American traces forefathers’ haveli in Chakwal

Published February 26, 2024
(Clockwise from top) The imposing view of the upper storey of Diwana Wali Haveli in Murid village; the side view of the haveli shows the architectural wonder which still defies the test of time; the rear view of the upper storey shows the intricately carved wooden balconies while Harjus Singh Sethi poses in front of the main entrance door of the haveli. — Photos by the writer
(Clockwise from top) The imposing view of the upper storey of Diwana Wali Haveli in Murid village; the side view of the haveli shows the architectural wonder which still defies the test of time; the rear view of the upper storey shows the intricately carved wooden balconies while Harjus Singh Sethi poses in front of the main entrance door of the haveli. — Photos by the writer

CHAKWAL: Murid village is located some 10km to the west of Chakwal city just off the main Chakwal-Talagang Road.

The village which is the fourth largest populous one in the district is considered the cultural hub (along with its neighbouring Bhoun) as it boasts as the home of chhatis (weight lifters) and famous bulls of Dhanni breed reared for karah, a cultural sport in which two bulls are yoked together as they pull soil through a wooden plaque and walk swiftly with impressive gait.

Unlike other villages, the streets, particularly its main market called ‘maidan’ remain abuzz with the usual hustle and bustle of daily life from dawn to dusk.

The men sitting in the maidan seldom cast a second glance at the passersby but on the sunny day of February 15, the shopkeepers and leisure seekers in maidan were left surprised as a new-comer with unusual outfits emerged from a car.

That visitor was Harjus Singh Sethi, a young tall man of 36. Wearing a thick black moustache and beard, a red turban wrapped around his head, dressed in black shalwar kameez and a shawl around his neck and shoulders, Mr Sethi apparently looked like an alien in that village where his forefathers once held sway.

Some villagers rushed to hug him as some stood away in awe.

“The sadness caused by the impossibility of returning to one’s country,” was writ large on his face as he crossed the threshold of the towering haveli his great-grandfather Diwan Singh had built somewhere in 1930s - a period when most families had mud houses.

Ghulam Akbar, the present owner of the mansion, greeted him with warmth as Mobashar Ali, another villager led him to the house.

“I was not sure whether I would be able to locate the grand haveli? I was also uncertain about the very existence of the haveli as most old houses have disappeared in the sands of time,” Mr Sethi said while talking to Dawn. He said he was however left surprised to see the haveli of his great-grandfather in its original silhouette.

Awestruck Sethi made a video call to his father Kawaljit Singh Sethi in Los Angeles who was still awake even in the dead of the night waiting to hear from his son about the existence of the haveli. As the call got connected, tears oozed out of the eyes of the son and father as they saw their ancestors’ haveli for the first time.

Later Ghulam Akbar also talked to Kawaljit Singh and told him how he had maintained the haveli in its original shape.

When Harjus Singh Sethi made his plan to visit Pakistan, he had nothing but a map scribed on a paper by Darshan Singh, the uncle of his father, that too 25 years ago.

“I have kept that map preserved in the hope that one day we would be able to trace our ancestral haveli through this map,” said Kawaljit Singh.

“My great great-grandfather Sardar Megh Singh Sethi migrated to Murid from Talagang when the plague hit the region,” Kawaljit told Dawn,referring to the plague which struck India in the midst of the 19th century killing more than 10 million people.

After settling in Murid, the Sethi family made progress by leaps and bounds in trade.

Diwan Singh, the grandson of Megh Singh and son of Sardar Sona Singh Sethi, emerged as a leading trader. “They were gold traders who would mostly do their business in Iran,” Ghulam Akbar claimed.

According to Kawaljit Singh, when Sona Singh remarried, his son Diwan Singh built this haveli as a separate house for himself perhaps after getting angry at his father’s second marriage.

The grand haveli was built on the right bank of Sauj, a stream. The two storey-haveli had eight rooms, six on the ground floor and two on the first floor.

The haveli is still called, ‘Diwana wali haveli’.

“Diwan Singh’s son Sardar Partab Singh Sethi (my father) was a freedom fighter who joined the Ghadar Movement. He was already in Delhi in 1947 where he would spend his days hiding himself in the heaps of coals,” Kawaljit recalled.

He said his father had realised a couple of months ago that India was going to be partitioned.

“He returned to Murid and took his entire family to Delhi before partition riots broke out,” Mr Singh said.

The Sethi family settled in Delhi and later moved to Kolkata. Kawaljit later moved to Los Angeles.

After partition, this haveli was allotted to a migrant Abdul Shakoor who along with his family came from India. “I bought this haveli in 1980 as Abdul Shakoor left the village,” Mr Akbar said.

Four rooms of the haveli were demolished in 2013 as the new owner Mr Akbar constructed a portion but he decided to preserve the main portion of the haveli in its original facade.

“I am the first person from my family to set foot in Pakistan after partition and this leaves me with mixed emotions, a profound sense of sorrow and loss along with immense joy,” the overwhelmed Harjus Singh said as he looked forward to bringing his parents to Murid soon.

After visiting the haveli, he was made to visit the erstwhile Gurdwara which is now being used as a religious seminary. Later he also visited the old portion of Government High School No 1 Chakwal which was built by the Sikhs in 1910.

Afterwards he also paid a visit to the historic building of Aarya High School which is now Law College of University of Chakwal.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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