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.
When train whistles out of Aimenabad, the smell of Basmati is maddening. The sights and sounds are mythical but nobody has the time to enjoy its novelty. Before the partition, the villages on both sides of the grand road were classified on land holding rather than religion. Muslims and Sikhs were farmers and land owners and Hindus thrived in trade, brokerage and money lending. When the Sikhs visited the Muslims, Hooqahs were silenced and when the Muslims visited the Sikhs, halal meat replaced Jhatka. Madrassahs, Paath Shalas and Gurudwaras served the educational needs of the villagers with their wisdom but the Muslims were found in pupillage to Pandits and Brahmins studied under the Mullahs.
The sweetness of Kamke's barfi has no match but it still does not mellow down the bitterness of September, 1947.
Lajwanti, widow of Manak Chand, aged 23, caste Khatri, resident of Nurpur Sethi, District Jhelum narrated her story while a recording statement to the Chief Liaison Officer, Lahore.
Her husband Manak Chand worked at the Alkali Chemical Corporation of India, Limited at, Khewra and they lived in the company quarters. As Bhadon, that year approached (August 1947), the Muslims attacked Khewra. Lajwanti and the family survived because the quarters were inside a guarded compound. The manager of the corporation, being a European, asked all non-Muslim employees to move to some safe place.
On the 6th of Asuj, the next month, a convoy of 6 loaded trucks picked all the non-Muslims from Khewra and reached Pind Dadan Khan. Lajwanti was accompanied by her husband, her one and a half-year old son, her uncle Ganda Mal, his wife Karma Wali and their little daughter, all in one truck. At the railway station, a large number of refugees awaited the train to India. This was the last refugee train to leave Pakistan. They left for Ferozepur via Lahore on the next day under the guard of 15 soldiers of the Pakistan Army and reached Kamoke by night. They travelled without water and even when the train stopped, nobody dared to get down.
That night was spent at the railway station. The next morning, the police ordered everybody to get down and started searching the train, the search continued for two hours. All men were disarmed including those with the license. They were told that the weapons will be returned before the move. After the search, passengers were asked to settle in the train so that the journey can be resumed. As the engine whistled, a huge Muslim crowd appeared from one side. Armed with daggers, rifles, knives and sticks, they shouted “Ya Ali” and charged the train.
On entering the compartments, they killed the men and shifted the women aside. The police, present at the platform, sided with the assailants and shot any passengers who tried to get out of the train. The military fired in the air, initially but after a while they also joined the mob in killings. Minutes later, all the men were dead.
The women were taken out and all jewelry and valuables were removed. After the loot, they were distributed amongst the raiders. Lajwanti was taken by Abdul Ghani, a tonga driver, to his house and she spent the next one month in great misery. During the assault, her son, tied to her bosom was also snatched away despite her protests. When Abdul Ghani left the house for work, she would go house to house to look for her son. Besides Lajwanti, the entire earth had lost her motherhood. During her search, she found multitudes of Hindu women in the locality, living under similar conditions.
After about a month, it was announced that all the abducted women would be returned. Meanwhile, rumors of famine in East Punjab and disowning of the returned girls did the rounds on the streets of Kamoki.