Tuesday, August 4, 2015

'Jab We Met' Again in Rawalpindi

Maijnjit Singh Ahluwalia and Haji Gul Zaman in Rawalpindi
This is the voice of Rawalpindi – a city which has a lot to tell about its history and heritage— but only to those who commit themselves to the listening to the tales of this old city.
And I am one of those lucky souls of this city.

Mainjit Singh Ahluwalia and Haji Gul Zaman standing at the top of an old haveli somewhere in a narrow street of Bhabhra bazaar, Rawalpindi. But this is the climax of the story.
Mainjit Singh was just three at the time of partition. He visited his ancestral house and city 30 years ago and he is visiting his ancestral house once again.

We started out journey from Saidpuri gate, moving towards Chan bazaar and then Bhabhra bazaar. Maihnjit Singh randomly asked me how much is the distance from Saidpuri gate to Bhabhra bazaar. I said 'quite a distance' and he replied "aewein marda minnu pata" and started quickly moving towards the bazaar.

He kept on moving, taking quick steps. People were amused to see a Sardar ji with blue turban moving around like a kid in the streets. Whoever asked him "kidhar jana Sardar ji?' and he replied "apnay kaar jaana" and then started explaining him his family history..."Koocha Tara Singh ch kar ae, Parchhatti alli galli ch, kithay ae?"

And it happened again and again. Finally near Sujan Singh Haveli, a middle aged lady helped us. She was so nice and I am really thankful to her. She knew where we really wanted to go. She not only told the way but walked with us around 500 meter till the corner of the street.

In a street of Bhabhra bazaar area, Rawalpindi
As we enter entered narrow lanes, which were so complex I lost contact with Mainjit Singh, he was moving so fast. Now my quest began to relocate him as he didn't has any contact number or mobile. I asked people in street about Sardar ji and each person told me he went this way, he went that way... and finally a man on bike told me that he dropped him at the haveli with a parchatti, connecting both parts of haveli with a bridge.

At the gate of haveli I asked the man did you see him and man told that 'he is sitting inside", I mean what?

When I went upstairs Haji Gul Zaman and Mainjit Singh were gossiping like school fellows. Amazing!

Words are not enough to explain the feelings. They laughed, cried and hugged.

They went on the roof and here they were pointing at different areas and buildings, who were who and who lived where. "Eh Koocha Tara Singh, Eh Boota Singh da kaar, Eh Bhagat Chand da, Eh oh, Ethay oh" etc etc.

And then Haji Gul Zaman presented a brick of haveli to Mainjit Singh Ahluwalia and I believed this brick is not just a piece of stone.
Mainjit Singh Ahluwalia and Haji Gul Zaman

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Vachhowali: This narrow lane has many tales to tell

Interior view of the temple complex

To be fair, it was not the first time when my hands shook while clicking a photograph.

I was roaming around in the walled city of Lahore with Sohail Abid, the dark and narrow lanes, the busy bazaars and a lot of noise. That's what I like about the walled city. Then, we came across a street, a bazaar, known as Vachhowali bazaar. It’s one of the several streets that connect Rang Mahal to Lohari Gate area.

The bazaar's width is not more than 4 feet. It has jewelry shops, embroidery and wedding dresses and some other stuff like plastic materials used in furnishing houses.

While walking down the Vachhowali street, Sohail pointed out a sign board, a marble plaque erected at the top of a huge wooden gate, "Sanatana Dharma Sabha, Lahore" was the text, in Devanagari and English.

The marble plaque "Sanatan Dharm Sabha, Lahore"
It was fascinating to see such a huge gate, around 12 feet in such a narrow bazaar, it was surely a huge complex I assumed. We did Salam/Dua to the persons sitting just inside the gate; they were tailors if I remember correctly.  We exchanged some words:

"Eh mandir aey?" [Is this a temple?]
"Haan ji" [Yes]
"Kithay hai mandir?" [Where is the temple?]
"Idher, hun muk gya, karr ae hun" [Here, now finished, it’s a home now]

I moved towards the courtyard of the complex, which is no more a courtyard now, the residents of this place have built new rooms here, those newly constructed walls were also in dilapidated condition. It appeared like that there are several families living inside this complex and had made divisions to adjust, accordingly.

The huge wooden gate of the temple
While Sohail was chatting with the guys at the gate, I was looking for the architecture of temple, a dome or any sign.

Then I saw at my right side, it was this narrow lane, and just at the end of lane there was a temple standing there, hidden among the walls, around twenty feet tall dome, I took out the camera and focused the architecture. But I couldn't press the button. I tried once again. It was just matter of a click. I didn't take the picture. I don't know what was stopping me from taking the picture of this old temple. The situation became disturbing for me. I shook my head. Took a deep breath. Waited for few seconds. Then a little kid appeared from this door and I took this picture promptly. And we left the place.

Stepping out of this complex, I was satisfied. It made me feel that I didn't break someone's trust. Don't know whose and why.

Vachhowali. The narrow lane. From Lohari Gate to Rang Mahal.

Now let’s see what does history say about this area. Kanhiya Lal Hindi, the historian, writes about it. In his book "History of Lahore" (Published 1884), he has mentioned four huge Hindu temples in Vachhowali bazaar and Mohallah Vachhowali. These are "Thakurdwara Jawala Dai", "Makaan Ram Dawara", "Bhero Ji ka Sthan" and "Mandir Bawa Mahr Das"

There were several other temples too in the area constructed later. One famous temple was Krishna Mandir which has been demolished recently.

Vachhowali bazaar, a portion of bazaar which is relatively wide. 
Three of these old temples were located in streets of Mohalla Vachhowali, but one temple, according to Kanhiya Lal Hindi, was located in the Main Bazaar of Vachhowali and that was "Thakurdawara Jawala Daii". The description he mentioned is his book is quite similar to what we saw at Sanatana Dharma Sabha complex. The huge gate, the high doorsteps and the huge complex.

I am not sure if it is the same temple. The Sanatana Dharma movement was started in 1921, almost 40 years after this book was published.

It's an interesting fact that Vachhowali area was also home of migrant Kashmiri Pandits who settled here in mid-1800s. Among prominent figures, the first Indian Judge of Lahore Chiefs Court, Justice Pandit Ram Narain Dar was born in 1849 in his ancestral house in this area.

It is clear that it was a Hindu dominated area before the partition and surely this temple or complex at Vachhowali had a vital role. I haven't heard or read anything about Vachhowali, but now this is a new chapter I want to explore. A chapter, which remained ignored and abandoned for many years, just like this temple.

This temple of Vachhowali has many stories to tell of several generations. The Hindu generations who lived here and the Muslim generations who are living here now. The stories of love, hate, violence and survival...

us gali ne ye sun ke sabr kiya
jane wale yahan ke thay hee nahi
[Jaun Eliya]

Do our hands also shiver while writing the stories of the past?