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The ballad of Mirza Saheba’n

April 01, 2013

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 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.


-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/
-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

This is Danabad, a small village but a large monument of love, a tomb of reverence.  Though the story of Mirza Saheba’n has been filmed, re-enacted and told many a times but something about this ballad, so fascinates the audience that it appears afresh, every time.

Danabad was home to the Kharal Jaats. Wanjhal, the tribal head, was blessed with a son, who was named Mirza Khan. Almost at the same time, in another village nearby, Mahni Khan, a Jatt Sardar from the Kheva sub-clan, was also blessed with a daughter, named Sahiba’n. According to some traditions, Mirza’s mother was sister to Mahni Khan and a few differ that she was sister to Saheba’n’s mother. Regardless of the maternal linkage, the story of Mirza and Saheba’n is the one of cousin love. By some twist of fate, Mirza was sent to live at Saheba’n’s place after the death of his mother.

From Haryana to Vancouver, and Fatehgarh to Victoria, whenever this ballad is staged, there are two scenes which initiate the story. The first is of a mosque, where a teacher tells Saheba’n to write Aleph, the first vernacular alphabet, but she wrote “Mirza” instead. The maulvi canes Saheba’n and the lash marks appear on Mirza’s back. The other scene is of a grocery shop, where the keeper loses his wits to Sahiba’n’s beauty. Baba says that a woman’s beauty is a moment of amazement, which just captivates the man.

The love story became public and shortly, was the talk of the town. Mirza returned to Danabad and Saheba’n was engaged elsewhere. When her wedding guests started pouring in, Saheba’n summoned Karmu Brahmin, an old confidant, and sent a message to Danabad. The message was her intent to fight against fate. Karmu covered the 40 miles and warned Mirza of the impending disaster, with a word that any delay might deprive him of the love of his life. At Mirza’s house, another wedding was in waiting, his sister had henna on her hands but Mirza chose to leave. Before he could ride Bakki, his mare, away, the women folk of the household gathered. They tried to dissuade him; unfortunately, love not only blinds vision, but also reason.

Mirza reached the village and with an aunt’s help, made a rope ladder. Saheba’n was instantly transported from her palanquin to his horseback. Soon the dholak beat was swallowed by Bakki’s hooves beat. The love lore of Mirza Saheba’n is incomplete without the mention of Bakki. Peelo draws her lineage to the six saddles that graced history. It included Duldul of Hazrat Ali, Hick of Gugga Chohan, Neela of Raja Rasalu., Lakhi of Dulla Bhatti and Sandal of Raja Jaymal. The others draw her pedigree from Guru Gobind Singh’s horse and yet others think that the stuffed horse, of Ranjit Singh in the Shahi Qila is also from the same bloodline.

With the glory she carried, Bakki well understood the situation. For the safety of her riders, she first halted short of Danabad, where a banyan tree awaited the ill-fated couple. Once Danabad was in view, thoughts of Kheva eluded Mirza’s mind. He could see the decorated haveli and the baraat of his sister. The same sister, who had held the reigns of Bakki and had warned Mirza of the dangerous women of Sials. Jatts, across Punjab, are fearful of their sisters so Mirza decided to head home once the wedding was over but fate had other plans. Soon, Mirza was asleep with Saheba’n awake by his side.

When the silence prevailed, she heard the hoof beats. Horses of Khan Shahmeer, her brother, were a rare breed and the riders appeared familiar. The dangerous woman of Sial thought for a while. If the riders were her brothers, Mirza was unlikely to spare any of them and she had never wished Kharal arrows for Kheva men. All she had wanted was the love of her life but did not perceive the prohibitive cost. In the split of moment, she broke the arrows and hanged the bow by the tree. When the fighters ranged closer, she woke Mirza up. Confident of his archery, Mirza still thought he could manage them all. He reached for his bolt and found the bent arrows and hooked bow. His great heart broke. Few opine that Mirza lost it to Sahiba’n’s trickery, before Shameer’s sword stuck him. Yet others record that he last called out Sahiba’n, instead of Kalima. Before the lights go out completely and curtains roll, Sahiba’n is also seen falling on the stage. Peelo’s voice feeds in the ambience.

Manda Keetoi Saheba, Mera Turkish Dittoi Tang, Ser To Mandasa Lay Gaya, Gal Wich Payendee Chand, Bajh Bharawan Jatt Mariya, Koi Na Mirzay Day Sang

O Sahiba’n! You did no good by hanging the bow on the branch (of the tree) The turban fell from the head and the face was puffed in dust The Jatt was killed away from the brothers as Mirza died alone

Besides Peelo, the story has been told by Mola Shah Majethvi. R.C.Temple heard this ballad from many local performers and preserved it in his book. A myth, other than the grave of Mirza Saheba’n, fills up the tragic romantic cosmos of Danabad. It is said that a young girl in every generation of the Sials falls in love and dies an unnatural death. Across the canal, the road and the railway line, Jhang also celebrates a similar tradition, courtesy Heer.


Muhammad Hassan Miraj 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.