Clarkabad: Where Shahzad and Shama once stood
We were all there by an accident. I, Reverend Robert Clark, Shahzad Maseeh and Shama.
Clark, I discovered, was a mysterious old man, who had travelled almost half of Europe. In the second half of 19th century, he visited Punjab and Kashmir.
As a spirited evangelist, Clark not only managed to set up the first missionary service in Punjab but also established the mission in Peshawar.
In 1877, on initiation of the Lahore diocese, he became the first chairman of the Punjab Native Church council. After a meaningful life, he passed away in the serenity of Kasauli, Himachal Pardesh, roughly a hundred years ago.
In the silence of this night, Clark's broad countenance and flowing beard added to his magnificence.
He cleared his throat and addressed me….
“Some 150 years ago, it was all barren here. I purchased 1900 acres of land and founded the first Christian village. Their ancestors, he pointed towards the couple standing in the far corner of the room, were very gracious people. They named the village after me. Clarkabad, they called it.”
The couple with us in the room hailed from Clarkabad, worked at the kiln, and by all definitions and labour laws, qualified as modern day slaves.
Though Clarkabad stands beside the road that connects Pattoki and Rai-wind, it is neither that flowery nor royal. People have long forgotten its relevance as the first Christian village and it now manages itself as a suburb of Kot Radha Krishan.
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Shama was fragile and meek; Shahzad equally unassuming. The constant struggle to live a life without fear had exhausted them both; leaving them perpetually in fear, this was apparent in their drooping stances. The hope for a better future that once lit up their eyes was long gone.
Shama shifted from foot to foot and Shahzad gave her an angry nod. Their three children had taught them to communicate well through silent nods.
The room was the venue for the incident that had catapulted Shama and Shahzad into headlines.
Also read: Christian woman burnt alive over 'blasphemy' was pregnant
Clark continued, “I brought them here with a message of hope. For almost one hundred and fifty years, this village has stood harmlessly. These residents suffer injustices on a day-to-day basis, despite claims of equality, which the state had pledged in the Constitution.”
There was some uneasiness in the air. Everything was fine until I realised that Shahzad and Shama were looking directly at me … a piercing fixed stare.
I could hear someone telling the faithfuls to save the religion, on a loudspeaker.
Islam was endangered…endangered by whom?
“Did you know Shama was five months pregnant?” Clark broke my thoughts.
I wanted to speak but my voice choked. The air buzzed with charged voices coming from outside the room.
“And somewhere deep down you knew that they did not deserve this or at least not until a court of law ruled otherwise,” droned on Clark’s voice in the background.
“This incident will not turn the course of history.”
The crowd was equipped with hockey sticks, rods, crow bars and a blind, terrifying rage. I tried counting them but could only make out that the neighboring villages had sent all their men.
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At first they tried to break in but the door was locked from the inside. They were motivated only by hatred; bloodlust.
The roof of the structure caved in and with this, everything dissolved into darkness.
“While the world out there will paint a horrid picture of this incident, you will still find my clergymen, rising to the occasion to stand by you when just a handful of miscreants are blamed for this. But, please remember, this lot, who still believes in Pakistan, is also just a handful. You might run out of these people too…”
After a while, as the air cleared, I saw Clark, alone in the corner of the room. A handful of ashes and charred bones occupied the place where Shahzad and Shama once stood.
Clarkabad is another dream gone sour in the land of the pure.
Like Shanti Nagar and Joseph Colony, it will continue to mourn the loss … all by itself.