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 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.
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.”
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.