The pendant of Pothowar
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.
The railway track in Pothowar is so intertwined with the GT road that it is almost “inconceivable to part”. The lifestyles associated with this historical highway can also be seen along the railway track.
Named after Muhammad Khan Mandrah and famed for the Chief Justice Afzal Zullah, the sleepy town of Mandrah is next. The line splits at “Mureed”, a relatively infamous station. From here on, one of the tracks runs through Dhadhiyal and Tara Garh to Chakwal. The other continues to Gujar Khan…the heart of Pothowar.
After winning the series of battles, Mehmood of Ghazna wanted to develop this place. He tasked his confidante, Ayaz for this job. During constructions, it rained heavily and when skies cleared, the rugged terrain appeared. Since Mehmood was rushing South to save Islam viz a viz secure Somnath, he settled for giving this place a name and left for the relatively important job. Phat-Har, as Mahmood called it, means the craggy ground. Seen through the train window, it somehow looks like a minuscule Grand Canyons.
Around a millennium and a half ago, the region was ruled by the Gujjar-Pratihaar kings who styled themselves as “Maharaj Adhiraj Aryavart”. The title implied the rule of all the northern kingdoms of India. Little did they know that their love for this land would one day give way to the place known for Diaspora. The Gujjars ruled India from the historical town of Kannauj. The title Pratihaar was taken from Buddhist scriptures, as a synonym for savior. Even today, the determined sons of Pothowar guard their motherland from Quetta to Gulmarg and Qila Abdullah to Sararogha following the ancient tradition of commitment. Astride the railway track, the tombs of martyrs and the colorful buildings (courtesy expats) appear in abundance.
The Gujjars, in Mahabharat, fought with chivalry and then under the auspices of Lord Kishan migrated to another place. The phenomenon is still prevalent in Pothowar, where men formerly served in Military and now immigrate to the western world for a better quality of life.
According to manuscripts, the inhabitants of this place were Agni Kula, a Rajput sub caste, which is believed to originate from fire. Prior to partition, this area was populated by Sethis and Bhallas of the Khshatri castes but after partition, Gakhar-Kiani and Janjuas of the Rajput clan have settled here. Major General Muhammad Zaman Kiani was the known face of the Ghakhar military tradition before General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani. The first Muslim cadet to secure the prestigious Sword of Honor at theIndian Military Academy Dehra Dun, Muhammad Zaman Kiani joined the proud 14th Battalion of Punjab Regiment. During 2nd world war, however, a change of heart took him to Subash Chander Bose, who appointed him as the Chief of General Staff of the Indian National Army. He fought at Burma and subsequently returned home in 1947. While in Pakistan, he served as Governor of Gilgit and wrote his memoirs, a pattern which most of the generals follow to date.
The glory of Pothowar is not limited to the cross-swords. The wrath of the Supreme Court on Gilani, boxed the heart of many in South Punjab but added the distinction to the history of Gujar Khan which, now, has a claim on both the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan.
The railway station of Gujar Khan was established in 1860. Next to the main building, stands an iron structure, which is used for regulating the trains. The year of 1909 saw the first passenger bus plying between Gujar Khan and Rawalpindi. This transport company was owned by Seth Mela Ram and charged only 30 paisa for the trip. Mela Ram has gone and the void is filled by a whole range of rent-a-car services, only with the difference in service charges. These entrepreneurs were once the proud land-owners, who now think that it is more convenient to run this business rather than till the unfriendly lands.
On one side lies the town of Bewal, a place famous for its prosperity. The mansion-looking houses have central air-conditioning and heating systems. The story about Bewal is told in many versions. Some believe the place is named after Beerbal, the witty think-tank of Akbar. The other story is about a father who developed the place in memory of his daughter. Regardless of the stories, Bewal, today, is a tribute to a father by his son. Dr Attique, a Pakistani physician of England had a dream of building a world class hospital in Bewal. The British based Doctors and Pakistani-origin British MP Baroness Saeeda Warsi made it happen. The hospital is a state of the art medical facility serving the needy with first grade medical treatment.
For those with a golden heart, Pothowar is not about power and politics. It has other serene introductions and Professor Ahmed Rafique Akhtar is one of them. A mystic with the knowledge that soothes the conflicted minds, he has many aliases. Some call him Baba and to many others, he is Jogi Uncle. Regardless of the references, he is a man whose calmness transcends physical limitations. A graduate of the prestigious Government College Lahore, he taught for many years at Gordon College Rawalpindi, before calling it a day. He now devotes his time to public service. The scholastic discourses of the professor on mysticism and spirituality, discussed in context of knowledge based faith system are a source of inspiration and attract many to his institution Alamat at Gujar Khan.
It is worth pondering that a whole generation gave away the tranquility in life for a lifestyle and now there is the next generation which is willing to trade their lifestyles in quest of tranquility. Whereas, there are men who seek the world, travel in a cyclic pattern; and others who seek the truth, travel in a linear pattern. The difference probably lies in the direction.
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.