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.
British raided Jhamra for Ahmed Khan and in his absence; they arrested children and women. The word reached Ahmed Khan, across Ravi. Taking women as hostage was a challenge that Jaats never threw on ground. Wattoos suggested attack on a police post in Sayyedwala but Ahmed Khan ruled it out.
With the British on chase, all the tribal leaders gathered at Nooray Dee Dall including Qureshi, Wattoo, Makhdoom and Gardezi. In his battle for autonomy, few sided with Kharal and others advised caution.
The paradox in Punjab is, at best, incomprehensible. It boasts of Sahiban, who let go of her love for Veer Shahmeer and of Shah Hussain who let go of his piety for Madhu.
After the meeting was over, Sarfraz Khan Kharal, a sardar from Kamalia, saddled his horse and rushed to Gogera. Berkley was awakened at two and informed about the imbuing anarchy. Before Dawn, the bugles called and a squadron of cavalry, commanded by young Captain Blake, marched out to handle insurrection. Few hours later, another officer left with reinforcements and lastly Berkley himself went to Gashkori woods.
All stories of Rai Ahmed Khan Kharal can be traced back to Dada Phogi, an eye-witness of his final days. Before they charged, Ahmed Khan spoke to his tribesmen and the words infused an iron spirit. Had he been British or an establishment hero, the speech would have been archived to form the textbook chapter of “Speeches-that-changed-the-world”, but that never happened. The Jaats of Baar fought with unmatched chivalry and pushed the artillery-supported squadron, more than two miles.
When the dust settled, the squadron had already routed, so Ahmed Khan stood up for Zuhr prayers. Berkley was hiding in a clump near-bye and one of his Punjabi soldiers indicated Ahmed Khan, to him. He instantly ordered “fire”. Gulab Singh Bedi or Dhara Singh is said to have fired the first shot.
Despite repeated performances, the ballad singers and the story tellers, choke, with emotions, at this point. Kharal fell on the tenth day of Muharram, a day revered in the Muslim world, for Hussain’s vital sacrifice against tyranny. As the bullet hit him, Ahmed Khan fell to prostration. Hereon, the narrative is featured by skilled flashbacks of Karbala, a time travels of almost 12 centuries. The battle site of Gashkori resembles Karbala with Kharal`s severed head on lance, much like Hussain.
British took the head and placed it under an armed guard, at Gogera Jail. One of the sentries, dreamt of Ahmed Khan for three consecutive nights, requesting him to take the head away as British planned its display, in London. During his duty, the guard took the head off the lance, put it in a pitcher and rushed to Jhamra. Those were tumultuous times, void of trust. He buried the pitcher near the grave and did not tell anyone of the burial.
Having shot Rai, Berkley’s advisors pushed him for execution of the rebel`s family. Rai’s wife was quick to act. Upon hearing of Rai’s death, she dispatched the kids to neighbouring village of Murad Fatyana, with a message.
“Your brother has been killed, look after the young Kharals”.
Murad Fatyana struggled hard to hold back. He hugged the shocked kids and loaded his rifles. Before leaving, he told his wife: “Take care of these two kids till I return; and if I do not, raise them as well as you will raise your own kids.
As an epilogue to victory, British troops set Jhamra on fire. Next were the villages of Wattoo and Pindi Sheikh Musa till they faced the river. Berkley thought of crossing to other side as he saw no resistance after Ahmed Khan. He could hear the battle cries but ignored and walked the horse into Ravi. It initially trotted but then reared up on seeing something in water. Before Berkley could knew it, Murad’s spear made its way through his tunic and Scottish flesh. Rapid stabbings sent Berkley down, with the horse, never to be seen again. The official history records drowning as the cause of death but Dada Phogi says Berkley over-trusted Ravi.
After Ahmed Khan, none stood against British expansion till Multan. Few years later, Berkley’s brother, a man of position and significant authority, visited Gogera and summoned, Ahmed Khan’s son. He asked Muhammad Khan to forego the murder of his father. Muhammad Khan refused citing the limitation that a son could not forgo the father’s murder. Times had changed. Reforms were taking roots and temperaments had soothed so the officer concluded.
“OK! You lost your father and I lost my brother, let peace return to Ravi”… And this is how peace returned to Ravi.
A generation later, Ahmed Khan’s grave formed part of Pakistan. His grandson wanted to build a tomb at the grave site to honour the hero. During digging, a shovel hit a pitcher and the head was finally recovered. Miraculously, time had just been irrelevant. The hooked nose, deep-set eyes, whitening hair and the teeth, all stood intact. While the thinking minds felt the strands of beard, the ailing heart could feel the dripping blood. After the funeral, the head was interred but the story re-surfaced. Crude accent of Bhaats studded with similes of Karbala have made it almost eternal. Amidst the love for freedom and hate for imperialism, Karl Marx wrote a lengthy citation for Ahmed Khan.
What unfolds human greed, is the fact that all those who betrayed Ahmed Khan, and in turn the land of five rivers, were rewarded, with the allotment of land. The mutiny reports compiled after the incident bear striking resemblance to the political elite to-date. From Gardezi to Makhdoom, Sayyed to Qureshis, all the surname that line up. as landlords, astride the rail track today, had sided with British during the war of independence in 1857! A proud heritage of misplaced loyalty.
Ohno Anakhi Nahi Samjhda Jeyhr(d)a Ahmed Khan da dukh Visaray
“I do not consider him a sensitive soul Who fails to mourn Ahmed Khan”
———————————————————————————————————————————————— 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.