Jhelum: City of the Vitasta
14 February 2013
From being a rather small town district headquarter at the time of partition, to developing into a densely populated, sprawling micro polis-like freak of the original, Jhelum, the city, as well as the areas around it have had few tales to tell; barring of course the many and, at times, rather far-fetched theories of how the place really got its name. The last factor has been instrumental in intriguing travel writer Salman Rashid to the extent that he was won over by District Nazim Farrukh Altaf Chaudry to write a book on Jhelum district. An extension of a multimedia venture in which a 30-minute documentary forms one part, Rashid’s book, Jhelum: The City of The Vitasta is as much a keeper of lore associated with the area, as it is a reincarnation of the historical and socio cultural significance of the district, which, in current times is known for little else but the fact that it is the training ground for some of the most able-bodied men recruited into the Pakistan Army.
Aesthetically dressed up with some very fine visuals, contemporary Jhelum appears to have a very photogenic frame for Rahsid’s latest addition to his growing list of travel books. It also moves considerably up the literary scale, because it is based on exhaustive research to sift the chaff from the grain: in this case, fact from fiction, since there has been no dearth of “historians” assiduously applying themselves to the task of inventing history. Apparently, sometime between the first European historian did his research about the area and that of Rashid’s, Jhelum had become the name of Alexander’s horse.
Setting about the task, Rashid has divided the findings into nine chapters, each dealing with anything from Rohtas (which is subtitled as a monument of wasted labour) to the Hill of the Jogis, to Alexander’s crossing of the Hydaspes River. In between, the omnipresent Mughal connection makes a presence as Rashid unearths the Baghanwala Place of Gardens, which was Akbar’s contribution. “Sadly, the only redeeming feature of this corner of the Salt Range once rich in wild life,” writes Rashid “is the plentiful birdsong that still rings through the thickets of Baghanwala.” Totally committed to helping out the District Nazim Chaudry to pay a debt of honour to his native district, the book also includes whatever latter day “glories” (the Lehri Nature Reserve takes the lead) there are, besides eulogising whatever has become extinct.
Either way, Rashid’s landscape interweaves ancient lore, history, the primeval and the contemporary, even socio cultural practices, into a thoroughly readable and enticing web. And then, since Rashid will be Rashid, there is the interesting concluding chapter, in which he addresses the districts claim to housing Shahab-ud-Din Ghori’s worldly remains at Dhamiak. Titling it “Deception at Dhamiak”, he writes: “Shahab-ud-Din Ghori may have been murdered by the Khokhars at this spot by the village of Dhamiak, but reliable historical source records the march of the funeral procession from here to Ghazni. It is very likely that the royal intestines, having been removed to prevent putrefaction of the corpse, were buried here. Raised in the early 1990’s, this building should have been better named the ‘Sarcophagus of the intestines’.”
To give credit to the author however, it has to be said that Jhelum: City of the Vitasta is more than merely another coffee-table addition in the homes of the affluent. It is certainly a collector’s delight by way of historical worth. Jhelum the district, thus, reincarnated by Rashid’s pen should be a cause of much pride for its sons and daughters.
Book is available at at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore
posted by Salman Rashid @ 10:59 AM,