nine and ten have lost their way to home. They have come to the mosque so anyone who knows about them, please come to the mosque and collect them”. Mehirr immediately turned towards the mosque but then shrugged his head and opened the door of the cab. The stories, that grandmothers told, are sure to have an influence.

On his return, he had heart full of memories, diary full of contact numbers, camera full of photos and tapes full of voices. Less a surprise, he turned the bag upside down, in front of his father. Captain Jogindar Nath Chopra was a war veteran of 1971. He had received two bullets and had learnt two thousands lessons so he watched through the photos very calmly. The anecdotes imply that at any one point of time in a day, the shadow out-grows the object. It is this moment that the child outsmarts his father. So when the father managed to maintain the composure, Mehirr took out the two bricks, he had stowed away from Haveli. Regardless of their training, soldiers also have a human side. That night Captain Joginder washed his eyes repeatedly and retired early to his library.

In the good old days, Eimenabad was famous for fairs and most popular of them was Vaisakhi. It continued to attract big crowds even after partition. Then the silent majority was taken over by a vocal minority. Men who would hate the change and denounce happiness now ruled the lives and due to the inherent threats of suicide bomber, Eimenabad passes through April without Vaisakhi.

Astride the temple or near the pond, Chandrwati lived in a dumpy house. A saint of his time would cycle all the way from Lahore to Eimenabad just to have one look on this sandalwood beauty. After a bout with cholera, she died at Eimenabad. The next day, in the college lawn, the professor inquired: “Where is the golden girl?”. With Hyacinth in his hands, Qudratullah Shahab replied, “Sir the golden girl has reverted to gold mines.”

 


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.

Updated Dec 24, 2012 04:24pm

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Comments (35) (Closed)


Gulbaz Mushtaq
Dec 25, 2012 01:07pm
Really!!!! and same is my habit to check again and again if new 'station' has arrived or not. Love you Sir G.
Koi-Kon
Dec 25, 2012 01:02pm
Thank You
Koi-Kon
Dec 25, 2012 01:01pm
appreciated
Nasir
Dec 25, 2012 01:39pm
unexpectedly marvelous , i was feeling myself deeply inside that journey
Gram Massla
Dec 24, 2012 05:45pm
Poignant.
Vinay
Dec 24, 2012 06:14pm
you made me cry
Cynical
Dec 24, 2012 06:16pm
You are captivating, each time, every time. Keep writing.
Masood Hussain
Dec 24, 2012 06:29pm
The way the story is related sounds like mythology,it depends whether one believes it or not,We have heard and read many miraculous happenings assigned to Shree Guru Nanak Sb. including this one of Guruwara Chakki Sb. but believing is a different stoty..
SBB
Dec 24, 2012 06:33pm
Mr. Miraj - You have totally outdone yourself!! Superb Writing, thank you for this. I cannot describe what thoughts go through the mind reading this. Thank you.
surinder
Dec 25, 2012 08:55am
Excellent Sir,. Being a Chopra myself, I am unable to describe my feelings of attachment.
Gulbaz Mushtaq
Dec 24, 2012 06:53pm
At college, we used to read part of Shahab Nama which contained story of Chandravati again and again. And when the golden lady would die we used to feel pain. Alongside Shahab Sahib, we actually loved Chandravati. And now only four mesmerizing lines about her have revived my love and pain for her. As usual Miraj-style depiction of other events was heart touching and praise worthy. After reading your articles I wish to take a long leave and wander around in streets of these cities taking a camera in my hand. Thank you again Sir.
Rocky
Dec 24, 2012 06:54pm
Thank you for sharing these cherished memories of saner times.
ghaleezguftar
Dec 24, 2012 07:02pm
Lovely!
bikkar s brar
Dec 25, 2012 10:29am
Words may not adequately express my feeling for your great work. May the almighty give you a long life to serve your readers. Wish you and your readers a very happy and prosperous 2013. Also i wish a total peace and prosperity for pakistan. Bikkarsingh Brar
KKRoberts
Dec 25, 2012 09:26am
Only broad minded people deserve good things.....sadly and unfortunately you are not able to see goodness in human beings....Try to grow up
Anwar Amjad
Dec 25, 2012 01:10am
An interesting story about Eimenabad. I think the last paragraph refers to the famous Urdu writer Qudratullah Shahab’s childhood love Chandrawati.
Lakshmidhar Malaviya
Dec 25, 2012 01:26am
As always, I kiss your hand Miraj sahab. Please continue your journey, taking us along. Lakshmidhar Malaviya Kyoto, Japan
MC
Dec 25, 2012 03:36am
Three years ago I visited Eimenabad on a treasure hunting trip. We found a lot of treasure that may not have much value in capitalistic society but may bear a lot of value in humanistic society. The city is dotted with history and remainders. Kashmir's governor's wife who died here still has a tomb that is in poor shape, Gurdwara chaki sahib, GT raod's old route that was built by Sher Shah Suri and famous mosque of Sher Shah Suri that accurately pointed toward Mecca. According to local historian this city was originally built by Sher Shah Suri under a name Sherabad but when Humayun took control of Punjab he ordered to eliminate Sherabad because he hated Sher Shah Suri to his guts. The entire city was destroyed, one can see the remains of the Sherabad in the east of current Eimenabad. Humayun wanted to move on but he decided to build another city on the ruins of Sherabad so history does not remember him as a destroyer but a create.
vivek
Dec 25, 2012 02:45pm
And hat different countries happend to America and Canada where they live in peace together
abbastoronto
Dec 25, 2012 11:48am
Enchanting.
Adeel
Dec 25, 2012 03:44pm
A beautiful description of old days. Welldone Mairaj Sahib !
Arif
Dec 25, 2012 08:38am
That's what MA Jinnah predicted 60 years ago, I don't know why there was so bloodshed back then. Hindu and Muslims are very different culturally and belong in different countries.
Ch. Singh
Dec 25, 2012 06:49am
Each article of Miraj Saheb is like music from Saraswati's veena. Our family migrated from west Punjab and I grew up hearing the names of the places Miraj Saheb has been writing about. Those very names sound like poetry to my ears. Thank you very much for giving us so much pleasure. I hope one day all these articles would be published as a book. Thank you Dawn for publishing Miraj Saheb's articles.
Indian HIndu
Dec 25, 2012 07:14am
Punjabis on both sides of border should now forget the golden old days. That is history. No point brooding over bygone era. Rest of the Indians do not care about this supposedly golden era in erst while Punjab. The current reality is... 1. Hindus and Muslims cannot live together. We are witnessing this in India every day. Need to find lasting solution in India. 2. Pakistan is failed nation. 3. India is thriving democracy. It is emerging super power in next 50 years. Hindus are ascending all over in today's world. They are successful in science, technology, business and politics in many countries. 4. Muslims are mostly backward. so called human rights, romantics and pseudo secular in India want us to believe that the two communities can come together again. Nonsense. THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE...EVER. With this I end my obituary.
Engr. Awais Ansari
Dec 25, 2012 07:17am
Golden usage of the Golden words of a Golden man; "Golden girl has reverted to the Gold mine"... Miraj Sahib you never disappoint me...no ordinary praise words, but I think it will be enough if I tell you that as soon as Monday arrives, I always sneak a look at Blog section of Dawn website, whenever I get hold of internet somewhere, just to check if your piece has arrived.
Shams Irfan
Dec 25, 2012 07:38pm
Beautifully written. I wish I could visit Eimenabad and find it just the way u described.
Soul of Manto
Dec 26, 2012 05:55pm
You may be right. But you may not know, whether that is good or bad for the future generation.
raghu
Dec 25, 2012 09:09pm
My salutations to Miraj
Pankaj Patel(USA)
Dec 25, 2012 09:26pm
We need people like you to write history of people with honesty at heart.God bless you to write more about whole subcontinent.
Arshad Jamil
Dec 26, 2012 01:07pm
Enchanting and irresistable to read. If we can learn even now, and stop hating others. Bravo, Miraj! You write good.
naveen
Dec 26, 2012 03:41am
This train journey is like living again in the historical times thank you for taking us along- Mr Miraj yu are a genius regards
uchak
Dec 26, 2012 03:55am
another 20 odd years...... or another generation, and all this would be lost. No more tears for the lost homes, no more memories, no more recordings. no grandchild would have a grandparent of the partition era, n no more stories.
akhter husain
Dec 26, 2012 08:37am
History is to learn lessons from the past,but we never do it,because perspectives change with time.It is the faith,culture fears and greed hardly change.Your article gives a very good insight of people's understanding of and respect to,each other irrespective of faith.
Imran
Dec 26, 2012 10:19am
You have just beautifully explained the 2 nation theory.
Arsalan Ali
Dec 28, 2012 04:54pm
So do I, Miraj sahib!