Sufi and Salar
By Muhammad Hassan Miraj
March 12, 2013
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 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.
Behloolpur lies north of the line. Leaving Sangla Hill, the interplay of defeat and victory in Alexander’s epic battles has tired the train. Prior to satiating its spiritual quest at Salarwala, the exhausted train reminds of Ashok after Kalinga. Salarwala was founded by one Salar Singh during the Sikh Period. Many transcripts associate him with Ranjit Singh and others have recorded him as a brave tribal chief. How he was lost in anonymity remains unexplained. The new identity of the place, however, is a Sufi not Salar.
Twentieth century had yet to bleed in wars and fewer Sikh courtiers were still alive, when, in Brahmi, a village of Ludhiana, a son was born to Nigahi Bakhsh. A ranker of the British Army, Nigahi Bux chose the same profession for his son. Baba Pakhar Singh, a determined neighbour, went with him to file the application and Dr Khanna declared him medically fit to undergo military training at Dehra Dun. This was 1930. Little can be said, with accuracy, about his stay in the army. On a side note, it can be identified with all those who are free spirited and are marking their time. An organisation that pursues and sustains the politics of power has little or no room for free spirits and unformatted souls.
Pressed by the shylocks, at their villages, the desperate Indians had no other option but to abandon their cattle and fields and join the military. But this life of Fall-ins, white washes, company lines and Quarter guards did not suit them well. They marvelled when it came to fierce fighting but withered away when unconditional obedience was demanded. The snowflakes of Ardennes and dust storms of Africa did not hook them for long and ultimately these fine young men, now remembered as “cannon fodder for the British Imperialism”, chose the graveyards back home. Nigahi Bux’s son was commissioned in the corps of Engineers at Roorkee Garrison.
It was here that he started visiting the shrine of Sabri Kalyar, five miles away from the cantonment, and started his sojourn with mysticism. The to and fro went on for a while but eventually he stood at a cross road, caught between this world and the other. It did not take long to call it a day in the service of the Raj and enter into the service of someone more rewarding. World War II had started wearing out the Allies, and the British Army was haggling over every single soldier. The resignation of an officer was definite to cause uproar in the Garrison but his determination withstood all resistance. Trading his uniform with a coarse apron, the Sufi was Barkat Ali from Dar-ul-Ihsan.
After the partition, he moved to Salarwala and was allotted a piece of land in lieu of his ancestral land in Ludhiana. He built a thatch hut mosque and started serving humanity. The next 37 years saw Salarwala growing into Dar-ul-Ihsan, the place of compassion, which housed a medical facility and the Quran Mahal, a place where damaged manuscripts of the Quran are brought, rewritten and preserved. In the year of 1984, Bawa Ji, as he was commonly referred to, packed up and moved to Dalowal, a village astride Canal. This was 44th and the last immigration he took. Dalowal is now remembered by its new name, camp Dar-ul-Ihsan. It too houses a hospital and a Quran Mehal. Sufi Barkat Ali passed away peacefully in 1997. He is remembered by thousands of devotees on almost all the six continents.
The next station is Sahianwala. Besides a general and a politician, the township is inhabited largely by farmers. As the generals and the farmers no more revert to their ancestral home, farmers are the reason for the spotless greenery seen here. Unaware of national security and threats to democracy, they continue to till the land with devotion, leaving their hands soiled and bodies tanned.
Sahianwala gives way to Jhumra, a famous railway junction. Chak 132 of Rakh branch has a Gurdwara built in the memory of Bhai Daleep Singh. Within the premises of the Gurudwara, stands a mosque, which is known as the Gurudwara wali Masjid. Somewhere near Chak Jhumra, the track crosses over the Motorway which heads to the Pindi Bhattian Interchange. South of the track is Shahkot, the city of Nau Lakhhazari, which is now famous because of Nankana Saheb. Shahkot, on the other side of border, is also famous for its red chillies. Dhoop Sari, Manawala, Kot Mahant and Kot Narain Singh are scattered all over the place and have little relevance to the road or the track that otherwise symbolises life.
In the precincts of Bar, Rakh Branch casts its spell. Dug in 1892, this canal evenly serves the Bar with the magical waters of Chenab. When these canals were drafted, no one was willing to till the land. The British administration, then, resorted to their chess work of Ghori Paal and Rehabilitation grants. After a few years, these lands not only produced the diverse grain for India but also brought up the ferocious feudal lords for the British Empire. With this manoeuvring, the Raj ensured that the landlord will not let the Indian farmer live and the grain would not let him die. Other than the sediments, the waters brought with them, men of class and craft. These gems were spread all along the Canal and the track and the train shall unearth them gradually.
Another village with the name of Peerowana is located in the vicinity of Salarwala. The village claims a British era hospital, a durbar and a string of spirituality. Another Peerowana is in Sri Lanka and what is more amazing is the string of spirituality this Peerowana claims.
“What is your sect?” After serving us at the canal-side shrine, the laangari (helper) inquired.
Caught off guard, I had long given up on the question.
In the flash back, Dadi was still audible. “The work of Bulleh Shah cannot be mastered without consulting the first five Path-Shahis of Granth Saheb”. She oversaw as we gathered the passersby for Niaz and prepared the Puris all night. On growing up, I was told by a friend that “Koonda” was a Shia custom. Gayarweeh Shareef, a distribution of food on the 11th of the lunar month, faded away when a new neighbour binned the rice I took for them. Saying “amen” loudly during the prayer started limiting the bounties of religion on practitioners. Now that memory bluffs me with the concocted history we studied in text books, I do not exactly remember when I visited Data Saheb, the Sufi shrine at Lahore and a friend equated this with Shirk. The animal hides, however, could conveniently be traded for bullets. The threat of heresy looms over each one of life’s little happiness. We now live in a society where Deobandis have closed their mosques to Barelvis and Ahl-e-Hadees have refused to pray with Ahl-e-Sunnat.
The laangari (helper) had to go, so he repeated his question.
“Those who were blown to pieces in Karachi and burnt to ashes in Lahore were all human beings and human beings, my friend, are lucky not to have sects.”
Muhammad Hassan Miraj is a federal government employee.