The teacher and the healer
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.
Row No 23, Butler County, Harrisville, Pennsylvania is an address in USA, however, the US Postal Services do not support it. There are no fascinating mortgaged houses of the American dream but rows of orderly laid out graves. These graves, once people, were significant, influential and authoritative. Of all their importance, only tombstones remain. The cemetery is full of life inscribed on stones. An ode to a fallen soldier on some far, far away battle field or a memoir of a young daughter lost to some strange spelling Latin disease; Mary with her innocence on one and Jesus in his pure crucified form on the other. In the 23rd row, Dr Maria White sleeps peacefully, forever loved, forever missed.
On reaching the Sialkot railway station in 1886, Dr Maria had no thoughts of going back. She had left her state and the States for better pursuits in life and joined the Indian mission. She set up her dispensary, which evolved into surgery and eventually into a large medical facility. On the road that carries the heavy name of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mission Hospital is the realisation of Dr Maria`s better pursuits in life. The visitors to the Butler County Cemetery remain minimal but the patients that pass through the gates of Mission Hospital do not do so without saying a silent prayer for Dr Maria.
Involuntarily replacing the “Kh” sound with “Ha” in their routine conversation, people of Sialkot are famous throughout Punjab for their peculiar personality. The bipolar personality carried by the city can be linked to the effect of the twin canals that leave Marala and flow downward for quite some time, hand in hand, like the twin children, or the influence of the adjacent Aik and Daik Nullah. An average Sialkoti, much like his non-resident country men, aspires for development but remains tied to the tradition. At best, he is a proponent of modernity and an exponent of conservatism. This is the reason that having made footballs for entire world, the city plays cricket.
The commerce story of the city is the story of chance and amusement. In 1895, a British officer broke his racquet and could not arrange to ship it back. He decided to get it repaired locally and the result was fairly good. Initially, the strings were manufactured, and then the frames, and soon the officers across India preferred Sialkoti racquets. In the early decades of the 20th century, cricket bats made of imported willow also started appearing in the market. The year of 1922 saw the first export award coming to Sialkot.
The surgical instruments of the Mission dispensary also played the same part in establishing the industry, which the world sees today as the leading industry of surgical instruments. But there is more to what appears in traditions. The earliest of the industry is said to be of the kiln-makers. These Koft-Gars (brick bakers), along with Islam, travelled from Damascus and set up their kilns in the city. Almost all historical buildings in the city were built by these bricks. Other than that, Raja Maan Singh, the valiant Rajput of state of Amber, also introduced paper making to the city. Man Singhi Paper, as it was usually referred to, was famous for many decades before the advent of other types.
The manufacturing skills of the city are not limited to surgical instruments, sports equipments and leather accessories. A street leads from the Trunk Bazaar going straight to Scotland, parting the two are the seven seas and joining the two is the industrious person of Nadeem Bhatti. Pipe band, Glengarry hats and Scottish Kilt have been the identity mark of his family in this street since the last four generations. Once leading soldiers, these Bhattis have now settled for the task of manufacturing pipe bands. They gave up the sword but could not give up their love for metal. The band which once ignited the spirits of Roman legions still sparks the chivalrous hearts of young cadets at the Pakistan Military Academy and the traditional regiments. Other than these pipe bands, the shop offers, quality Scottish kilts that beat any highlander cloth chain. The Caledonian connection is relived in this small shop, thousands of miles away.
The cantonment came to the city in the year of 1849. The place was surveyed by General Napier. The Moughuls left their imprints on Indian history in the form of the Shahi Qila, Shahi Muhallah and Shahi Masjid, similarly, the British left their mark in the form of Company Bagh, Churches and Cantonments. On one of the roads of the cantonment, two churches exist much on the lines of two mosques in one street. The construction of one of the churches was financed by Sheikh Mola Bakhsh of Sialkot. The city’s history does not offer much on whether it was an act of peaceful co-existence or the unfurnished demand of British administration.
In the Trunk Bazar, the clinic of Dr Gurbux Singh, father of Kuldeep Nayer, attended the patients. On the other side was the posh locality of Paris Road, with the residence of Barrister Roy towards the end. Next to it lived Seth Rai Bahadur, up ahead, the Haveli of Ghoolam Qadir and then the Connelly Park housings. All these residences now house government officials. Everything has changed, less the occupants of servant quarters of these houses.
The drawing Hall of Kothi Shiekh Niaz Ahmed has a show case of rare items. A ceramic sugar pot in that closet carries the mark, Ghoolam Qadir and Sons. There are no traces of Ghoolam Qadir and his sons anywhere in the city now. On inquiring further, it was revealed that Ghoolam Qadir was the largest store in Northern India. The clientele included the British officers of the cantonment and the Maharaja of Kashmir, Sialkot Club and Officers mess of Simla. From Cheese to fishing rods and English Jacquard to Chinese Silk, Ghoolam Qadir and sons, never said no to a customer. Ghoolam Qadir carried such a larger than life image that when the foundation stone of the Clock Tower was being laid, only two names appeared with the consensus of both communities: Ghoolam Qadir and Seth Rai Bahadur. The merchandise closed due to property litigation amongst the successors in 1970. The inheritance finally ate up the legacy.
Oberoi Sports was the largest sports shop in the city. Its owner Ganda Singh had employed Khwaja Hakim Deen, who attended all business. Factories, freight, labor, wages, raw material and finished goods were all managed by one man, Khwaja Hakim Deen. The industry has evolved a lot now, every house is a manufacturing unit and every street has online trading facility, the dry ports further facilitate the issue, with this network in place nobody really misses Hakim Deen and Ganda Singh, Oberoi sports could not be located.
The shrine of Imam Ali ul Haq satiates the city spiritually. He was a disciple of Hazrat Ali Hajveri of Lahore and a renowned saint of the area. Colorful cut glass, Quranic inscriptions and dervishes impart an aura of divinity to this building. Faithful devotees crowd the place throughout the day but the strange thing is that most of the visitors come here in gratitude rather in need.
In this city of brick bakers, industrialists, generals and traders, the money is minted alongside hourglass, but there are other faces of the city too. The way Dr Maria of the Mission Hospital healed bodies with her medicine, a lecturer of Murray College, Umera Ahmed, soothes the heart with her writings. The earlier has left Sialkot and is still missed but the latter lives in Sialkot and is still missed. Before the train whistled from Sialkot, a son asked his father, “What is common between educating and healing?”
The father replied, “There are two kinds which benefit the human being, one is the doctor that heals and the other is the teacher that teaches …that is the reason the prophets are mostly teachers or doctors…”
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.