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the Beloved Town of Bhera:
of a displaced Hindu
Bhera is a town that is cherished even by
those who had to flee it en masse and for ever in very dire
circumstances. The town continues to evoke a sense of a paradise lost for our
generation of men and women who had to leave Bhera in 1947. We have very warm
memories of our childhood in our ancestral town, our place of birth, and our watan.
am a 73-years old Hindu from Bhera. In
1947, I was a 13-years old kid who had moved to the 9th class in the
Kirpa Ram Anglo-Sanskrit High School, popularly known as the Arya High School.
I still remember the poem, “Hubb-ul-watani,” (love for one’s
native land) in our Urdu textbook for the Seventh Class. The
poem started with the lines, “Dilli mein ek sitar niwazi ki jaan
thaa, aur jaan se aziz tha Dilli ko jaananta.”
This sitar player accepted an offer of “khilat-o-zar” from the Royal
Court of Hyderabad, and one day he set out on his journey to Deccan in a
carriage sent to fetch him. When his carriage reached near the famous Jama
Masjid, the sitar player looked at the grand sight and asked the gadibaan (the
driver) whether Hyderabad would have a mosque like Jama Masjid.
The driver replied that there were several beautiful mosques in Hyderabad
but there was none like the Jama Masjid of Delhi. By the time a few more of the
city’s landmarks, each judged as unmatched by the gadibaan, went by,
the carriage had reached the banks of river Jamuna. The sitar player could not
help asking once again if they had a river like Jamuna in the environs of
Hyderabad. The driver told him that
there was a river there, but it was no match to the enchanting Jamuna of Delhi.
The sitar player could not take it any more, and told the driver to turn back to
Delhi where he would make do with much less but would be at home in his watan!
once used to be basically local, centered on hometowns.
Your town was the axis of your attachments and pride. We used to be
nourished on local hubb-ul-watani. Our emotional ties were centered on
all manner of things associated with the town.
Bhera’s heroes and characters, its boli and humor, its history
and folklore, its festivals and celebrations, its food and confections, its
bazaars and mohallas, and its places of worship and even orchards became
the facets of our local pride. The
very name of the town became a core component of our being.
the Hindu and Sikh families left Bhera and other places in West Punjab for India
at the time of country’s partition, a large number of them found their way to
Delhi. After this huge influx of Punjabi refugees, Delhi became largely a
Punjabi city. There are scores of
localities in Delhi that are predominantly populated by the now grown up
children of these refugees from Pakistani Punjab, yet there are only four
localities in Greater Delhi that were named after the towns in West Punjab:
Gujranwala Town, Multan Colony, Bhera Enclave, and Miyanwali Nagar.
Bhera Enclave is located in the northwest sector of Delhi.
Bherochis started building their houses there toward the end of 1970’s, as
much as three decades after they had arrived in India. Their hubb-ul-watani
beckoned them to resurrect for their future generations a sliver of Bhera,
nearly four hundred miles southeast of their ancestral hometown on the banks of
river Jehlum. In the office of the Enclave’s Community Center, the lead plaque
tells the visitors, “The residents of Bhera Enclave fondly remember BHERA –
the city of their ancestors.”
poignant example of the hubb-ul-watani of a Bherochi Hindu is the content
of the last rites (antim-sanskaar) of his death in Delhi.
Joginder Nath Kapur was the son of a prominent Kapur family of Bhera.
His father owned the largest iron shop in the town’s main bazaar. Kapur
Sahib, as we used to address Joginder ji, matriculated from the Arya School and
got his B.Sc from a college in Lahore. He taught Science and English in his alma
mater in Bhera and also coached its hockey team for a while. In Delhi, he
started a large private coaching college (Delhi Public College) that catered to
thousands of refugee students like me who worked fulltime in offices and
attended its classes in the evenings to appear as private candidates for
university exams. For a science
teacher, Kapur Sahib was highly proficient in Persian.
Whenever the regular tutor for our Intermediate Persian class went on
leave, Kapur Sahib would step in and teach us Persian poetry by translating and
explicating Rumi, Saadi, and Firdosi! Once
in a while, on public demand in the college functions, he would recite in his
inimitable style the sorrowful poem, Ek saarson ka kafila, shauq-e-watan dil
mein liye, aazad sab afkaar se, athkelian karta hua, wapis tha ghar ko jaa raha”
by Vakil Abdul Hamid Sahib. When this noble son of Bhera died in 1987 in Delhi,
the last rites at his Kirya-Karam ceremony included a discourse, “The
Historical Importance of Bhera: A respectful tribute to the memory of
Swargya (Late) Joginder Nath Kapur,” in Hindi.
I cannot think of a more touching gesture of a people’s regard for
their place of origin. The lecture was delivered by Dr. Birbal Gandhi of Bhera
Enclave. It is a four-page long document in chaste Hindi.
I can translate here only the last line of this address: “The efforts
of the Bhera Welfare Society succeeded in securing [enough] land in the West
Delhi area for the construction of houses by displaced Bherochis so that the
name of Bhera lasts for long (ta ke Bhera ka naam qaaim rahe).
generation of our children knows the names of the towns their parents and
grandparents had come from, but generally have little, if any, interest in the
history or the character of these places. Newer generations generally do not
speak Punjabi at home, though they understand it. They can neither read nor
write Urdu. Their grandparents are not there any more; their parents, uncles,
and aunts do not reminisce about Bhera that often in their presence. Born and
raised in India and some foreign countries, not many among them are looking
forward to visiting their ancestral hometowns in Pakistan.
Professor Kalpana Sahni, the daughter of the late Prof. Bhisham Sahni,
has been one heartening and notable exception.
On a visit to Lahore, she undertook a trip to Bhera where she tried to
locate the home of her ancestors in the Sahniyan da Mohalla.
She wrote a very evocative piece, “The persistence of memory: Another
country, an ancestral village, and remembrances that spill across time and
borders.” It originally appeared
in Outlook (October 30, 2000), an Indian weekly newsmagazine, and can now
be found on several web sites on Bhera, such as www.merabhera.com
or www.geocities.com/hbugvi .
Prof. Sahni’s desire to visit her father’s ancestral town and home
must have been kindled over many years of listening to her family’s
remembrances of the old times, accounts of her forefathers’ move from Bhera to
Rawalpindi, mention of sundry characters from Bhera, and conversations in what
she calls the give-away Punjabi of Bhera (see Note 1). Her father’s writings
inspired her as well. Bhisham
Sahni’s last novel, Mayyadas ki Marhi, was set in Bhera.
The original novel written in Hindi came out in 1988.
Its English version, The Mansion (also translated in English by her
father), was published by Harper-Collins in 1995.
She apparently has had a very Bhera-nurturing family environment.
generation’s emotional bond with Bhera might have faded quite a bit, (dil
bhi kam dukhta hai, woh yaad bhi kam aatai hein), but it never
withered. In India or outside of it, when we come across someone from Bhera or a
nearby town, we greet them heartily as our watanis. In the spring of
1982, I had taken some of my relatives from India to show them around Chicago
(about sixty miles east of the town where I have lived since 1972). Not far from
the Shedd Aquarium, I spotted a gentleman who looked like an Indian or a
Pakistani taking pictures of the scenery. He
must have noticed me, too. At one
point he approached me and asked if I could take a few pictures of him with Lake
Michigan for the background. I
readily took the shots he wanted, and we started chatting when I discovered that
he was from Mandi Phularwan, a town hardly 12 miles away from Bhera. He was Dr.
Aijaz Sarvar Gilani., vacationing by himself in the United States.
We immediately felt connected like watanis, exchanged our
addresses, and wondered aloud how we two strangers, born and raised in two towns
so close to each other, were destined to run into each other in Chicago of
all the places! Just before we took leave of each other, he asked if I knew
how well Hindus from Phularwan were faring in India. I was moved by his concern to know how well the folk, who
were once a part of his hometown community, were doing in exile. I was sad to
disappoint him, for I did not know of anyone from Phularwan. We shook hands,
said goodbye, and he left in his tourist bus.
and Sikhs visiting their hometowns in Pakistan are overwhelmed by the warmth (bahut
piyar mohabbat naal milde ne) with which the people greet them there.
In 1978, my younger brother, then a British citizen, took a short trip to
Bhera via Lahore from Delhi. On his return to England, he wrote me a series of
letters about his visit to Bhera. He
writes in one of his letters:
I talked to a few
Muslims, but those who came to know that I am a Hindu who is here on a visit,
were overjoyed and started talking about the good old days when Hindus and
Muslims lived together as brothers. I
will never forget the Muslim co-passenger who did not let me buy my bus ticket
from Bhalwal to Sargodha [he paid for my ticket]. Another passenger offered me tea en route. One of the
Muslim servants of Mr. Telreja (a Sindhi Hindu in Lahore) pressed me to go and
see a Punjabi movie on his expense.
hubb-ul-watani warms our hearts to learn how prosperous once Bhera was.
The entry on Bhera in the Imperial Gazetteer of India (1908) reads: “ .
. .the town was the largest and most prosperous commercial town in this part of
the Province, having a direct export trade to Kabul, the Derajat, and Sukkur,
and importing European goods from Karachi and Amritsar (1908, Volume
VIII: Behrampur to Bombay, p.100). Around
1975, my younger brother made a special trip from Harrow to the India House
Library in London to get a photo-copy of the page from which the above quote is
same sentiment of love for Bhera hurt us when we came across dispatches on the
town’s decline. In the 1950’and
1960’s sixties, visitors reported a depressing picture of Bhera as a declining
town. I have not read Balraj Sahani’s book in which he talks about his visit
to Bhera. The impression I got from
a conversation with his brother Bhisham Sahni, a senior colleague of mine at
Delhi College, was that Balraj ji had found large parts of the town in a state
of utter desolation and ruins. It depressed us to learn that the town had fallen
into such a sorry state. Sometimes I buy travel guides on Pakistan, especially
if they have something to say about Bhera. One of these books, published in
Old towns were washed
away by the rivers and replaced by new towns on safer ground. Some have just
died; Bhera, near Sargodha, for example, used to be a flourishing place. It was
an ancient town where Sher Shah [Suri] built a beautiful mosque. There were
shrines which attracted pilgrims. Bhera
was a center of Moghul local government. It was plundered by the Durrani,
repopulated by the Sikhs and prospered under the British when it became the most
important city for miles around. Then as the canal colonies flourished, other
towns grew and Bhera waned. Local
government was moved [in fact the local administration was downgraded from a
tehsil to a sub-tehsil status, though the court was not removed]. Having
sustained a lot of damage in 1947, it is now a ghost town. (Insight Guides:
Pakistan. 1990, p.180).
My heart kind of
sank when I read the last characterization, and wondered why the rundown
condition of Bhera had not gotten any better during the thirty years between
Balraj Sahni’s impression and the summation in this travel book (it had many
superb pictures but none of Bhera; a sinking ship?).
the last few years, we have been getting some reassuring news. We hear of a
resurgent spirit of Bhera, though some parts of the old town remain in a
moribund condition. It may no longer be news for the residents of Bhera, but we
learned only recently that the town had been getting Sui gas for quite some time
and has a public water supply system. The town now has a Government Degree
College, an Inter College for Boys, and a Girls Higher Secondary School, the
institutions it did not have in the pre-Partition days. The access afforded to
Bhera by the Lahore-Islamabad motorway has been another happy tiding. The town
now has a population of 33,600 (2001), compared to the rough estimate of 28,000
we used to hear before the partition. Several
new colonies have sprung up around the old town.
However, information on the condition of the satellite villages of Bhera
is hard to come by.
wonders what happened to the two hamlets of Khan Mohammad Da and Haathiwind on
the bus route from Bhera to Bhalwal.
Folks in one of these villages used to “harvest” shora left as
residue by evaporating shallow pools of water in embanked plots of arid land.
No commercially available map of Pakistan shows these old villages and
others like Bathuni. I did succeed
in finding the neighboring village of Hazurpur in my Lonely Planet Travel Atlas
for India and Bangladesh (1995, p.12 and 16).
This atlas is my proud possession, because it maps also show Haranpur,
my father’s place of birth, and also Jalalpur (Sharif), my
mother’s place of birth (my Nannaka shehar). The three towns of Bhera, Haranpur, and Jalalpur -- all three
situated on the banks of Jehlum -- have been variously linked to Alexander’s
battle with King Porus in 326 B.C. In terms of geographic origins then, our
ancestry is indeed a tapestry of ancient strands. Our family could not bring
much personal stuff with us when we left Bhera, but the most treasured things my
mother made a point of carrying on her were two Phulkaaris and one Baagh.
She gave one precious heirloom piece to each one of her three
daughters-in-law when they came as brides to our house in Delhi. One of these
pieces was stitched by our paternal grandmother in Haranpur, the other by our
maternal grandmother in Jalalpur, and the last of the three by our mother in
continues to inspire love and pride for the town among the new and old
generations of its current residents. Their hubb-ul-watani is reflected
in their dedicated efforts to put Bhera on the internet map. They have invested
huge personal resources to set up several websites on Bhera.
Besides the Wikipedia’s site on Bhera, there are web sites that have
been set up by individual Pakistani Bherochis. The website by H. A. Bugavi is
perhaps the oldest site, distinguished for its genuine concern for the
historical assets of Bhera. The other by Ali Javeed appears more systematic and
open to contributions from Bherochis who had to leave the town in 1947.
Their websites cover the town’s history, architecture, mosques,
abandoned temples and the Sikh gurdawara, and the illustrious lives of its
distinguished sons. Visiting these
sites comes close to a sort of pilgrimage for those of us who have been away for
so long and have felt banished and cut off.
that Pakistani visas have become relatively easy to obtain, it has encouraged
the Hindu and Sikh expatriates to visit the town. If one can, someone of our
generation (born and raised in Bhera) should spend a few days to study the
changes the town has gone through. My brother got less than four hours to spend
in Bhera. He and his host, the late
Mrs. Kamala Sahni of Salam, took the circular drive around the town, went to the
Railway Station from where they followed the road to Ganjwala Darwaaza and on to
the Chowk, and parked the car in Gopal Bahri’s katra. From there, they
took a walking trip to the DhoanaN wala Mohalla where we were born and raised,
visited the Jhugi wala Mandir (adjacent to the ChhaintaaN wali Masjid), looked
at what was once our father’s
shop (still vacant and locked up), found in total ruin the facing shop of Hafiz Lilari
(Rangraze) who dyed the chunnis of Hindu girls in the local
spectrum of colors, took a stroll in the Guru Bazaar, walked to the Jeetu da
Maidaan to meet Dr. Fazal Qadir Shah at his clinic, and to a few other places.
Besides the overall impressions of the town, my brother also shared with me some
precious bits of information that were closer to our hearts.
Durgan’s house, adjacent to ours,
was a tibba, the upper story of our house was not there, but other
houses in the mohalla looked . . . reasonably intact and were occupied by
refugees from the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana.
As I and my escort (Dr. Fazal Qadir Shah’s son) entered the mohalla, I
saw a lady washing clothes inside the deori,
at the very place where our mataji (Mother) used to wash our clothes. I am sure the hand-pump is still there. It was day time and no man [being present] at home, it was
not appropriate to speak with the
orthodox lady who was inside our house.
Now nearly thirty years
later (since his 1978 visit), we find ourselves old and frail to travel and
visit the town we left behind. People
of our generation (my elder brother is 78, and younger brother 68) make do with
our very precious remembrances of Bhera and visits to its web sites.
When we manage to get together, we hardly tire of talking about Bhera,
much to the apparent boredom of our wives whose parents were from three
different towns in Pakistan: Pind Daaddan Khan, Sialkot, and Jampur near
D.G.Khan. One day we brothers sat
down and prepared a schematic map of our DhoanaN wala Mohalla (named after the
Hindu caste of Dhawans) as it existed in the pre-Partition days.
We numbered all the houses inside the mohalla and in the alley leading to
it from 1 to 30, and prepared a companion list of the names of the families that
lived in these houses until 1947. Unlike
most Hindu neighborhoods like SahniyaN da Mohalla, our mohalla and a few others
were gated neighborhoods with their circumscribed boundaries. The Hindu mohallas were generally named after single Hindu
castes, but their resident families often belonged to other castes as well.
In our Mohalla, for instance, we had only one Dhawan family, but also one
Bahri, one Khanna, two Kapur, four Malhotra families, and a few other castes.
of our parents’ generation are gone from this world, and ours is the last
generation that has personal memories of the good old Bhera of our childhood and
also of our trail of woe and survival to the Wagah border. We know first hand
the price our parents’ generation and ours paid in the grand drama of the
birth of two nations as it was enacted in Bhera.
Pakistanis who are our contemporaries from Bhera witnessed these events
from the other side. They are the
audiences who may have some resonance for our roodad (narrative). It will
be nice to hear from them on how the things and events I talk about here looked
to them from the other side.
most people got caught up in the vortex of the religious strife and brutal
reprisals of 1947, some righteous, God-fearing persons held their heads well
above the swirling waters of hatred and revenge.
The Hindus and Sikhs of Bhera, who were able to escape to India after
15th August 1947, owe their lives to two such men, both of them true
Muslims and great men. One of them
was the native son of Bhera, Sheikh Fazal Haq Piracha.
He was the one who single-handedly dissuaded the Muslim mobs of tenant
farmers and villagers from acting on their plans to kill and plunder the
town’s Hindus and Sikhs. The Muslim mobs had gathered one morning near one of
the city’s gates to launch their attack. Their drums had kept their sinister
beat all through the previous night to rally the believers. Mobilized by the
countryside Mullahs to avenge the killings of Muslims in the Hindu and Sikh
majority areas of India, the mob was all worked up to start a bloody reprisal
against the kafirs. We
learned that Sheikh Fazal Haq Piracha confronted the brigands early that
morning. At one point, he took off his turban and put it at the feet of the mob
leader(s) and begged them to turn back to their homes and leave the Hindus and
Sikhs of Bhera alone. He told them
that Hindus and Sikhs had lived in Bhera for centuries in peace with Muslims and
they owed them at least a safe passage for the sake of Bhera’s past and fair
name. His prominent stature in the community (see Note 2) and his heart-felt
appeal persuaded the mobs to disperse. His hubb-ul-watani for the
hometown and his faith combined to save the day for the town’s Hindus and
Sikhs. Our present and coming generations should be indebted to this very
looking through the archival papers of the late Sheikh Fazal Haq Piracha would
find many a letter written from India by Bhera’s Hindus and Sikhs who had
individually conveyed their gratitude to him for saving the lives of their
families and community in 1947. Our
father, Hori Lall, also wrote to Sheikh Sahib in the mid-1950s, thanking him
deeply for his intervention that saved our lives.
In 1978, my brother made it a point to visit Sheikh Sahib’s house in
Bhera to pay his respects to the memory of our singular savior. He wrote about
it, “On our circular tour of the town, we stopped at the residence of the late
Sheikh F. H. Piracha as I wanted to pay my respects.
Unfortunately, his son [very likely, Ehsan-ul-Haq, who later became a
junior minister in Bhuto’s government], was not at home.” The web site by
the Prince Brothers (http://bhera.sitesled.com/piracha.html) has an excellent
article in Urdu on this pre-eminent khaandaan of the Pirachas. It recounts the illustrious careers and contributions of its
members to their nation and the town of Bhera.
I wish its authors would consider it fit to include this act of profound
humanity by Sheikh Fazal Haq Piracha in their biographical essay on him and also
arrange to include a picture of him.
other savior of Bhera’s Hindus and Sikhs was a tall, handsome Muslim Captain
attached to the army contingent that was sent to Bhera for safely escorting our
evacuation-train to the Mandi Bahauddin refugee camp.
A few miles from Bhera near Hazurpur, the train was stopped by a large
mob of marauders drawn from the neighboring villages. They were waiting there to
ambush the train. The Captain ordered his men to open fire in order to deter the
mob. He succeeded in scaring them
to disperse, thus stopping the attack and saving the lives of Bhera’s
Hindu/Sikh men, women, and children. Some
of the attackers must have been injured and a few perhaps even got killed.
His Muslim and Sikh soldiers removed the tree trunk from the railway
tracks that the attackers had placed there to halt the train, and the train
resumed its journey to Malakwal and onto Mandi Bahauddin.
At Mandi Bahauddin Railway Station, I saw quite a few Hindu elders (one
from our mohalla) take off their turbans and lay them at the Captain’s feet as
a gesture of their deep gratitude for saving them, their womenfolk and children.
He was uneasy at this gesture and just stepped back from the turbans,
telling the Hindus that what he did to save them and their families was a matter
of duty for him. He surely was a
true Muslim, a gentleman officer, and a karmayogi for whom a duty
performed was its own reward. We do
not know this officer’s name or the place he was from, but his face will ever
remain hallowed in our memories. He was a stranger, but a great benefactor. May God bless his soul.
do you judge a community? One way is to look at the great men and women it has produced
from its ranks (the elitist measure). The
other way to evaluate a community is to look at its average member (the
common-man measure). Judged by the
first (the best person) standard, Bhera wins hands down. The exemplary stand of
Sheikh Fazal ul Haq in saving his town’s Hindus and Sikhs from a sure massacre
brings credit not only to his person and his family, but also to the entire
community of Bhera’s Muslims. S.
Radhakrishanan, a philosopher and a former President of India, portrayed the
“best man” view of a society in these words: “When the wick is ablaze at
its tip, the whole lamp is said to be burning bright.”
It surely applies to Bhera, and its people can rightfully take pride in
the radiant nobility of Sheikh Fazal ul Haq.
by the other, “common man” standard, Bhera’s Muslims acquitted themselves
quite well. We, the departed Hindus
and Sikhs, have to recognize the essential decency of the Muslim folks of Bhera.
If men like Sheikh Fazal-ul-Haq and the Muslim Captain saved our
lives, then the Muslim commoners of Bhera can be said to have spared our
lives. The local Muslim community did not seek to harm, much less to annihilate,
the town’s Hindus and Sikhs. We are grateful to all those who by their decency
and restraint made it possible for us to leave the town in relative peace and
safety. Except for one case of fatal stabbing of a Hindu boy, Bayya (son of Ram
Lal Mandharia) and one case of arson (Lall Kuppi’s kiryaana shop in
Guru Bazaar was set on fire), we were let go unharmed from Bhera. Few towns in
West as well as East Punjab could match Bhera’s record of good sense in those
trying times of collective insanity when the sanctity of human life and the
honor of women did not seem to matter any more.
our special train left Bhera’s railway station one day in September, 1947, a
batch of Muslim National Guards (the Muslim counterpart of those days to the
Hindu RSS) showed up in their green uniforms and lined up on the platform in a
“Guard-of-Honor” formation to bid us farewell.
We watched them from the windows of our railway compartment, not knowing
what to make of this entirely unexpected move.
We were at that time more concerned about the oppressive heat in our
railway compartments. We were packed like herrings in the train; several
families stuffed in each small compartment, and as many as 7,000 Hindus and
Sikhs (along with the baggage they could carry on their person from their
homes to the railway station) squeezed in eight or nine railway bogies. The
crowding made the inside of the train feel like an oven, even when all the
windows were kept wide open. At one
point, one Muslim national guard, Baalu (for Iqbal), who used to work as a
sweeper for a Kapur family in our mohalla, approached the head of this
family and advised that we better close the windows.
It did not make any sense; he did not tell us why the windows need be
closed. He kept pleading though.
Before he went back to be with his fellow-guards, he made sure that we
were going to shut all the windows. The gentleman returned after a while to ask
why we had kept one window open. We
told him that it would not shut. He
suggested we better place a trunk (suit case) or even a rolled-bedding against
the window to cover it. We sensed
something was remiss, something ominous to befall us. It was only when the train
suddenly stopped just a few miles from the station and we heard rapid firing by
the escort soldiers that the full scope of the peril we were in dawned on us. It
became clear why this caring person was so much concerned about the open
windows. He knew of the planned
attack, but could not divulge it.
it is hard for us to forgive the out-of-towners from the surrounding villages
(including a few from the town itself), who could hardly wait to kill the Hindu
and Sikh men, and carry away their women and cash and jewelry as maal-e-ghanimat.
Once turned back from the gates of Bhera by the pleas of Sheikh Fazal Haq
Piracha, most of them showed up again a few weeks later to waylay the
special train for the evacuation of the town’s Hindus and Sikhs. Before our
train was stopped a few miles away from Bhera, we could see from the window
chinks a few of these folks running by the side of our train. They had axes and
spears in their hands, and those who did not have a donkey or a camel were
carrying cots on their heads to bring back the booty. These laggards were trying
hard to reach the site of planned ambush in time so as not to miss on their
share of the spoils. When the train stopped at the barricade that had been set
up for the purpose, the main body of raiders came rushing from behind the
embankments of a canal to attack the train.
The Captain promptly ordered his armed men to open fire, making the mobs
retreat and find shelter behind the embankments.
But for the effective protection provided by the armed escort, Bhera’s
Hindus and Sikhs would have been a captive target for butchery in the stalled
we moved farther from the blessed land of Bhera, our troubles started
multiplying and getting real bad. The long stay in the Mandi Bahauddin camp was
marked by unnerving uncertainties, hardships, and a cholera epidemic in the
camp. On the reassuring side was
the presence of a battalion of Baloch regiment posted at the camp to guard it.
After several weeks of stay in the camp, the Bhera’s Hindus and Sikhs
boarded another refugee train that would take them from Mandi Bahauddin to the
Indian border. The 44-hour long
journey from Mandi Bahauddin to the Wagha border via Lala Musa (this journey in
normal times took no more than three to four hours) was a frightening passage.
But we were fortunate to make it safely to India. We got down from the train at
Attari railway station and kissed the soil of India.
be uprooted from your native lands, family homes and means of livelihood and to
have your “dukh-sukh di saanjhi” community scattered across a
thousand towns were an enormous dislocation for our parents’ generation. What
they ended up facing was contrary to the history as they had known it.
They had believed that kingdoms and governments could change, but the
people (raiyyat) stayed put in their towns and were left largely
untouched. The events as they transpired left them heart-broken.
They had to leave for an unknown place in India and start a new life in a
new setting. Any hope of returning one day with their ousted communities
to their hometowns had disappeared fast. They realized that they and their
children have been banished for ever and the keys to their houses they carried
on them were no more than mementos. It took them decades of struggle and untold
hardships to resettle. Most made it eventually in the new country, while countless
others languished on the way to an ever elusive recovery. Yes, the anguish of
our irreversible displacement has been hard to overcome.
Just as erstwhile rivals, who once pursued the same prize in town, become
mellow over time, the sole inheritors of Bhera have started to empathize with
the town’s disinherited people of 1947. The dispossessed have for long been
resigned to whatever hand the fate had played for them and the inheritors of
Bhera did not show any visible triumph in seeing us leave the land of our
forefathers. The wounds of our loss have crusted, if not disappeared. The two
sides now get together, talk, and write without serious recriminations and
hurts. They see each other from the distance of time and space, and no party
appears diabolic to the other any longer. There
is a noticeable nostalgia for the times when we lived like neighbors without any
running battles. A couplet form Momin says it all:
ham mein tum mein bhi chah thi, kabhi ham mein tum mein bhi rah thi,
ham bhi tum bhi thai aashnaa, tumhen yaad ho ke na yaad ho.
Once we and you had good will between us,
Once we and you had a way between us;
Once we and you were also friends,
Now you may remember it or you may not.
overall amity among Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs in Bhera of the pre-Partition
days was based on the concept of shared “ann-jal-hawah,” common life
experiences, and a joyful pride in everything Bherochi from its phenian to
mehndi (henna). Our pride in
Bhera served to bind us, making us all feel that we were better than the people
of neighboring towns! We were
immensely proud of the town’s long history and the great persons the town had
produced in different fields. When it comes to the mystic bond of shared ann-jal-hawah,
the town’s Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs savored roties made from the
locally grown wheat, drank the “salubrious” water from its Jehlum-fed
aquifers, breathed the refreshing (“khush-gawaar”) air of Bhera, and basked
in its “balmy” sunshine. With apologies to Faiz, we may slightly reword one
of his couplets (see Note 3) from “Raqeeb se.”
[Hum] pe bhi [bikhra] hai uss [ufaq] se [khursheed] ka noor,
Jis mein beeti hui [subhoan] ki [jhalak] baaqi hai
The Sun spread its rays from the same
horizon on us as well
The glimpses of those luminous mornings are still with us.
the realm of common experiences, we all learned to take our first steps and to
walk on Bhera’s terra firma, picked up its boli for our mother
tongue, and partook of its romantic legends of Heer-Ranjha and
Sohni-Mahiwal. When we went to school, we started learning Urdu from Class
I, English from Class V, Hindi in VI, and Persian or Sanskrit in Class VII
onwards. Exposure to a steady set
of common influences had created a sort of common cultural ethos for the town.
too distant in the future, our generation who along with our parents had
witnessed the finale of the centuries-old sojourn of Hindus and Sikhs in
Bhera will not be around to tell about it. The ranks of our generation are
dwindling steadily. So let us
remember Bhera and celebrate our sad and happy memories of this town while we
can! No one could have said it any
better than Ghalib:
Naghama-hai gham ko bhi eh dil ghanimat janeai
Be-sadaa ho jaaey ga yeh saaz-e-hasti ek din!
O’ heart, consider even your sad songs to be a blessing,
One of these days, this instrument of our being will go silent!
(This article appears along
with other articles on related topics at: www.bhera.com)
Besides expressions like “aasaan-jasaan,” some words were pronounced
so distinctively in Bhera that a Bherochi was instantly identified. Here is an anecdote we used to hear. Someone was once asked the name of the town he was from, and
he repeated the question to get it right, “Maira shehar?” The person
who had asked the question immediately responded, “Stop, stop. You do not have
to tell me what town you are from. I
know it, you must be from Bhera!” Around
1950, my younger brother and I were going from Karol Bagh to Pahar Ganj by a
tonga in Delhi, and were chatting. All
of a sudden, an older passenger on the front seat, asked us, “O mundeo, tussi
pichhon Bherai de ho?” (Boys, are you originally from Bhera?)
Astonished, we asked him how he figured out where we were from.
He told us that it was our maira, maira (instead of mera)
that gave away our origin! As the lady in the Sahniyan da Mohalla house in Bhera
told Kalpana Sahni, “We have only to open our mouths to give ourselves
Note 2: Sheikh
Fazal Haq Piracha Sahib served as a member of the Central Legislative Assembly
in Delhi from 1934 to 1946. He was
also the Chairman of Bhera’s Municipal Committee from 1924 to 1958.
Note 3: The
original couplet as Faiz wrote it is as follows:
Tujh pe bhi barsaa hai uss baam se mehtab ka noor
Jis mein beeti hui raaton ki kassak baqi hai.
From the same balcony, Diana shed her luminous rays on you as well.
The sweet pain of those nights past, still lingers in our hearts!