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 few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing on the doors as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


-Photo Credit: Imran Nafeel

The charm of Tilla Jogian and Rohtas is preamble to Jhelum. The city casts its spell, slowly and unknowingly, like love in the later life, tempting yet destructive. The city dates back to countless BCs and there is no account of who actually founded it. Its history and that of the river supplement each other, much like an umbilical cord. The magic of the city precludes talisman of the river.

Besides Indus, which is sacred to most inhabitants of its basin, Jhelum also finds its mentions in Hindu scriptures. Vyeth, Vatista and Hydespes are few names of this river, which according to Vedic scripture, is a source of purification for India. These days, however, it is the source of hydro-power. According to Greek mythology, the river is named after the god, Hydespes, whose parents controlled sea and cloud and whose siblings mastered rainbows and winds. Historians are divided on whether the river was named after the god or the god was named after the river. Despite this myth, reality and tradition, those who have lived by it, believe there is something divine about it.

Verinag, the spring source of Jhelum, is around 80 km from Anant Nag. After the Moghuls made their summer capital at Kashmir, they developed this place into a garden and reshaped the spring into an octagonal structure. From the mountain ranges of Pir Punjab, the river traverses long distances through Saupore, Bara Mola and enters Pakistan at Muzaffarabad. Before irrigating the land of pure, it brings life to Indian lands. The nature has no immigration procedure.

Throughout its course, the river flows past structures, humans and emotions. These sparkling waters have stories to tell but we, the unfortunate children of God, have no time to listen. It wants to tell how it fills the Wooler Lake and also the story of how a king built a small island in the middle of the lake. Another story is about the girl who cried while pedaling alone near Saupore. A tale of a love affair caught between communal strife in Srinagar. A word about the old man at Muzaffarabad, who, after having lived his whole life abroad, has come home to die. However, it does not tell at all about the agony of its riverbeds being excavated for sands to construct shopping malls. The river falls in Chenab at Trimmu Headwork.

Jhelum city was passed on to Sikhs from the Moghuls and eventually came under Raj. The imperialism of the city can be related to the British-style of town planning. The whole city was planned on both sides of the railway line. Hospital, Post office and Garrison developed on one side and the city on the other. A clear demarcation existed between the White man and his burden.

The year of 1857 changed everything about India. Peshawar uprising was curbed with relative ease due to mail censorship and initiatives by the British officers, however, Jhelum appeared as a center of resistance. Thirty-five British soldiers lost their lives. After the order was restored, a plaque was erected at St. John Church to commemorate the lives laid for the Queen mother. The lives laid for our Moghul King, however, find no mention in the history and were lives lost in the real sense.

Nothing much has changed ever since, only that GT Road is the new boundary between the trimmed lawns of garrison and roughly drawn fields of Tahlianwala. In the year of 1873, John Galwey designed a magnificent bridge across river. These days, an imposing hotel, rather the bridge, catches the eye with the promise of rented limousine for wedding ceremonies.

On the other side of the river, is the Inn founded by Moghul king, Aurangzeb Alamgir. It goes by the name of Sara-i-Alamgir. During the First World War, the British realised the military potential of the place. To honor the veterans of Jhelum, a school was planned to provide free education for their children. Inaugurated in 1922, King George V Military School Jhelum was renamed Military College Jhelum after independence and is now known as MCJ. Mostly, the sons of junior commissioned officers study here and after undergoing the selection procedure, join the Pakistan Army. The students of MCJ, known as Alamgirians, have both the attributes in their upbringing, the quest of a student and the vanity of a soldier. Inside the college gates, the world is very different. At a place where Alamgir once provided for the comfort of travelers, an old teacher of language, now provides for the development of his students. Professor Bashir, an instructor with an experience of over 40 years, aims at mending the hearts rather than the sentence structure of Alamgirians.

The city of Jhelum lays claim, not only on the fallen soldiers of the British Infantry, but also on the three brothers Mati Daas, Dayal Daas and Satti Daas, who laid their lives for Guru Taigh Bahadur during the Sikh persecution. Major Akram is another valiant scion of Jhelum who sacrificed his life for the country while fighting against the Indian army at Hilli in 1971. Strangly enough, the Nishan-e-Haider recipient of Pakistan and the Padma Bhushan recipient of India, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, both hailed from Jhelum. The narrow alleys of one of the mohallah, still remember the young Inder Kumar Gujral, who later rose to become Prime Minister of India. While he excelled at statecraft, the younger brother Satish Gujral learnt to draw and carve, making his name as a sculpturist and artist.

Nasser Azam, another artist, moved to England at a young age but Jhelum is still fresh in his memory. Sometime around partition, Balraj Dutt, who lived by the banks of Jhelum River, migrated to live by another river bank, Yamuna. He later took it to acting and was famous as Sunil Dutt. History is like a tornado and its might prompts it to possess short-term memory. The people of Jhelum, no more remember the kings and the generals, but a saint called Mian Muhammad Bakhsh. The mystic poet, who penned “Saif Ul Malook”, is held in reverence by many throughout India and Pakistan. The master-piece revolves around the story of a Prince, who fell in love with a fairy. Fewer believe that the couple still lives in one of the caves in the scenic tourist spot, north of Pakistan. Somewhere on the banks of Jhelum River, I once heard a shepherd, reciting his verses. Beneath the words, a subtle message was being conveyed to the soul through the subconscious, a message which was simple yet thought provoking ...

Loay Loay Bhar Lay Kuriyay Jay Tu Pani Bharna Fill in your pot with water, if you intend so Shaam Payee Bin Shaam Muhammad, Ghar Jaandi Nay Darna When the sun will set, you will fear going home alone ...

Mian Muhammad Bakhsh

The author is a federal government employee.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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