Lyallpur – A city on the hill
Muhammad Hassan Miraj | 2 days ago
For whom the bell tollsThe 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 a 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.
______________________________As Ravi guards Lahore and Jumna pickets Delhi, Tiber sentinels Rome. The trail of history is not restricted to tracks, so the wandering story reached out to Rome. Despite the seventeen centuries that intervene, the phenomenon is too repetitive to evade human memory. Fought between the armies of Constantine and Maxentius in October, 312 AD, the battle of Milvian Bridge was fought for Rome. Constantine was not his usual self because of his lesser numbers. His army included some Christians that lived the life of concealed identities and constant threat. Much like our minorities, these followers of Christ had hard time saving their worship places and dodge persecutions, a post-accession ritual of every Caesar. A night before the battle, Constantine addressed his men. The murmuring files came to a still, when he appeared on the horseback. He raised his sword towards skies and told them about his vision. He, in that vision, had been instructed to fight in the name of Cross, implying to take over Rome and establish Christianity as the official religion. It worked and worked well. Before the dusk, royal army and praetorian guards had routed. The small Christian proportion of his troops had fought to the last, apparently to save Christianity.
The battle of Milvian Bridge is phenomenal for being the first one to be fought in the name of religion. Constantine had no idea that the slogan he coined for a temporary victory, will haunt the mankind in the times to come. He, despite his divine vision, could not foresee the after-effects of this faith-fed motivation. While Faisalabad seethes in malignant religiosity, the blood can only be traced to those who mixed religion with politics.
A city which owes its development to British Empire can still see some white-robed missionaries educating generations. The confluence of eight lines, a reminder of Union Jack, drawn by Captain Young is still registered as Clock Tower and the spacious verandahs of Chenab Club where British officers relaxed still smell of Raj.
In later part of 19th Century, as British decided to develop Punjab, they resorted to irrigation system and land allotments. The gracious allocation did consider the allegiance with Raj since those who stood next to British during 1857 war, had their lands next to canals. Chenab Colony was the first name given to this settlement of Baar.
It was during this allotment that family of Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri migrated from Jalandhar and made Lyallpuri, a part of their name. Master Sunder Singh had not only taught Sir Sikandr Hayat and Giyani Kartar Singh but was universally referred to as Master. A gifted visionary of his time, he was credited for his nationalist movement, Punjabi newspaper and a chain of public schools in remote areas of Punjab. The building of Lyallpur Sangh Sabha, near the canal was converted by him into Khalsa High School. The school eventually grew into a college and the college became an icon of Lyallpur.
After the Jallian wala Bagh incident, police arrested Master Sunder Singh and charged him for murder. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the brilliant educationist and lawyer, fought his case and managed to scrap the sentence to eighteen months imprisonment at Andaman Nicobar Islands, though the fine cost him his ancestral land.
On release, he started Akali, the best-selling Punjabi daily of its time. Akali had a nationalist tone which instantly grew loud enough for the British to notice and subsequently silence it. Master Sunder was arrested and the paper was shut down for a brief period. Soon the Urdu version was also published and on Pandit Malviya’s advice, Master Sunder Singh started “Hindustan Times”, the English newspaper. Initially the financial aid from Sikhs of America provided for the paper but due to frequent official clamp downs and financial issues, it could not continue. Pandit Malviya ran the paper for a while but soon it was sold to Ghanshyam Das Birla. A congressman to the core of his heart, Master wore khaddar for most of his life, believed in complete autonomy and equal rights for minorities.
Before Partition, the city had a healthy mix of Sikh Jaats, Muslim Sheikhs, Hindu businessmen and a very limited Anglo-Indian community. This composition also shaped the economical outlook of the city. Jaats held the agrarian side, Sheikhs and the Hindus did the industry and Anglo-Indian community was busy in keeping the stiff upper lip traditions of Raj through clubs, schools and offices. While Ganesh Mill and Khushi Ram Behari Lal Mill (now known as Lal Mill) provided a lifestyle to the city and kept the city on toes during day, evenings would see Ganda Singh, a local landlord, ride his famous Tonga majestically.
The city was famous because of the eight bazaars that led to eight different locations. The bazaars initiated from Clock Tower and going outward they made smaller rings and connected the inner side of these bazaars in growing circles.
There was a time when these connecting streets were famous for gifted people instead of seedy retail shops. In one of the lanes, Fateh Ali Khan and his brothers practiced their daily regimen of Riaz, the success stories of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan were a generation away. Few houses down the road, at Barrister Khajan Singh’s Place, his daughter Teji, a lean girl with sharp features performed Keertan alongside her mother. Teji soon graduated from hymns to Shakespeare and was teaching at Lahore when she met Harivanshrai, a poet who taught at Aligarh. They married in 1941 and were blessed with a son, next year. India, those days, beamed with revolution so Teji and Harivanshrai named their son “Inqilaab”. Samatranandan Pant, a poet friend convinced the parents to change the name. He suggested something more meaningful, ”Amitabh Bachan”.
Two phenomenal buildings stood on both ends of Thandi Sarak, District Jail and Agriculture College on one end and Chenab Club on the other end. Outside the city, fame had come to Bhagat Singh and the son of Dewan Basheswarnath, a police sub inspector.
But that was before the August of 1947…
(To be continued)
Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.