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Kakkay Zai and Tarlok Shah


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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 a 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.


-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/
-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

Shaheed and Shahdara I Shaheed and Shahdara II

The story of Shahdara runs along the railway line. Initially known as Bagh-e-Dil Kusha, the place was later named as Shahdara Bagh in the British era but locals have always remembered it as Shahdara. The railway signboard, however, bears the complete name and date as of “Shahdara Bagh 1902”.

The humming township dates back to the 16th century but the nanak-chandi bricks tell a rather ancient story which spans over some millennia. The narrow interwoven streets bear a striking resemblance with the old women here, filled with their fair share of love and hatred alike. Life in these old small houses at Shahdara is awfully twisted, where the mother-in law does not get along with her neighbour but the daughter-in-law at the first floor feels compelled to exchange karhi through the window and a simmering love affair goes unchecked on the rooftop, between teenaged cousins. The only family member, privy to it all, is the grandfather, whose ears rest with the radio and lips sit on the hookah.

I overheard someone saying “Lahore Badshahwan daa, Shahdara Shahwan daa” (Lahore is for Kings and Shadara is for the likes of Kings). The Moghuls had a heart for the cities established along the river banks. Lahore was the seat of the government and the peaceful scenery of Shahdara served as the royal necropolis. For the initial few decades, the river side gardens remained calm but the population explosion redefined the reference and these days, it is known for its hustle bustle and life.

The different communities that moved here, from across India, were gelled by the waters of River Ravi, giving birth to a unique cultural experience. The celebrations of Lohri, festivities of Basant, joy of Eid, arrangements of Ramazan and Muharram were deeply engaging. The people of Shahdara, to-date, celebrate every occasion to the fullest. At the arrival of Muharram, Shahdara wears the black of mourning and on Rabi-ul-Awal, a green shade envelopes all forms of life.  Basant is another affair of love and expression where the skies are, at best, invisible. But, bound by Begum Kot, River Ravi, and Muridkay, Shahdara today has over-grown itself.

Shahdara was named after the passage of the kings. With the construction of the tomb and mausoleum, came the craftsmen who carved stones, settling down in Mohallah Sang Tarashan (The colony of the stone carvers). Their work demanded keen observation and attention to minute details, which subsequently defined their behaviour towards life. The hardworking Pathan came next and they established Mohallah Kakkay Zaian. The locals today are known for point scoring and pampering their sons-in-law. Strongly tied by the binds of love, the Kakkay Zais are known for intermarriages and do not move out until hard pressed. With the advent of necessities, the money lenders and other service providers also populated the town. Blinded by faith, mosques, temples and Gurudwaras found a place too while a tomb and mausoleum for devotees also claimed few alleys. From the streets of Tarlok Shah to the lanes of Peer Chungi the stories of Shahdara have always been invasively emotional.

Lakhi Shah Chowk, now known as Shadara More, was the crossing where the road joining Shahdara with Sheikhupura intersects the GT Road. The real name of Lakhi Shah is buried under the deep laid bricks or lost in the whispers of those mystic streets but he was the main reason for Shahdara's absence in the World War. An important feudal lord, and according to many accounts the prominent one, Lakhi Shah was summoned by the British government at the outbreak of World War I. The Raj demanded men for war from Shahdara. When Lakhi Shah hesitated, he was warned of the dire consequences, including a penalty of one lac rupees. Lakhi Shah sought time and returned the next day with the penalty amount. Lieutenant Governor was perplexed about his decision and asked Lakhi Shah how he had decided so soon. Lakhi Shah replied, “I know men of Shahdara and they will never leave their kids and families for foreign land, however great the return is”.

The street of Tarlok Shah, a rich Hindu grain dealer, is amongst the older streets of Shahdara. Tarlok Shah had a thriving business and because of the non-existence of foreign currency accounts, he ended up making a large house called Haveli Tarlok Shah. Beside the house was a milling stone for grinding the flour, owned by Arjun Singh, its chakki fed half of Shahdara. Next was the Pari Mehal, a mansion built-in memory of some love lost ... and now stands as faded as the memory itself.

On reaching Haveli Tarlok Shah, an aged crowd greeted us. They sat around the oldest fellow, who had a Hookah pipe in his mouth and on repeated queries, he stepped deep into the blind well of the past. The flash back went as:

“Everything was fine till the partition. Tarlok's mother was called Bay Jee by all of Shahdara. When things deteriorated, Tarlok sought help from the military and they promised to come the next evening. The day, the military was supposed to come; a tonga arrived from Shah Almi. Three men got off the tonga and started gathering the crowd, to tell the sorry tales of all those who had come from India. Gradually, the mood started to change. After a while, those men climbed the staircase and when they came back down, they were holding sacks, full of coins and jewels. They then sprinkled kerosene and set the house on fire, with all 46 family members inside”.

The old man put the hookah in his mouth again and someone from the crowd signalled us off. Tarlok Shah was one of the countless stories of the partition with the same moral. It was strange that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs had individually saved their religions, but human beings collectively had destroyed humanity. While walking away, I heard his question, “So why you have come here?”

“I write about partition, this time telling untold stories” I answered.

“Then do write, that it’s been 65 years that the country is free … but I am still caught up with Bay Jee's voice … Tarlok’s Haveli burnt in flames and I watched it, still. I wanted to save them but my heart also burnt with the haveli, on the pyres of misery of those who came from India. Bay Jee managed to climb up to the roof of the haveli and held Tarlok`s son in her hand. She glanced at the crowd and then called my name ... “You, my son, were a friend of Tarlok’s ...”


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.

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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (53) Closed

raw is war Jan 22, 2013 03:53pm
Dear sir, you say: "It was strange that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs had individually saved their religions, but human beings collectively had destroyed humanity". I do not agree. All the ills happened during partition were started by Muslims in Pakistan. Hindus has very small part in the riots. they were only the victims. Sikhs of course had a major role- but that too because Muslims attacked them first.
Confucious Jan 23, 2013 06:33am
The legend of Journeyman usual great write up and itches me to research more of our culture...
Malveros Jan 22, 2013 02:56pm
Beautifully written....a sad ending. The Partition of Punjab is the biggest heartbreak for me.
Bharath Jan 22, 2013 04:17pm
Fine example of writing with soul !!!
Vikas Sharma Jan 22, 2013 04:14pm
Pakistan needs more people like you.
Baber Khan Jan 23, 2013 08:09am
How true, Bikkar!
Baber Khan Jan 23, 2013 08:15am
Probably the answer to your "HOW" is 'cricket'!
Traveller Jan 22, 2013 03:46pm
You weave yesterdays and today And spell bind us in your net....Wha wha...
Anoop Jan 23, 2013 06:10am
This is absolute rubbish, which sounds poetic and true, but nothing of the sort. By faith I take it you mean Religion or absolute belief in God. One who is an atheist is less Human, with regards to Friendship and Love? I am not Religious, but I value Friendship and Love.
Blister Jan 22, 2013 02:29pm
Is it all worth it? Dil khoon kay ansoo rota hai? Was it or rather will it ever be worth it? Worth even a single humans death?? Lekin khoon bohat sasta hai ab......Jitna marzee bahaa lo
P.Mishra Jan 22, 2013 04:55pm
Dear Mr Miraj, You are doing a great job by enlightening us about the forgotton history about which we are not aware. Partition created enough bad blood to destroy relations in both the sides of the border. Pleas keep up.
abbastoronto Jan 22, 2013 04:57pm
The weak in faith will taste neither friendship nor love.
Rocky Jan 22, 2013 05:10pm
Thanks for rekindling the love for humanity while everybody is busy spreading hatred.
Sami Malik Jan 22, 2013 05:12pm
Well Kakay Zai originally came from Afghanistan and now in KPK interestingly you will not find Kakazais but you will find them in Punjab. But since most of the Kakazais were inherently non Pushto speakers as they had Afghan roots but they used to speak Dari mostly and that is why they assimilated in Punjab easily. Many Kakazais intermarried mostly in Awans in the past and many took Malik as their family name. I belong from Kakazai clan but other than our history that we came from Afghanistan i dont know anything about that land and now I think we are just Punjabis like other residents in Upper Punjab or you can find us Hindko regions as Hindkos in Hazara regions.
Bikkar S BRAR Jan 23, 2013 06:26am
Dear Miraj Sahib, Thanks a lot for sparing your time to unfold such tragedies. Very well researched and written. I think people from main religion failed to uphold the teaching of the faith they follow, No religion teach killing of innocent peoples especially women and children. Surprisngly, I have not seen any hukamnama or fatwa from the head of the faiths to stop it. If 'insaniat, was the religion of humankind this could have not happened. Baba or Peer Nanak stood for it but his follower didn't. The partition took place due to leader's lust for power. Had Nehru listened to Gandhi and made Jinnah the PM, millions of innocent people would have not perished/ suffered. India would have been a world power today. Both countries spend colossal amount on defence which could have gone for development and changed the life of a common man. We will be waiting for your next gem.
Kalra Jan 22, 2013 05:41pm
just awesome... Don't have much word to write... thanks a lot
NASAH (USA) Jan 22, 2013 06:14pm
"chooth gaya daaman-e bahaar-e watan ruh gaieeN haiN bahaar ki baataiN
Anoop Jan 23, 2013 06:16am
Partition was sad but necessary. I am saying this being an Indian. If not Jinnah, someone else, possibly more militant, would have come to wreck havoc in newly Independent India. Two Nation Theory is correct. Muslims were distinct from Hindus, but the fault was you don't create a Nation based on such theories of division. That is why India and Pakistan are so different today. Islamic Politics is seen all over the world today - Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Mali, Somalia, Turkey, Ethiopia, Bangladesh. Whose to say it would not have raised its ugly head in India, especially today where India would have had 40% Muslim population? I am glad Partition happened. Pakistan was the proverbial gangrenous leg, which had to be cut to save the body. India was the body.
Atheoi Jan 22, 2013 06:37pm
Sad state of affairs and sad story. Hope one day people will start understanding and start respecting the sanctity of life over difference of opinion or religion.
Sandip Jan 22, 2013 06:59pm
The question has always been in my mind and expressed here plenty of times. Was partition a right decision? If it was not then why are we still carrying the baggage of this decision? Are we still insane to not have a single country?
SBB Jan 22, 2013 07:03pm
Sirji, I am at a loss of words to describe what I feel when I read things like this. I will say though that my respect and love for my father doubles with every story. He survived partition and yet hid it's horrors from us.
waqaralam Jan 22, 2013 07:27pm
Last part was really said. Partition stories will remain haunted on India and Pakistan memories but to move forward toward peace, tranquality, prosperity and well-being of this region, we have to forget our past and move forward. By the way I like your journey always. Thank you for sharing them with us.
Suren Sahni Jan 22, 2013 09:06pm
Truth nothing but truth
Ravi Jan 23, 2013 08:47am
Hi Anoop Not 40%, but 32% today in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh together. Still up from 1947.
Shah Jan 23, 2013 07:51am
Correction: 12 million was recorded by the British!
Shah Jan 22, 2013 09:39pm
The British in their early 1940's reported 12 million Mussalmans in East-Punjab. After 1947 non remained. 5 million came to Pakistan. 7 million are still unaccounted for, simply wanished from the pages of history. This is such a huge number that no one dare look in to. I wonder when some one will write their stories?
Seedoo Jan 22, 2013 10:49pm
I think India does too, this is the reason you visit Dawn
Omer Jan 23, 2013 06:50am
Am missing a point here. The persons who came in the tonga, did they come in official capacity to discuss Tarlok's exit or were they some miscreants who looted his wealth and burnt the house. If the latter is true, then why didnt the hundreds of people who were watching this stopped those three men from rampaging Tarlok's Haveli. Were Tarlok's friends so timid and frightened????
Narinder Jan 22, 2013 11:14pm
Dear Vikas, please do not forget that India too needs people like dear M H Miraj.
Narinder Jan 22, 2013 11:15pm
Thank you dear Miraj.
Narinder Jan 22, 2013 11:20pm
I fully agree with you Waqaralam that we must move forward. But the big question is how? We all know that the Redcliff line cannot be erased but it can be made irrelevant. Unfortunately, those who are in a position to do so are making it more thicker.
Johar Jan 23, 2013 12:47am
Kakazai are not pathan by the way. They were low cast hidus primarily involved in selling low quality liquor. Most of the low cast hindus when converted to islam associated themselves either with Syeds, Sheikhs or Pathans in order to gain more prestige in the society.
makraja Jan 23, 2013 01:32am
dear vikas pakistan is full of people like hasan sahib it is a common perception that there are all jihadis/fundamentalists there Many are simply afraid and salams to hasan sahib to bell the cat
PakAm Jan 23, 2013 02:28am
Mr. Sharma, Pakistan have too many ppl like him you just need a vision to find them (Tumhari ek nazar chahiye)
naveen Jan 23, 2013 02:55am
as always beautiful journey
Baber Khan Jan 23, 2013 08:44am
As usual, you are a class of your own!
Sultan Khan Jan 23, 2013 03:51am
Let bygones be bygones. Instead of wasting time on whether the decision was right or wrong we should accept the ground realities and move forward as the world has moved much forward. Reversing the decision may entail another catastrophe. Whosoever committed atrocity and brutality on the human beings at the time of partition or at any time shall be taken to task by Allah or God or Bhagwan or Supreme Being. Beautiful are His names.
Usman Malik (@UsmanMalik) Jan 23, 2013 08:33am
I wonder why then you find them in KPK and Afghanistan? Or wait, why is the Balour family not Pathan?
Shah Jan 24, 2013 08:17am
Dont be cute! I do not live in India. This has to come from the Indians just like Miraj is writing from Pakistan.
HNY2013 Jan 23, 2013 01:07pm
what r YOU waiting for?
HNY2013 Jan 23, 2013 01:03pm
They were the taliban of that era i guess.
Mohammed K Jan 23, 2013 12:33pm
Lovely as usual...... humanity is the biggest religion of all..... and unfortunately we have lost sight of it and stopped following it.
HNY2013 Jan 23, 2013 01:06pm
So u mean all pathans, syeds n sheikhs converted from hindu to islam?
Rashid Jan 23, 2013 02:30pm
May be they had this mask of friendship all along. When opportunity came they showed their true colour. But I guess crowd in such highly charged cicumstances behave as a mob and not as an individual.
Shaha Jan 24, 2013 10:05am
Yes both of us need them... They are jewels for the humankind....
Cynical Jan 23, 2013 03:15pm
Respect for your father. Such men are rare.
Cynical Jan 23, 2013 03:26pm
@Anoop Exactly my feeling. Its fair to say that religion took more life than it saved. By the way do you post in ET too?
Cynical Jan 23, 2013 03:28pm
Agreed 100%.
Diya Rehman Jan 24, 2013 09:48am
Very nice and deeply touching.
Yogi Jan 23, 2013 06:24pm
We still have almost equal no of muslims as Pakistan. Even Indian Punjab has a muslim majority district.
Johar Jan 24, 2013 01:46am
sorry if I offended you. apologies.
Sheikh chilli Jan 24, 2013 03:56am
mere beta there was not a single muslim 2000 years ago. All Pathans were either Zorasthrians, Hindus or buddhists. Pathans like to claim all kinds of super natural powers and abilities, but they were basically Hill tribes who were mainly herders. Yes they were all mostly Hindus because their Pashto language is very similar to Avestani and Hindko which was the language of the fist Hindus. Pathans like to say they are lost tribes of the middle east etc but their DNA is the same as other north Indians.
Anoop Jan 24, 2013 08:00am
I do.. :)