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The Bajwas of Gunna Kalan

Published Oct 22, 2012 11:43am


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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 at the door as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


Chawinda awaits the train after the eventful journey of Sialkot. The two rather anonymous stations of Gunnah Kalan and Alhar mark the route to this famous battle field. The mosaic of the Gunnah Kalan railway station is featured by a white unimpressive building, scantily dressed kids playing astride the railway line and pylons. A cursory impression endorses the insignificance of the place. The train rarely passes from this place and seldom stops here.

Waiting for the next train, someone handed me over the letter. It was written immediately after the independence by some Talib Hussain Bajwa to his friend Gurdial Singh Bajwa. The letter opens with a prayer that India and Pakistan should both prosper with their people. Bismillah is written… in the next line. The writer is happy to listen about how Gurdial has settled in the new land and has found a place to live. The text of this letter is ordinary but the emotions are moving. Talib Hussain informs his friend that his haveli has been well kept by the Syed family, who has immigrated from Gurudas pur and Patiala. A detailed account of the well and the Khatri shops is also given with a shade of sorrow. He adds that Gunnah Kalan is no more the village it used to be and prays that both countries resolve their issues so that life can return to normalcy. Talib Hussain encourages Gurdial by telling him that he needs to be brave, Allah and Waheguru willing, there will be another day. The letter ends with a long list of village seniors who have sent warm wishes from this side of the border to the other side. Written horizontally, on one side of the paper, is the advice to continue his studies.

Few more pages flew around in the depressing October evening wind. Balkar Singh is a Bajwa who was born in Gunnah Kalan, had lived in India, and is now settled in Canada. He has deciphered the 17th day of August 1947 and mailed it to Gunnah Kalan. This is the story of his last few days in the village. While I read it, Gunnah Kalan transformed into its own older version. The fading shadows of Captain Sawan Singh Bajwa, retired at the end of World War II could be seen packing up and preparing for his departure from the village with his three sons, Gurdial, Balkar and Paramjeet. Devastated Sikh Jutts were busy cutting the ropes and setting free the cattle they had loved more than their own children. The animals, though hungry for days, were reluctant to leave the house. That summer of 1947 was different and unique, for many incidents that took place were probably the first of their kind but definitely not the last. The oldest banyan tree where people sat during the long summer noon, stood lonely this year. A child asked his father about the Punjabi idiom … “Which time of the year, is the Jutt is as miserable as a faqeer?” My father replied, “Monsoon”. The monsoons that year fell in August.'

The flames from the Sialkot Cantonment could be spotted from the house of Sawan Singh, as it was the only household with an upper foyer. He had built this house, brick by brick, so that he could see the settling sun after years of wandering with the Royal Army. The Indian and Pakistani flags fluttered at the Lal Qila and Minto Park respectively, but away from the bustling cities of Dehli and Lahore, small villages like Gunnah Kalan had yet to absorb this divide. The extra ordinary rain had ravished the basmati but even if it hadn’t, no one wanted to harvest it.

Everyone seemed busy in feeding the monster that lied deep down. The blacksmith that summer had large orders. His home made foundry, which until last year, rolled out harvesting instruments, served killers with axes and swords this summer. The place was now filled with those who felt hollow without violence. Everyone, from the young adults to men in their 40s, had armed themselves – every hook, from the shoulder of a sepoy to the saddle of a Zaildar, carried the rifle.

When things got worse, Gunnah Kalan started a regimen of sentry duties by able bodied men, both Sikhs and Muslims. Initially, the Sikhs decided to move to the neighboring village of Bharoke, a predominantly Sikh village, but that could not materialise. Next, the elders of both the communities formed a committee for the safety of Gunnah Kalan but that also failed. One day, the Muslims of the village gathered their Bajwa brethren and explained apologetically. “The miscreants are now attacking in large groups”, said the village Imam, “it is becoming difficult to save you, our brothers in Gunnah Kalan. I think you should work on some other options”... The last few words were almost inaudible. Ghani, a village elder, who had hunted, played, smoked and sinned as part of the Bajwa mob, left the panchayat with a loud cry.

Sawan Singh gathered all the Sikh men in the Gurudwara and sought other opinions. As a consensus, next day, he along with Havildar Pooran Singh left for the Sialkot Cantonment. They returned with a truck next day. The track that connected Gunnah Kalan with the main road had to be traversed on foot since the rains had left it unsuitable for a truck. Everyone reached the road head in the dark of the night. Next morning, the clouds refused to pave way for light. Men missed their fields and women, their belongings. A little after sunset, the truck grunted to life. Those six miles were years well spent and memories well cherished. Their hearts drowned like the Ferris wheel let loose, in the ebb of loneliness, because everyone knew that this was the last of Gunnah Kalan. For them it was over, almost forever.

Bad news awaited them at the camp. The old faded tarpaulin had a few novel things … new people with new horrifying details, the stories that augmented apprehensions. Rumors of the camp being attacked or an ambush on the rail after leaving the city, were strong and frequent. The radio in the corner broadcasted Gandhi consoling the refugees that had poured in from Pakistan and when someone switched the band, Jinnah`s appeal to his people for helping refugees coming to Pakistan was heard.

Sawan Sigh had seen two wars on two continents. He had mastered the art of controlling emotions. He reacted well when he picked the blood stained body of his section commander Subedar Suba Singh from the soaked trenches and kept his calm while General Sahib pinned the Burma Star on his ceremonials. This war, however, by Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah and Tara Singh had cost him his nerves. Waheguru had them run out of options. They could either await death at the camp or confront it enroute. The Bajwa Sardar took no time to decide and everyone started preparing for the journey. I often wonder if this decision making was spontaneous or if he had learnt it by default …

(To be continued...)

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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Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (51) Closed

NRI Oct 24, 2012 03:44am
Umesh, Don't you want to think above what your forefather thought? Let's not divde, lets unite
Arshad Bajwa Oct 22, 2012 01:57pm
No matter what, I believe that Independence and Hijrat was one of the greatest decisions made by our family and many others. Pakistan Zindabad
Ashraf Qazi Oct 22, 2012 06:50pm
Absolutley a great piece of writing. Miraj,you have the genious for capturing the human emotions on a topic that has been sitting there silently for too long. i am not from that generation,however,I have often wondered,how the new generations that came after have been deprived of knowing the very painful truth about the savagery and the personal agony of millions during partition. It is never easy to leave one's home by volition,let alone having to leave with no prospects of a return.
Tahir Tanveer Oct 23, 2012 05:12am
Simply beautiful and well-written piece, hats off to the young writer, please keep it up !
Sohail Oct 23, 2012 01:45pm
Dear Miraj, simply superb
Pardesi Oct 23, 2012 09:17pm
What a beautiful piece of prose. Well written, it brought tears to my eyes. Keep it up.
Arshad Jamil Oct 22, 2012 04:58pm
Very brave of a young man to dare write this story. Unfortunately, mankind never learns a lesson., particularly in our part of the world, where we live on emotions and hollow pride.
Masood Hussain Oct 22, 2012 05:26pm
A moving narration.Waiting for part2.
Koi-Kon Oct 22, 2012 02:03pm
Sarvjit Saheb, I will try visiting the place.
ashutosh Oct 22, 2012 03:06pm
very well must write more..
S. A. M. Oct 22, 2012 08:03pm
It is beautifully written. I strongly believe that partition was a conspiracy to devoid India of its concerted strength. It had succeeded in that Pakistan was created and further fragmentation in the form of Bangldesh. How many more such divisions are in the offing we can only wait and see. Next Baluchistan.
Sarvjit Oct 22, 2012 12:40pm
Dear Miraj sahib, This is a very heart touching article. You remind me of what Khushwant Singh wrote about similar partition stories about Muslims. If ever you get time from your busy schedule could you please write about Kapoor Mohalla near Masjid road in Quetta? Regards Sarvjit
simon mumtaz Oct 22, 2012 06:35pm
Simply beautiful
Rattan Singh Oct 23, 2012 01:56pm
who would rate you down?partition happened for a good reason.we cant live with muslims or atleast what islam has become now.population of hindus is down to around 1% or so.we can hear old stories,well written mind you,and cry.however whats the benefit of crying now.
sureshmandan Oct 22, 2012 06:49pm
Thanks.It causes so much pain. What those people must be thinking while leaving their cattle and fields behind, never to return. I myself went ( Leaih District) through this painfull exercise as a child.I as a child could not have felt the loss so much but my Mom who was widow must have felt immense pain and loss
Jasbir Bajwa Oct 23, 2012 04:43pm
Tks Miraj Sahib for the writing. I feel the pain of seperation from my Bajwa brothers by a political interests of Mr. Nehru and Mr. Jinah. I am a BAJWA refugee from Narowal and migrated to Canada.
Bikkar S BRAR Oct 22, 2012 10:42am
Dear Miraj Sahib, Thanks a lot for such wonderful writing. How I can ave all your articles? my e-mail is May you live long to serve your readers. BRAR
sureshmandan Oct 22, 2012 07:11pm
Mr. Miraj Something so touching. I have gone through similar painful exercise in the then Muzzafargarh Distt.The only difference was that I was a child.The intensity of the pain felt by my widow mother and grandfather was not felt so much by me.Please keep writing.........
j Oct 22, 2012 11:00pm
thank you miraj jee, god bless u.
Raza Kakakhail Oct 23, 2012 06:40am
Keep writing Miraj Sb. these true heart touching stories. Our young nation need to read them to see what their grand parents sacrificed for their Pakistan where they are living today.
Patriot Pakistani Oct 22, 2012 09:39pm
Mr Miraj these stories are heart rendering.That you have narrated an emotional and touchy scene of partition in such an absorbing way is laudable.We the people of Indian Subcontinent started war crimes such as killing innocent neighbours including women and children and raping women and taking them for trophies that it took rest of the world to wait for it to be repeated in 1995 in Balkan war of Bosnia and Kosovo.Now is the time that we make amends and like Europeans who killed and maimed so many of its citizens have learnt a lesson and has become one country of Europian Nations where visa is abolished and you can move freely.Getting a visa for either India or Pakistan is a demeaning task for a respectable citizen even though he may have American,Canadian or British Citizenship,all these Embassies and High Comission's ask where were you born! and then visa is refused regardless of your status in the society.All of us are either thought as terrorists or spies for each others countries, not long separated brothers and sisters who wish to see their motherland and long lost friends on either side of this artificial border.
olikara Oct 24, 2012 06:16am
I agree.
mandeep singh Oct 24, 2012 03:19am
great work done miraj ji keep it up
ali erfani Oct 22, 2012 02:32pm
I think i m not reading an article.....i am just feeling that everything is in front of my eyes.
makraja dr Oct 22, 2012 01:26pm
Janab mairaj Sahib As usual and i am saying it for every posting you have suddenly brought into a non herad off remote part of punjab to life! But this time i just managed to finish it as tears welled up in my eyes especillay when you mention that it was the last they wetre seeing of the place which was more home to them than to us. The letter is very moving and showes that the majority of people wished each other well but had to submit as usual to the act of few which we still are in the shape of taliban and main stream right wing parties not to mention the irfan hussain's urban waderas. i believe for one we will never be able to pay for our sins for banishing fellow humans in the name of religion and sorry to say we all are at fault to some degree for some were active and the majority passive onlookers with not enough courage to call a spade a spade, to condemn the horrors unleashed upon people who just prayed for the same God the medium being different. Will await the end of the story
Ahmad Oct 23, 2012 02:33pm
Same for Muslims who decided to move to Pakistan.
Saleem Mir,MD Oct 22, 2012 12:08pm
Lest someone try to equate this story with one emanating from the other side of the divide,this time happening to a Muslim family,let it be known that it was an utter failure of humankind in its totality. I applaud the story teller for his acumen to let the barren land speak the truth as it was. Stories like these need to be retold for posterity as one can only hope tragedies like these will not be repeated.
Amarjit Gill Oct 22, 2012 02:41pm
Hello Miraj, Wonderful article.It is touching and bringing the memory of partion back.We need more warm poeple like you to close the gap between these two nations.We had enough of tensions for the last 60 years.We would like to live like good friends and helpful neighbours. Thanks again Amarjit
Avtar Oct 22, 2012 02:45pm
Keep up the writing. I circulate to a small group of friends, Indians and Pakistanis, who enjoy these tales as well. Both India and Pakistan need to set up Truth and Amnesty Commissions like the ones in South Africa. The wounds inflicted upon each other by people got caught in the geo politcal plans of our then leaders is holding us back from normal relations on a people to people to basis.
Abdus Salam Khan Oct 22, 2012 12:43pm
Thank you, Miraj, for making us realize the utterly inhuman and barabric tragedy of partition through the lens of Gunnah Kalan. By the grace of Allah and the Wahguru the terrible wounds we inflicted on each other have healed. Just as we had lived as good neighbors in Guhan Kalan for generations, we are once again living and prospering together on the West Coast of North America.
Koi-Kon Oct 22, 2012 02:04pm
Raika Saheb, The plight of Sawan Singh and so many Jatt brethren was too large for a thousand word format. Hope you will accomodate.
essaar1947 Oct 22, 2012 01:39pm
A child of post partition Pakistan I have lived almost half my life abroad - this brings tears to my eyes.
kirpal Oct 22, 2012 01:15pm
This article is not written by a human. It is an angel in Miraj sahib who is guiding him to write such heart touching articles. I shall look forward to read his next article.
sbb Oct 22, 2012 02:24pm
Mr. Miraj - You're back in your element! Thank you for this. I cannot believe you can describe so accurately not just the actual events, but emotions as well. I wish I could describe what this brings out in the reader. Thank you.
NASAH (USA) Oct 22, 2012 02:23pm
raika45 Oct 22, 2012 01:12pm
Wonderful article especially for old folks like me. Only problem is that since when has Dawn started doing columns in part like television serials?. No problem waiting your part two.
Koi-Kon Oct 22, 2012 01:54pm
Sarvjit Saheb, I will go around but I have little hopes that anything might have survived.
Vijay Oct 22, 2012 04:13pm
We, Bajwas of Chandsu Jattan, Distt. Hoshiarpur (our ancstor being from Narowal did our own bit to save the Musalmans of our village
Khawar Khyam Oct 24, 2012 09:20am
Thank You very much for taking us to memory lane. Specially pictures of local history(Wazirabad) and this story about Bajwas. We should not forget that excesses were made from both side(Muslims,Sikhs and Hindus). For those people who migrated across the border it still hurts. But lets start a new chapter of friendship and live like a good neighbors. But at the same time we should accept the present ground realities and accept each other existence.
Syed-S Oct 23, 2012 11:18pm
Even those who moved to Assam or Nagaland or Gujrat or Held Kashmir or the homeless of Mumbai or.....?
gopal patel Oct 23, 2012 06:30am
The article is really very moving.Majhab nahi sikhata apas mein vair rakhna.......I will wait eagerly for the next installment.
Sialkotia Oct 22, 2012 08:07pm
No, the wounds have not healed. I too live in west coast of North America, we are prospering but not together. It will take one-two more geheration before the hold of Mullahs on your mind is totally gone. I don't see many Pakis living in North America to speak against the poisonous prpaganda going on in Pakistan, against USA, which has poured billions of dollars in Pakistan over last 60 years. Mind it, I am also a tax payer in USA. I was two years old when my family had to leave under similar circumstamces. When I hear about the fate of Hindus in Pakistan today, I admire my ancestors for making the right decision to leave Pakistan. Pakistan is the biggest danger to Islam and Pakistani Brand of Islam is the biggest danger to to Pakistan. As long as Zia Idealogy Fathered minds are alive in Pakistan, even Allah won't be able to help. Keep praying though.
sbb Oct 23, 2012 04:06pm
I completely agree. To this day, I am thankful and pray for my father who moved to India alone at the age of 10.
Umesh Oct 23, 2012 08:19am
Blessed are those who showed courage and moved to India - their heirs are in a better state than those who decided to stay back.
sunny Oct 23, 2012 02:57am
Beautifully written. This author is a gifted writer, and should try his hand in literature. I am the grandson of a refugee from what is now Bangladesh. I grew up with stories like this.
Dev Oct 23, 2012 05:55am
A very touching article indeed.
NRI Oct 24, 2012 03:48am
Suresh, My grandparents have to go through the same story while migrating from India to Pakistan. I wish I could embrace and cry on your shoulder to close that painful chapter of my life. Why hate
Raja Oct 22, 2012 11:06am
"this was the last of Gunnah Kalan. For them it was over, almost forever." Too powerful and heart piercing words.
Waqas Oct 22, 2012 07:54pm
Brought tears to my eyes.
Prem Oct 22, 2012 09:21pm
very moving story. I experienced those partition days. Born in 417 JB near Gojra. My mother and Grandmother both came from Bajwa families. This story was repeated at so many places. All Jutts in our village (50:50 Sikhs/Muslims) had similar relationship even in those days. We are all share same blood Prem Singh Kahlon
kamaljit Singh Oct 22, 2012 12:40pm
Me too Miraj Sahib, Your writing made my eyes wet. More such stories of passion, love and broken hearts.