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From mills to plazas

Published Apr 08, 2013 06:13pm


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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 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/

“Just like old school Russian novels, the city lived an industrialised life; the one on the assembly line. There was a mile long mill, beside other reasons; the length also contributed towards the name, Koh (from kos, the vernacular word for a mile) Noor Mill. In the mills across the city, thousands of employees worked in three shifts, ticking the life along this regimen. Bus routes, cinema shows and even robberies were timed on these shifts. Each mill housed a bank, a post office, a petrol pump, a hospital and a small market of its own. This plaza, where we stand today, was once the rest house of a mill and the flats, you see in the far distance, were the air hangars. Parked inside, was a small aircraft, which shuttled the kids to Lahore and back for education pursuits.

“The double-lane carpeted road by canal, where we just stopped for a 120-second traffic signal, was once a worn out wooden gate on a small brick paved pathway. The crossing at Abdullah Pur, where the non-stop traffic has enforced a flyover, was an isolated stop, off-limits at night. The returning labourer stopped here, organised into groups and cycled away blowing carefree whistles and singing folk lore. Faisalabad, by then, was Lyallpur and urban life was disciplined by these mills. Bonuses offered inside the mills, accelerated economic activity of the city and meatless days, in the world beyond the mill’s premises, appeased no vegetarian inside.

“The law and order situation of the city also revolved around these mills. The closures brought labour on roads and screeched life to a halt, ultimately the city administration succumbed to industrialists. All this happened just 50 years ago.” Baba halted for a while.

“Are you sure that the kids flew to Lahore schools daily?” I was lost in calculus and my father was lost in nostalgia, the most fatal of South Asian ailments. He spoke in a drowning voice:

“Yes, that was the 22 families’ phenomenon, well-heeled of their time. Besides economy, they were the cultural statement of Lyallpur.”

“But then why did they break down the mills?”

Baba laughed and said:

“Had those mills not broken down, we would have never sipped this expensive coffee. With the crash of textile mills, the weaving units moved out. People bought the auctioned power looms in pairs of four and six and started weaving cloth at their homes. The prosperity, you see today, was baptized by those power looms. How else could I even imagine visiting this plaza?”

“But how did it happen?” I needed an answer.

“As it has happened in this country”

The answer was harsh this time. My father had not bled in partition. I, however, knew him as a grateful and acknowledging human being. Pakistan had honoured him, and many like him, for their hard work and reasonably made up to him. But, since the last few months, he had started watching TV, regularly. The prime time that once belonged to the grandchildren was now spent with anchors playing up political comedy. Our country will soon approach its 70th birthday but the ideology has remained an infant. Democracy, in its first appearance, was hideous; so dreadful that everyone desperately wished something new, even if it was as gruesome as an imported fusion of religion and modernity. I thought it was a moment of pessimism, only to fade away in a while. Minutes later, I heard a defeated voice.

“Firstly, the families shifted to Lahore and then the owners lost interest. They showed up at mills, only to draw cash and top up the cars. A little later, they abandoned it for good; disposed off the machinery and sold the land. No enterprise functions with lost interest. It is not always man who seeks the shelter, but quite often the buildings need their residents, too. The long visa queues tell me that all those who can afford, are leaving the boat. When it is all about drawing cash and topping up cars, it does not take long to be doomed, regardless it be a functional mill or a prosperous country”.

Baba wiped his eyes, signalled to leave and walked to the parked car. On our way back, silence filled our vehicle. I made many attempts to initiate conversation but somehow, my immigration papers in the gloves compartment ate up all my words.


Listen to this blog in Hindi-Urdu [soundcloud url="" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

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.


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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 (16) Closed

S.Nasir Mehdi Apr 08, 2013 01:32pm
was the mil nationalized by ZAB or any other calamity. The writer, please clarify.
Koi-Kon Apr 08, 2013 01:52pm
More of the mill, its about human beings
SBB Apr 08, 2013 02:26pm
I cannot relate to the mills directly, but I think I understood the human dimension of the story. Mill workers in Bombay (where I was raised) in the 70s went on strike for a couple years. Even though their entire social and financial lives were based on the mills, they chased the dream of another man, their union leader. At the end, 2-3 years later, the mill workers were financially drained, drunk on alcohol, and their kids all disappeared.
Maulana Diesel Apr 08, 2013 02:29pm
A country lost in the abyss of darkness. Please God save this country.
Baber Khan Apr 08, 2013 02:39pm
The final lines cannot be true! You are NOT immigrating, are you?
Salman Cheema Apr 08, 2013 04:27pm
Very well written Miraj Sahib. Hopefully your immigration papers goes through and you fulfill your dream. Keep on writing articles.
Krish Chennai Apr 08, 2013 05:34pm
Though today drawing morals from stories is repugnant to most, from this story it would be that whether or not democracy is the order of the day in PakSarZameen, a very close calibration of the economically beneficial future for Pakistan, calls for swallowing their pride and getting the cooperation of its neighbour to the East.
Sheraz Apr 08, 2013 08:33pm
are you really leaving? .... at the dawn of a new era. Election 2013 I curse the day that I left. I feel dishonored as a coward who runs away from his problems should, nothing beats in me anymore I am only a living shell. May Allah grant me a Resurrection and you the steadfastness to continue fighting.
Khan of Kalabagh Apr 08, 2013 09:07pm
outstanding Hassan Miraj Saahib !!!! fantabulous work, passionate, captivating, thought provoking and heart wrenching tale of my motherland in beautiful words, brought tears into my eyes, keep up the great work, bro God bless You
Malik from Australia Apr 09, 2013 12:41am
It is really sad how development work of 1950's and 60's was wasted away. If that momentum of progress would have continued, we would have left many now developed countries far behind. Countries that come to mind are South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, etc. I sincerely hope that we get back on to what my college motto was: "progress and prosperity", as soon as possible.
Farooq Ali Apr 09, 2013 04:37am
Unfortunately and I dont understand why we are anti idustry , our media is reluctant to project that Pakistan made garments , bedwear , towels , furniture and handicrafts are recognised as best products in the developed world we produce excellent natural products like rice and dates , the beutiful summer lawns are made by our craftsman. Instead in annual awards ceremony we prefer to call filmactress ,and singers but never awarded a craftsman who are making all these goods of earning country pride and wealth. Our industrialist are shy of putting a big name display board at their entrance while in europe you can see a big coloured display of industry while travelling in rail or coach . The media is over smart in projecting industrial errors and accidents but never called a craftsman or an engineer or tehnician to kiss his hands for his noble services he is giving to our country.
Koi-Kon Apr 09, 2013 08:09am
No, I am not Babar Saheb. How could I...
Baber Khan Apr 09, 2013 09:56am
Oh....that's a relief! Thank you and more power to your pen!
Manek Apr 09, 2013 11:40am
That mill represents your country today.
Gulbaz Mushtaq Apr 09, 2013 12:49pm
Jeetay raho Sir G. No words for this beautiful piece. Punjab is sad. The youth is abandoning it and running to foreign lands in search of good future. It is really painful.
Md Imran Apr 09, 2013 08:32pm
You are crying about one mill, but what about countless others in Pakistan ? If Pakistani mills stop producing clothes for a day, the entire world will go naked ! Allah made us a nuclear superpower not without reason. We are very good making the best out of every opportunity.