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.
To read the first part of this blog, click here: Lyallpur – A city on the hill (part I)
The house of Chauhadry Bhagwan Das, Barrister At Law, Lyallpur (May 1922). The year of construction can be seen inscribed on the plaque.
And after 1947, it was never the same. Many prosperous families migrated and surnames like Khanna, Chawala and Maggoo were lost in the junkyard of memory, much like the disused articles in attic.
With new found freedom, Lyallpur woke up to its commercial side and within years, the Industrial boom set the new socio-cultural tone. The vacuum created by migration was filled by a relatively ambitious class.
The first blow to its liberal cosmos came, when a circular passage, which ran though inner sides of eight bazaars, was blocked. A tent was pitched, initially for prayers, and after sometime, the foundation stone of the mosque was laid. This was followed by the house of Imam and finally a madressah raised its head. Anyone who objected this blockade was silenced with threats of heresy. Naively, every encroachment in the land of pure starts with the mosque. Men who block the passages in the name of religion never realise that, literally, religion means passage. Taking the lead, Khalsa College was christened to Municipal College and Company Bagh was nationalised to Bagh-e-Jinnah.
The city initially responded to the social cause of Peoples Party, but soon realised the hoax slogans of subsistence. Its dynamic leader furnished his pan-Islamic dream at the cost of a legacy when he named the city after the Saudi monarch. The citizens of Faisalabad, unfortunately, were not as resilient as those of Jacobabad who took it to streets when the name-change was proposed. Disillusioned and exhausted, the city never looked left after Bhutto. Though the names were changed in the revenue record but for Dadi, Faisalabad, Municipal College and Bagh-e-Jinnah remained Lyallpur, Khalsa College and Company Bagh.
The Gurudwara in Faisalabad is located between the inner circuits of two Bazars.
While Indulgences (certificates of Pardon) meant money could wash away the catholic sins of 17th century Europe, donating to mosques translated to compensation for Islamic sins in early 80′s Faisalabad. A dictator had taken over the country and chose to draw legality from religion. During all those years, donating hefty amounts and collecting sacrificial hides became a virtue and doing it publicly secured a seat in the parliament as well. Other cities survived this onslaught because of their rich history but having grown from a market, Faisalabad could quite not resist. The monsoon of jihad catalyzed the wild growth of madressahs and the Rayals that financed this venture, brought along the hard-line belief. The ship had started to sink.
Firstly, the dialogue vanished, then the study circles and literary traditions and gradually the city was transformed. The question of religion, now, is synonym to question of violence. The city lives with no room for dialogue and no space for reason. Any debate on this issue starts up with mild mannerism but, in a subtle way, tones get harsher, words start offending and temples begin to pulsate. Faisalabad may not wear black in mourning of Muharram but turns so green in Rabiul Awal festivity that it fails to spot the oozing blood.
While the rich don’t care and the poor don’t bother, the middle class, a universal safeguard for any social tendency, is too absorbed in Metros and coffee shops to check the diminishing tolerance. Different mosques of different sects dot each corner and are busy turning the inquisitive minds into hobbits of their respective belief. The small thinking fraction is either too indifferent or too preoccupied to notice.
The city, no more belongs to calm people of art and craft but rather reminds one of the Bible belt where religion and business have converging axis. Regardless of blasts that rip through the country, Faisalabad remains unaffected because the clergy and the trader are friends from ages. Exploiting the repentance of rich in the name of Shariah, even today, any religious organisation can collect funds to their hearts content, if they walk in any of the markets.
The towns of Gobindpura and Harcharanpura mourn their past. There was a time when an open space was left for community gatherings between the two bazaars. A Gurudwara stood between Katcheri bazaar and Rail Bazaar while a temple watched over the passage between Rail Bazar and Karkhana Bazaar. The street to temple is taken over by the hosiery retailers and a school houses the Gurudwara. Gurumukhi script on the front has been washed away with rains but the Seva Karai plaques are still visible. Black boards have been erected in yellow walls of Gurudwara. The house of Guru is now the house of learning.
The remnants of Central Cooperative Bank Limited formed 1921.
While I sat with the old banyan, a thought crossed my mind. A time will come, any sooner, when Faisalabad will divorce Lyallpur. It will disconnect itself from Bhagat Singh and conveniently choose to forget Sundar Singh Lyallpuri. The time will come when a child will stand around the Rail Bazar Gumti and ask his father “Who was James Broadwood Lyall?”.
“Why is this arched gate called Qaisari Darwaza?”
Unfortunately, the father will not have any answer, for he, too, was born in Faisalabad and not Lyallpur.
I was struck with the thought that slowly and gradually everything will be lost, but then, does it really matter. Except few historical cities (and that too for commercial purposes), every city has changed. Life moves on . . . and so shall the train.
When night grows dark, the old streets of Sanat pura and Grunanak pura transmit some Morris Code. These are the SOS messages from a sinking ship which can only be deciphered by the wind that blows over the canal.
“MAY DAY …MAY DAY…The city is, no more, a city on the hill…”
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