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In Search of Birthplaces …

August 15, 2016





Lahore-Islamabad Motorway. We get off at the Kot Momin interchange and are on the  usual  bumpy country roads. The sun has set,  the moon is up and there is a slight Basant nip in the air. Finally, we  get on to the canal road for  village Haveli Bahadar Khan.  There is an eerie silence on the final few furlongs to the village. . Kinoo trees, actually big bushes, look like scary ghosts. The fields of tall bamboo trees are pitch dark. Village folks have already had their supper, gotten their cattle into the barns and have called it a day. Our loud car horns shrieks  get the servants up, who open the gate. And we are finally into a Punjabi village as it was 56 years ago – or probably a few hundred years ago.


It all comes back to Nand, the Canadian economist, who was born in a small village Kusik, not too far from here, before the partition. He is very observant and curious always looking out for the small details that relate to his childhood. He recalls  the old `loonkee’, a small wooden contraption with compartments to hold spices, which had a sliding  cover on top. He notices the `phoonkee’, near the chuhlas, a small pipe-type contraption used to blow, to light fire. He sees the `Churkha’ (spinning wheel), the earthen pitchers, the low `Peeries’, a low chair without backside. Noticing the different heights of Peeries, he inquires whether it has something to do with the status of person who sits on them. I tell him that ordinary village folks sit on the floor since they can not sit at the level  of  the Chaudhrys. But the elderly or the sick are often permitted and asked  to pull a  Peerie. Nand inquires  why the villagers do not touch feet of the Chaudhrys. I tell him  that they  bend down – but do not touch the feet of the Chaudhrys. At times, they do touch the kneecaps. Probably, it has something to do with religion with  its concept of equality. In India, normal respect to elders is shown by touching the feet. Mostly, the lower caste Hindu  had converted to Muslims. And while the equality syndrome seemed to have been a big attraction –  the strong cultural forces of class-system still lingers on in the village. In the village, each profession is still treated like a caste and is socially looked down upon. I also have some misconceptions about the Hindus. I ask Nand if he eats meat. He replies `very much so’.


The village maulvi is also sitting on the floor. Nand asks him if he knew Persian or  Arabic. He has some sense of  Arabic but does not know Persian. The older generation, which knew Persian, has passed away. Even the old classical Punjabi is fading away. Unlike our mothers and illiterate Punjabi farmers, the younger generation does not use seasons’ sanskrit/hindi names  poh, mah, badroo as known in Punjabi. Nand’s wife, Indu, however, still speaks the old Sargodha Punjabi as village folks speak. She exchanges her notes with my wife on the marriage customs and other village trivia. My wife overloads her with her own fables and stories of the family tree; and how her forefathers had migrated from Garh Ramba, in India, well before the partition. Indu wants Nand  to drink `Adhrirka’ , the semi-churned curd with full butter, next morning. `Saag’ is already prepared for us. And we settle for a simple daal and saag dinner spiced up with village made `umb da achaar’, mango pickle.


I tell Nand that except for the salt, the village is self sufficient in every other aspect. It makes its own cloth, bedding, furniture and shoes. Has its own meat and dairy products. Nand is intrigued and surmises that the use of salt by Gandhi in his movement could be due to very this reason. Nand is quick to philosophize and his mind keeps carrying out political analysis. He says that if partition had not occurred, the Muslims would have had a critical mass to be always an unmanageable minority. And the united India would have been perpetually embroiled in Congress-Muslim League communal politics. It was  better to have different countries but keep good terms.    


We call Siddika Mochi (Siddique, the cobbler) to tell us about Kusik, Nand’s village. He is a Paharia, a mountain man, a title given to the locals who come from the hilly Potohar. Siddika knows about Kusik and gives us reasonably accurate instructions to reach there. He also talks about the Katas Raj, the centuries old Hindu temple located deep in the Potohar hill ranges. He tells us that `Katas Raj was Mecca and  Medina of the Khatris’; and there used to be a big annual festival there before the partition. He tells us that Khatri’s used to be the Munshis of the Chaudhrys  at the Haveli and their letters kept coming from India till very recently. On inquiry from Nand, he says that  Muslims and Khatris drank from the same village well. One day, Siddika said, a few trucks came and they took the Khatris away. Nand is surprised that Siddaka is always addressing the Hindus as Khatri’s, a caste, and not as Hindus. Himself a Khatri, Nand says that Khatri was only a  Cast. The only Hindu family living in Sargodha is at a nearby village called `Sahnis de Haveli’. Nand’s wife, Indu, coincidently, also belongs to the Sahni family.


So the next day, we again get on the motorway and climb the Potohar plateau, about 3300 feet above mean sea level. We get off the motorway at the scenic kalar kahar, which has water springs, peacocks and the inevitable local saint. The peacocks are still living in  Kalar Kahar forest because there is a curse by the local saint on any one who harms them. We head towards Choa Saidan Shah. Katas Raj is a big imposing structure  and is visible from miles. The multi-storied temple has a  lake at its base. Al Beruni had studied Sanskrit at the university here for two years. He gives a description of the place in his book Kitab-ul-Hind. A plaque put by some Jhelum Deputy Commissioner gives an idea of the history of the place. According to the story, when Shivajee dies, Parvati cried and cried. He tears filled the small lake at the base of the multistoried temple. Nand does not agree with the story. He says that Shivjee can not die. And the origin of the temple lay in the legendary conflict between the Kurus and the Pandus. Indu says that her mother used to visit the annual Hindu festival here before partition. The building is not maintained well by the Pakistan Government and about 300 Yatris from India are visiting the place the next day for  first time since the partition. We notice a lot of local bureaucracy moving around, getting the place cleaned and doing some choona-pani.


Next we set course for the Nand’s birthplace, the Kusik village. As we cross Choa Saidon shah,  the mountain roads keep getting smaller and the turns keep getting tighter. Nand says that Kusik is on a hilltop and should be visible from miles. He had left it when he was only one year old. Sure enough, as we make the final mountain turn, there is Kusik on the hilltop, visible from miles. The locals talk of it as `Devi ka Mandar’ or `Kusik fort’. A 50-60-house village is located next to the temple.  The temple is well fortified with an outer wall with see-through holes for defense on its three sides. On its back, there is a steep fall of the cliff. It is a unique quiet solitary place in that wilderness of the hills. I jokingly tell Nand that he is lucky to have migrated to be now living in Ottawa rather than in these boondocks. The climb to the top is very steep and only a jeep could go up. The locals tell  us  that during the pre-partition days, Kusik hosted the  biggest market of the area. Gujar Khan and Choa Saidan shah were then only small insignificant villages. The locals’ shepherds tell us that the Khatris living in the Kusik were rich and controlled the entire business of the area. Nand’s father was in the British Army and the old village folk know of Nand’s family but the original houses are no more there.


But it is much easier to find Indu’s birthplace in Sargodha. The Kutchery bazaar in Sargodha could not have changed much in the last 56 years. We are in search of  Sita Ram Haveli in Block 5 where Indu was born. The rickshaw driver tells us that first turn left in the Kutchery Bazaar will take us to Block 5. We are soon there and searching for the Haveli. The famous Sargodha Sahnis also had a house near Indus’s house as she tells us. The Sahni’s house has a big gate but it is locked. We peep through a window and ask them to open the gate. A boy inside tells us to approach from the other side. Nand whispers in my ears asking `do all the Hindus living here keep their gates closed’.  I laugh. I tell him that the Sahnis, being the only Himdu family in the area, enjoy somewhat of a celebrity status in the area. We push the gate open but there is no one there except an old lady, who is a little senile.


We return back to the street and begin asking for the Sita Ram Haveli or the house of Kohli wakil (lawyer), Indu’s father, of the pre-partition days. Suddenly, a man comes running and says that he knows the Kohli Sahib and he is the third owner of his house. And the house behind us is that very house. Indu turns back, looks at the house and is speechless with tears rolling down her eyes. Kohli Sahib must have built the house with great love. It was intact to the last brick. Even the wooden doors and almirahs were in an immaculate condition. No changes had been made to the house. Even the electric fittings were the same. The man shows the house to us and invites us to a lunch. We politely decline. Indu immediately calls up her mother in Delhi and tells her that she is speaking from her house. There seems to be an overflow of emotions from both sides.


From Kusik, Nand’s family had moved to Lyalpur, (now Faisalabad) named after a British, whose great grandson, Mr. Lyal is now British High Commissioner to Pakistan.


The house is located next to the Agriculture college, now a university.


I was born in a house a few hundred feet from Nand’s house.



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