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.
This is part two of a two-part series on Jalalpur Jattan. View part one here.-Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/Dawn.com
Baisakhi is by and large the biggest festival of Jalapur Jattan. The whole city puts on color and happiness. Over loaded boats ferry the farmers, traders, shopkeepers, craftsmen, women and children of Daur and Sambrial, from one bank of Chenab to the other. The pathways are lined with limestone and blends of light colors define the mood, all without an event manager. Next to poorly assembled and gaily painted Ferris wheel, a child is crying out loud. He is the son of Ram Saran, the well-known moneylender of Jalalpur. Panicked by the rush, the child sobs, non-stop. Fifty years later, he will be a successful entrepreneur and a man mature enough. Baisakhi, by then, will cease to exist as a seasonal celebration and will be endorsed in state-issued diaries as a religious festival. This child, the son of Ram Saran, will come again for this religious festival. He will have to appear in the High Commission and obtain a visa for an event which hardly required his mother’s permission few decades back. Standing in the heart of Jalalpur, he will again cry out loud, this time not because of rush, but of loneliness. He is tricked by time and is surprised as to how a seasonal celebration can now be just a religious festival?
Next is Ronti Mohallah, a wall was constructed and a common passage was blocked after the decision was taken by the Panchayat. The panchayat, predominantly Muslim, opined that every Eid, people carried beef to other parts of the city through this street and it hurts the Hindu sentiment, so a wall should be constructed and this path needs to be blocked. After almost half a century, a mob will rise and arm itself to demolish the wall and fighting will erupt. On one side will be the old residents of Jalalpur, in their 70s, who want to retain a tradition of tolerance despite the fact that all the Hindus are gone and on the other side, new residents will stand, reminding everyone that Pakistan is the sole fortress of Islam. The wall will collapse some days later, unknowingly.
Boodhraj Hospital is another side of the city. Jeevan Sabharwal, a resident of Jalalpur was serving at Lahore when he met Gandhi. The leader reflected on the sorry state of the health and education of Indians. On his return, Jeevan Sabharwal declared that now on, every boy will become a doctor and will only take a lady doctor as wife. Boodhraj was the first doctor of the family and he established a hospital here in Jalalpur. Rebellions will follow, threats, coercions, abandoning home and disappearances will come along the way but tradition will carry its day. Willingly or unwillingly, all the boys will make a career in medicine and all the daughters-in-law of the Sabharwal clan will be lady doctors. This family alone will boost 500 doctors.
Boodhraj Hospital, here at Jalalpur, does not have any off-timings. This one man healthcare facility is nothing but comfort and healing. Patients show up from far flung areas with no regard for timings and Boodhraj treats them with equal warmth and care, with no regard to his comfort. After partition, the hospital will be occupied by four to five families. Initially they will demolish the waiting area, then the construction, demolition, and reconstruction will carry on for few years. The ever expanding families will, subsequently, eat up the entire place. Boodhraj will move to India and establish a series of hospitals, all around Dehli. Named after the visionary father, Jeevan Sabharwal, these hospitals will have packed OPDs. Patients will leave him no time to remember, what he had left behind. His routine will only alter at the mention of Jalalpur or any visitors from that area. Those days, he will sit the whole day long with the new comer from Jalalpur and listen about his birthplace. His involvement and attention resembles that of a child engrossed in a fairy tale.