The darkness doesn’t go away

September 30, 2013


For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April in 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.

Coming from Pir Mehal, Jhang and Toba Tek Singh, the three tracks converge at the otherwise infamous junction of Shorkot. The affluent “mail” trains, craving for a metropolis, are too obsessed with urgency to stop here and the worn-out “express” trains are too tied up with tradition to avoid it. A sober railway station alternates between arrival and departures, where its platform blooms like November mornings and withers like June noons, all in a day.

The reason behind Shorkot’s name remains a mystery. Except that it has to qualify as a fortress, a reference to Kot, is a hillock that lies next to the triangle formed by the graveyards of Haji Qasim, Lalaan Pir and Ghazi Pir. The mound, which is publicly known, as Bheer(d) adds to the antiquity of the place. Having served as an important river post, once upon a time, it now suffers from the indifference that follows fame. Despite the dilapidated conditions, it once maintained a watch over Ravi but of late, a lot of the time and area has emerged in the five mile expanse between the two.

The city houses one of the largest air bases of the country, named after the 1965 hero, Squadron Leader, Sarfraz Rafiqui. Passing through Darkhana, the rail reaches Kot Abdul Hakeem. By now, the wind carries the wilderness of the woods and the serenity of the deserts. Short of Abdul Hakeem, the rivers of Chenab and Ravi meet at Sidhnai. This union with the former being a lover, and the later an adventurer, could well have been a matter of awe, but thanks to the water conflicts, it is hardly a confluence now. Saving face, a canal carries water and warm wishes to Mailsi.

Across the canal, is the wonderland of Tulamba, where God knows who lived when. The relics discovered during excavations suggest various civilizations through the centuries. Summing up all the estimates, life at Tulamba can be conveniently drawn to Biblical times. Regardless of civilizations, it did see all the armies that marched North from Multan. The silence that reigns these ruins, guards the real history of heroes like Timerlane and Alexander. Contemporary history, however, starts with the arrival of Muhammad Bin Qasim, much in line with the altered history, taught in our schools. The young Arab General is commemorated by a busy high-street named Qasim Bazar. Amidst the mosques, madressahs, schools, graveyards and milk collection centres, sits an imposing fort, built by Sher Shah Suri.

Besides ruins, markets and forts, Tulamba is also famous for two people. Maulana Tariq Jamil and Professor Satya M. Roy. One professed of a revolution and the other had it documented. While the former is associated with belief, the latter is related to land; both, however, have abandoned Tulamba. Professor Satya M. Roy, migrated to India during partition and Maulana Tariq Jamil moved to Lahore for his mission. Since the land is free of faith, Tulamba is equally proud of both.

The crisscrossing railway line reaches Makhdoom Pur. Though the documented name of the town is Makhdoom Pur Pahoran, the residents of Chak 89, Peerowal and Kacha Khooh call it Khadoom Pur for convenience. Lined along the track, are the nameless villages which were numbered with reference to the canals that irrigated them. As individuals or incidents propelled them to fame, they picked up names, one after the other – those yet unnamed are of the opinion that providence is beyond recognition.

The myth goes that when Nanak visited this place, he ran into a thug named Sajjan, who ran an inn and looted the travelers. Out of habit, Sajjan tried robbing Guru Nanak and out of his nature, Nanak recited a shabad:

Ujjal kaihaa chilkanaa ghotim kaalrhee mas
Dhoti-aa jooth na utrai jay sa-o dhovaa tis


Bronze is bright and shiny, but when it is rubbed, its darkness appears.
Its darkness won't go away, even if it is washed a hundred times.

Those were good times, and so, a shabad was enough for a change of heart. Sajjan converted his inn to a Guruduwara that comforted the populace till partition. In August 1947, the Sikhs migrated from Makhdoom Pur, and the Gurudwara took another course of service.

Though the municipal corporation records designate it as the Government Higher Secondary School, the registers at Auqaf and the old folks at Makhdoom Pur, still call it the Gurudwara.

The ceiling of the Gurdwara Makhdoom Pur Pahoran. -Photo by author
The ceiling of the Gurdwara Makhdoom Pur Pahoran. -Photo by author

The central pond is filled in and leveled, while the rooms for sangat serve as classrooms. The Guruasthan is now the headmaster's office. The inner side of the dome and the upper portions of the walls have survived the paintbrush and the faith of the maintenance staff, who could only reach the lower parts of the walls and hence, whitewashed them. The changes, though visible, are not offensive, as despite the hustle and bustle of school, it remains as peaceful as any other place of worship.

The city also happens to be the birthplace of Bhai Jodh Singh. Whether he was the famous one from the seventh padshahi or not, his translation of Kalaam Baba Nanak is a craft, par excellence.

From Makhdoom Pur, the road leads to Kabirwala while the rail tracks to Khanewal and in between the two, tales from 1947 lie untold…

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