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The Saint of Khushpur

enter image description hereAt Samundri, two stories explain the name of the town. According to the first one, the place was famous for its three temples and was referred in Persian as “Seh Mandari”. With the passage of time, Seh Mandari was localised to Samundri. Second story dates back to Suri times, when the North India-bound caravans stopped here and took a break from their journey. The large water ponds and Baowli gave an aquatic ambience and thereby the name, Samundri.

Two temples out of the three have vanished – one can only guess where they went. Few believe that the temples existed at Shaukatabad, while others endorse their locations near Canal. The third temple at Chakki wala Bazar has been converted into a boys school and the only Gurudwara at Bukhari Chowk, into a girls school. All pre-partition buildings have been razed save a house with few deities at the front. Though the city is much older but the official year of Samundri is recorded as 1887. Besides the ambience and the entertainment, Samundri is famous for free spirited men like Teja Singh.

Born in Taran Taran, Sardar Teja Singh moved to Samundri when his family shifted during the settlement scheme. He was recruited in a Cavalry regiment but retired after a while to serve the Khalsa cause. At this point of the 19th century, missionaries were very active in India and the conversion trends were upsetting. To counter these effects and facilitate the community, an organisation by the name of Khalsa Dewan was established. It aimed at opening schools and hospital to offset the missionary welfare measures. Teja Singh is considered a prominent figure in the Khalsa Dewan movement and many schools, he founded, are still functional. He is also attributed for founding Shromini Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee. Due to the active participation in Rakib Ganj, Gurudwara Janam Asthan and vociferous criticism of the government’s attempt to subdue Sikhs, Teja Singh spent a considerable time including his last days in prison in July 1926. A hall at the Golden Temple commemorates the services of this proud sardar.

Next to Samundri are the several small villages. Some are the likes of Nara Dada, the two villages rehabilitated by the immigrants of Hoshiarpur and the others are Kaisgarh which is now known as Rasiana. Khush Pur lies next. The name was given to this village by a missionary Father Felix who laid foundations stone of this village originally 51 G B. Felix literally translates into happiness of Latin and the villagers took up the name of a place of happiness after Felix and regardless of the future. In its history of almost a century, the villagers had lived their life by and large happily but things have changed now. As many of the small tracks converge on the mud house, there are many tales of atrocities and injustice that culminate in this village.

The bishop of Faisalabad, John Joseph was also born here but unfortunately could not be buried here. Being a Bishop, he did not let go of the hope he was taught at the seminary and remained steadfast with his commitment to guide. The justice system of Pakistan, however, was strong enough to bend the Jesuit will. In 1998, Yaqub Masih was wrongly indicted for blasphemy, Bishop Joseph took it upon himself to fight the legal battle. He tried to explain to the masses that a 96 per cent majority could never be threatened by the 4 per cent minority. Justice was yet a dream and the torturous legal procedures forced him to shoot himself in the session courts, Sahiwal. His blood stained clothes are buried in Khushpur. The court set Yaqoob free, four months later.

Another grave is of Shahbaz Bhatti. From taking up his name to taking up street politics, Bhatti did everything he could to mingle with mainstream society. Unfortunately, the society neither valued his life and nor protested his murder. To date, residents of Khushpur, clearly remember the last rites of Bhatti and Joseph, as these were the occasions when Christians all over the country filled up the fields of the village.

Between the grave of Bhatti and the soiled clothes of Father Joseph, large numbers of three lined news filled up the Christian memory. These were the unnoticed accounts of personal feuds which ended up at 295 C. These incidents of excruciating pain are too recurrent to fade away.

Miles away from Khushpur and ages away from Pakistan is the indifferent capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. The city claims the patronage of deceased saints like Bari Imam and Golra Shareef but is oblivious of the living few.

When Augustino Bono was posted to Islamabad, surprise rather than fear struck him. During his routine diplomatic assignments, he came across a resident of Khushpur who invited him to his village.

Bono’s visit to the village was something like the homecoming of Felix. Amidst celebrations, he saw what many of us failed to see. The misery, poverty and the sufferings moved him to the point of grief. He tried holding up his tears as an old man stepped ahead and held Bono’s hand. His swollen Dravidian lips trembled with gratitude.

“I had dreamt that someone will come to this village and help us cure our sick, I am sure you are the one.” Bono returned but those words stayed hooked in his heart. Through fund-raisings, help from friends and family along with his life savings, he decided to materialise the old man’s dream.

Today, Augustino Bono Foundation hospital at Khushpur serves humans, not Christians or Muslims. The facility, with the handful of dedicated staff, works around the clock to treat the sick and wounded.

Regardless of his expertise in Urdu and his diplomatic excellence, people of Khushpur do not refer to Bono as His Excellency, but consider him a saint and call him Baba Bono.

The cycle that escorted us out of Khush Pur had a Psalm painted on the rear mud-guard. It spoke of the contentment writ on those dark faces. Lord is my shepherd.
(Psalm 23)