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.

 Chani Goth Station.
Chani Goth Station.

Between Ahmed Pur East and Liaqat Pur, the rail halts at Chani Goth, a century old railway station that has managed to contain countless stories in the hollows of its domes.

These mysterious tales of reflective emotions are only to be told to the wandering gusts of wind. A century ago, this town was famous for the best of Gurr that would travel across India but it wasn’t until a year ago that the town regained fame. This time, for unspeakable violence.

In July 2012, when the handicapped Ghulam Abbas was alleged to have desecrated the Quran, the religious party with the claim to revive sunnah, motivated people through fiery speeches and invoked a sudden realization upon the faithful.

An hour later, the charged mob attacked a police station, dragged the accused out of custody, tortured him until his death and set his dead body on fire. All this in the central chowk of Chani Goth. After six hours, when the traffic had restored to normal on the national highway, the burnt body of Ghulam Abbas lay outside the police quarters of the town. The citizens went to bed that night in peace; the prestige of faith restored. The city, however, did not sleep for it had lost today the sweetness of its Gur to smoke and tears.

  The Shrine of Bibi Jiwani at Uch Sharif. -Photo by Humayun M | 18% grey
The Shrine of Bibi Jiwani at Uch Sharif. -Photo by Humayun M | 18% grey

A little short of the convergence of the five rivers, where the Indus meets the Chenab to flow southward stands Seet Pur, another century old settlement. Next in the river-guard is Ali Pur, a small town with a namesake in Karnataka. Ali Pur manifests Iranian culture in India in a manner that travels from Ras Kumari to Leh. Jatoi, is another town in the same perimeter, with a public school that has aged alongside the railway station of Chani Goth.

Across the Indus is the sleepy town of Jam Pur. Initially, called Jadam Pur, for the Jadam, a subcaste of Aheers that had settled here ages ago. Groomed in the prophetic profession of goat herding, this Jadoo-bansi tribe had linkages with Samma and the Rajput Bhattis. Years ago, the carved pens of Jam Pur were a souvenir but as the original name of the place sank into oblivion, this memento was also lost to time. This was the time when authors read and the learned wrote – a phenomenon that was to be reversed later.

The criss-crossing riverine is home to the innumerable stories that range from those of the Hoat Baloch tribes of Kot Addu to the ancient city of Muzaffargarh. These unforgettable tales are either cloaked on account of divine compromise or due to mortal negligence. However, the epics are predestined to create new history whenever they will be retold to newer generations.

Multimedia | Uch Sharif: Where the shrine culture began

Ethically, the mention of all the stopovers enroute to Sindh is mandatory but the description of Uch Shareef is almost a religious obligation. Despite the sleepy sands of space and the murky waters of times, Uch Shareef has been extraordinary since its inception.

It is said that when Alexander passed through this place, he was awestruck by the confluence of the rivers. The Macedonian had heard from his folks that cities established on the coming together of rivers, prospered till eternity.

  The entrance of the darbar of Jalaludin Bukhari. -Photo by Madeeha Syed
The entrance of the darbar of Jalaludin Bukhari. -Photo by Madeeha Syed

What remains common to all successful men is the fact that no matter how broad their scope of exposure somehow, deep down they always believe in the superiority of their native wisdom. Alexander was no exception, and so, he ordered the establishment of a city here. Now that the confluence has flowed southward to Mithan Kot, Uch Shareef still lives by the courtesy of royal decree. Few wisdoms can prove themselves superior through time.

Initially, the cities founded by Alexander connected with each other on colonial bondage but gradually, local interactions assisted in their expansions. In the times of Raja Chach, when the northern mountains were connected to the ports of the south, the maintenance of order implied defenses but the city did not take up a suspicious posture until the threat from the Mongols matured.

A few decades later, Muhammad Bin Qasim brought the sword of Hajjaj Bin Yousuf sheathed in religion. Initially, the city put up a tough resistance but the seven day siege paved the way for a conversion to Islam. With every coming year, faith bound the Indus region but the division of belief disintegrated the Middle East. Occasionally, scholars and the clergy tortured and persecuted by rulers of Bano Umayya and Bano Abbas flocked to Uch Shareef and made it their home. Within a millennium, the locality founded by herders was a city famous for its saints.

 Prayers tied up in threads, Uch Sharif. -Photo by Madeeha Syed
Prayers tied up in threads, Uch Sharif. -Photo by Madeeha Syed

With its eventful history, Uch Shareef reminds one of the post card with a colourful picture on the front and black and white writing at the back. The vivid picture on the front is of multicoloured threads, heavy with prayers and tied to the trees in a courtyard where lie five graves, the resting places of Jalaluddin Surkh Posh, Jahanian Jahan-Gasht, Mayee Javinda, Abdul-Aleem and the architect, Ustad Nooriya. The double tone writing, at the back, is of sadness that drips from the rustic bricks, collapsing domes and fading signs.

Interestingly, the colours of satiation, separation and unification are the same on both sides.

[To be continued…]

Read this blog in Urdu here.