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.
While this place was inhabited three centuries ago, it has been a little over a century since the train arrived here. The old name of this place was Saidpur. The change of its name tells the story of a king’s magnanimity and an inn-keeper’s innocence. Shahjehan, as legend goes, was very fond of Saidpur and on every trip to Kashmir, he would stop here at this particular inn, kept by a lady named “Eimen.” During one of his stays, he was particularly gracious and granted her a wish. Eimen replied that she did not need estates but eternity, so the place may be named after her. The king himself was a sanctioning authority and required no ratification so with a flick of his tongue, Saidpur was renamed Aimenabad.
The origins of this city are linked with Babar’s arrival by several old historians. Baba Nanak saw this march from a roori (bed of pebbles) and has portrayed this invasion as an act of barbarianism. The roori was made into a gurudwara (Sikh temple) later on. After the city fell, Baba Nanak was taken to prison and ordered to grind the flour on a hand-mill. As he touched the mill, it started rotating automatically. Since those were the times when miracles did happen, the king was informed. Upon seeing the mill, Babar apologised to the saint and thereafter, a dialogue life and hereafter ensued between the two. This dialogue was written as a poem by Munshi Tilok Chand Mehroom and was published by Fort William College, Calcutta. The chakki (mill) was developed subsequently as Guruduwara Chakki Saheb. A well, which was owned by a carpenter named Laloo, is another religious monument present here. A committed follower of Nanak, Laloo was amongst the first few Sikhs. The well has been preserved and made into a gurudwara known as Gurudwara Laloo Dee Khoee.
There is a place in a nearby reservation forest, where Ali Hajveri meditated for 40 days and two brothers watched him silently. One converted to Islam and the other did not. The one who converted, made Gujranwala his home and his children still dwell in the city while the other, who stuck to his old religion, is believed to head the family tree of famous Prithvi Raj Kapoor.
Away from the mosque, gurudwara and temple, there are other colours in this portrait. Amongst the old buildings is one Kali Kothi, constructed by Kartar Singh Manchanda. The building carries its name from the fading shadow it wears. The traveller, however, is looking for something else. While wandering in the streets of Eimenabad, I heard a whisper: Gujranwala pehlwana daa, Eimanabad deevana daa (Gujranwala belongs to the wrestlers and Eimenabad to the Deevan family). From the dust of obscurity, I picked up the shining stars and started looking for the Deevans, the men with genius of bureaucracy.
The story starts when everyone in Kashmir had some estate in Punjab to visit and stay at occasionally. Deewan Amarnath Chopra was one such minister for Kashmir. The old letterheads mention his office near Forman Chapel and residence near Gumti, in Lahore. In Eimenabad, he built three havelis which were referred to as Haveli Deevana’n. While the other two buildings have collapsed, only one haveli has survived it all. At the time of construction, it had seven floors, 64 rooms and innumerable memories. The buildings were built to perfection and matched the acumen of its residents. Constructed inside the city, they displayed artistic carving and exquisite woodwork. The spiralling staircases, jharokas, and decorative windows speak of the finesse that the Deevans inherited. And then India was partitioned. Amarnath had died and Bishan Nath now headed the family. Within a night, the family rolled up their luggage and left for India through train via Lahore. On their way to railway station, Bishen Nath’s wife stopped for a while and told his son and a daughter, aged nine and ten respectively, to go home and bring the jewellery. “And if you fail to find the home, just go to mosque and ask somebody there,” she threw them the caution. The kids never returned.