Regardless of its resolve, the train cannot afford to bypass Jhang, a city revered by so many for so many reasons. Geographically, it is located on the banks of river Chenab, at almost equal distances from Gojra and Smaundri, but virtually and emotionally, wherever the sands sip the water, it is Jhang.
some ancient coins, Buddha inscriptions and hooked noses trace the
city, back to Maurian times but the recorded history is almost eight
centuries old. A sizeable majority believes that it was founded by Rai
Sayal, on the orders of his spiritual mentor, Jalaluddin Surkh Posh
Bukhari towards the end of 13th century. In the next few hundred years,
all important clans like the Naul, Sayal, Bhong and Kheva ruled this
land, eventually passing it over to the Sikhs. With the treaty of
Bherowal in place, Jhang fell to British Empire and formed part of
Pakistan in 1947. But from the Sials to Syeds, no ruler has done
anything to develop the city.
Due to the proximity of Chenab, most
of the residents drew their livelihood from land. The devoted farmers
tilled the land and prayed for rain with inimitable desperation. But,
the rains did not only bring greenery and prosperity but also floods and
destruction. Besides the pleasant evenings, the river often offered
floods. This cyclic pattern of construction and destruction affected the
public mood. The subtle pain in the Jhangochi dialect is in fact a
reflection of the sufferings inflicted on these dwellers by the rains
they so painfully ask for.
The story of Heera and Chander Bhan is
best told in this dialect. In the mohallah Bhabhrana Thalla of Jhang,
the Hindu population lived peacefully. Kaushaliya was the daughter of
one of the wealthy businessman of Jhang. Due to her gifted beauty and
inherited wealth, she was famous all around the pattan (vicinity of the
stories in Punjab are somewhat incomplete without the river, and that
is where Heera and Kaushaliya saw each other for the first time, when
the two families were on their way to attend the annual religious
festival of Masan, across Chenab. The platonic love between the two was
kindled by the dreamy desert night of Thall and the cool breeze of
Chenab. While at the river both took the same boat and before they rowed
across, they had already fallen for each other. The two continued to
see each other before word got out. Ultimately Kaushaliya’s family
raised the question of honor and locked up their daughter. With no
Kaushaliya in sight, Heera’s insight headed in another direction. This
introvert, self-minded lad transformed to a pain-stricken poet whose
every word came straight from the heart.
When things moved beyond
repair, Heera’s family sent a formal proposal for Kaushaliya but it was
turned down on account of bad stars. Due to the farce reasons of
religion and society, the two were separated from each other. Heera was a
pampered child and this debut rejection prompted his creative self. His
poems about Kaushaliya became instantly famous in the small town and
soon, hers was a household name. Kaushaliya’s family requested Heera not
to dishonor their daughter with his poems.
to the request, he chose another name, Chander Bhan. While his verses
celebrated Chander Bhan, the intended listener was always Kaushaliya.
His songs dedicated to Chandar Bhan struck a chord at Kaushaliya’s
heart. A few old men in Jhang clearly remember Heera Singh standing in
the fields surrounding the Bhabhrana mohallah, reciting the Dohra (local
genre of song) for Chandar Bhan. Besides the romantic tragedy and pain,
the story also carries many inaudible cries and invisible tears that
fell inside the heart rather than outside.
To avoid any trouble,
Kaushaliya was married off to a distant village. When there were no
sight of his beloved, Heera wrote following lines:
Raat kaali, taang yaar waali, sukhan yaar da badan wich teer
khardkay Ik dar band, dooja darbaan dushman, turaan tez tey peri zanjeer
khardkay Sutta waikh darban noo dar kholaa’n, dar kholaa’n tey dar
bay-peer khardkay Heerya jehno maraz hay ishq wali, sanay haddian sara
is dark and I have a promise to keep which pierces my body like an
arrow, Firstly, the door is closed, secondly the doorkeeper is an enemy
and thirdly, the chains make noise as I walk briskly, When I see the
gatekeeper sleeping and attempt to open the door, the door makes the
noise, Oh Heera, when afflicted by the sufferings of love, the whole
body, including the bones, shiver.
While all this was happening,
the freedom movement was at its peak. Like the four directions of a
compass, Akali, Congress, Muslim league and the Unionists were herding
Punjabis in four differing directions. For Heera and Kaushaliya,
freedom, autonomy and revolution were meaningless words.
months, it became increasingly taxing for Kaushaliya to co-exist in the
two worlds. Loving someone while living with someone else had started
taking its toll and she soon withdrew to her parent’s house in Jhang.
the other hand, parting from Chander Bhan had devastated Heera. The
love that pulsated in his veins alongside his blood had now slowed down.
Every second pushed him away from life and one day, after staying awake
for the whole night, he slept for eternity. The same old men clearly
remember that while Heera’s dead body was being carried for cremation,
Chandar Bhan ran out of her house and stood in front of the procession.
She embraced the lifeless body of her lover, which society and religion
had never let her touch. As long as the pyre burnt, she kept on wailing
and crying but then when everything burnt to ashes, she went quiet.
story could have graduated to folklore but then India was partitioned.
While Jhang formed part of Pakistan, all the Hindus of Bhabhrana
mohallah left for India. God knows whether Chandar Bhan still mourns the
death of Heera or if the partition itself gave her new reasons to
grieve. There can be a possibility that she might have started her life
afresh but regardless of these assumptions, the dusty noons and the
lonely evenings of Jhang, still whisper the dohra of Heera Singh and the
wails of Chandar Bhan.