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.
Prior to Chandar Bhan, Jhang belonged to Sultan. This mystic was born in February 1628 in the area now known as Shorkot. Nature had already lined up the arrangements for the spiritual to be brought up as his mother, Raasti bibi, known for her piety, who taught him the basics of spiritualism. Hazrat Sultan Bahu did not acquire formal education but according to a tradition, his quest for knowledge was satiated by illuminated dreams. His devotion to God and love for His creations is evident through Sultan’s verses which are part of every Punjabi household.
To-date every student of mysticism begins his journey with the much revered “Aleph Allah chanbay dee booti” and graduates to “Dil darya samundroon doonghay”. These verses illuminate the inner self so as to see the human heart match the depth of oceans. Despite being Sultan-ul-arifeen (the king of the pious), the devotees who visit his shrine in Garh Maharaja, are first expected to visit the grave of his parents.
The mystery of Jhang revolves around the trinity of mysticism, love and poetry. Alongside Sultan Bahu, many other shrines populate the city. While the Muslim spiritual quest was enlivened by the shrines of Hazrat Shah Shiekha, Peer Jabbo Shareef, Shah Kabeer and Rodo Sultan, the Sikh Darbar of Guru Nanak Dev and Hindu temple in Ware Sulaiman tended to the other faithfuls.
Besides the tombs of holy men, a monument of love also adorns the city. However, unlike other shrines, the soul interred here did not belong to a saint but a lady. For the cultural world, she is the Heer of Waris Shah but if any Sial is consulted, he would swear upon her chastity. The story goes as a lady from the Sial family, Mai Heer, was famous in the entire region for her spirituality. When the political struggle between the Nauls and Sayyals geared up, the former decided to demean the saint woman. They made up a story which defamed Heer and her love for God was propagated as her love for one of her disciples, Ranjha.
Originally, the story of Heer was written by Waris Shah in 1776, but a letter is said to have been written, by a historian to Behlol Lodhi, the ruler of Punjab, much earlier. This dispatch explained the reality of Heer and the conspiracy of the Nauls. It also explained how, entertainers, puppeteers and bhaats were employed to present this story as true. However, time did prove her innocence as all attempts to defame her failed. The efforts to malign her eventually glorified her love and earned her respect. True love, be it mortal or immortal, leads to God and has His will.
The details of Waris Shah have been covered in the episodes of Sheikhupura but the story of his story remains to be told. This chronicle of love between the Dheedho of Ranjha and the Heer of Sayyal is similar to the love stories across the world. There are, however, a few aspects which make it remarkable.
When Ranjha had a word with the mullah for spending a night in the mosque, it was in fact the dialogue between man and religion. His argument with sailor Luddan for crossing Chenab is the discourse between the material world and the ideological world. The detailed description of Heer’s beauty is an excellence of narration and Ranjha’s stunt as a shepherd for 12 long years is the embodiment of negation of self. His soul searching Joge and talks by Balnath are the reflections of the human mind and his arguments with Sehti at Khera’s village are the illustration of human belief. When Inayat Hussain Bhatti, recites the kalaam to the point that Heer laments the arrival of Ranjha at her village
Rab jhooth na keray jay hovay Ranjha, Taan main chor(d)e hoyee menun pattya soo
And if (God forbid), it is Ranjha, I am doomed and ruined
Listeners can visualise Heer stumping her head against the wooden door. Inayat hussain’s recital infuses such an expression that Heer comes to life. Her creased forehead, teary eyes and repentance struck body, appears so real that one could reach out and touch her. Towards the end, the sudden death of the two lovers highlights the futility of this world. Heer Waris Shah, to say the least, is not a story but a wondrous world.
The desert-like environ of Jhang is so fertile that the city lives up to its creative tradition without fail. The day to day dialogue carries such humility that when these expressions are disciplined into poetry, it causes heartache. The poets who crafted these piercing impressions are the third angle of the Jhang trinity.
When Riaz Ahmed migrated from India and made Jhang his home, he had never thought that making a life here would cost him his life. His constant financial fears did not hinder his creative sojourn initially but crippled him eventually. Riaz, who took up the pen name of Ram Riaz was too sensitive to stand against sickness and poverty. Lost to a routine that clipped his imagination, he lived a life of misery. The idealist was reduced to a subsistence amount of a mere 500 rupees per month from the Academy of Letters, so he resigned to death along with his imagination,
Jaanay kia kuch dil pey guzri, aaj jo dekha yaro’n ko, Kaisi mitti chaat gayee, in pathar ki deevaron ko
My heart skipped a beat as I saw my old friends today, Giants of yesteryears had been reduced to mere dwarfs
The second poet from Jhang is Majeed Amjad. This marvelous poet wrote many awe-inspiring poems but published only one book in his life. His anthology of poems was named as Shab-e-Rafta (A night gone by). Most of his work was compiled after his death. Fame came but after the hour and this sensitive soul did not live to see it.
Mehaktay jaatay hain chup chaap, jaltay jaatay hain, Misaal-e-chehra-e-paighambaran gulaab kay phool
They give away fragrance by smoldering their inner self,
Much like the prophets, the roses bloom
In pessimistic times such as ours, any poetry has to be diversely realist and feasibly pessimist to claim relevance. It has to be themed according to our lives. For those who fell in love in past decades, Shaam kay baad is one such expression that has many hearts tied with those words.
Tu hay sooraj tujhay maloom kahan raat ka dukh, Tu kissi roz meray ghar main utar, sham kay baad
You, being the sun, have no idea about the miseries of the night, Grace my house some day, when the evening falls
Mesmerising the youth with his description of death, Farhat Shah is also a poet from Jhang.
I felt that the entire city lives under the ambience of love. It might have been because of the madressah of Maulvi Imdad Ali where Sahiban and Mirza studied together and after Mirza left for his village, Sahiban never returned to her class. It might have been the handlooms, which as late as 1950s, existed in every house of Jhang and every Jhangvi was skilled in tying the two ends and knitting it together.
Across the railway line, a faqeer sang, solving the equation:
Assi Jhang da vaasi lok sajjan, Saada dil darya, saadi akh sehra
We, the people of Jhang, are friends forever, Our hearts resemble the rivers and our eyes, the deserts
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