Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Finds of Empire

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It is a great thing to be engaged for the sixth consecutive year by Pakistan Petroleum Limited to produce their diary and table calendar. It all began in 2009 with the theme Tales Less Told. Twelve legends were explored to connect them with reality. The diary, produced by PPL’s Public Relations Department, was a great success and I was much gratified to hear that recipients had kept it as a souvenir.

There followed Sites Less Seen (less known historical buildings/sites) and then in 2011 Roads Less Travelled covering twelve passes that had seen history unfolding. Saquib Hanif who heads the PR Department then came up with the idea of Empire legacy. And so, for 2012, we did one called Wheels of Empire, briefly chronicling railway history. This year is Stones of Empire, twelve beautiful buildings either from engineers and architects of the Raj or from our local stone masons who were inspired by foreign building craft.
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Lyallpur Museum

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Faisalabad has a brand new institution that recalls the original name of the district: Lyallpur Museum. Despite its large size, both in area and in population and its enviable wealth, there was no such institution in the city. Most lay persons like me believed that the Sandal Bar (the belt of land in which Lyallpur was built) had no history. I had always believed that this country between the Ravi and Chenab rivers was a wild and desolate forest of peelu, tamarisk, ber etc where bandits lurked to loot hapless travellers.


I knew that after the laying of the irrigation system that greened this part of Punjab, population was moved in large groups from the eastern doabas of Jalandhar and Ludhiana. From those relatives who were allotted land in the Sandal Bar, I had heard how they slept outside on summer nights to be roused by the wild boars crashing through the fields and how they had to be wary of snakes not just at night, but during broad daylight as well. None of my relatives had any interest in ancient cities or mounds covered with pottery shards and old bricks. So, I gleaned nothing of history.
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Death on the Farang Bur

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Between the beginning of the 19th century and well into the 20th, the two great imperial powers of the day played what was called the Great Game. The name, coined by Arthur Conolly a red-blooded Scottish captain in the service of the East India Company, was the euphemism for the struggle for the control of Asia by Britain and Russia. In June 1842 Conolly gave up his ghost in the town square of Bokhara to the executioner’s sword. But the Great Game lived on; sometimes chivalrous, sometimes devious, mostly deadly.


By the time the last proponent had played out the final act of this lethal Game, death had brought immortality to many a man engaged in it. Among others, one was called George Whitaker Hayward. He died not very far from Gilgit and his remains today lie buried in the dappled sunshine of the Christian cemetery in that town. In 1990 I had hunted for his grave, but building material spilling over from an adjacent construction site had covered up the tombstone and I had come away thinking it had fallen victim to our insensitivity for history.
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The Clock that John Jacob built

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Fateh Abid Lashari, friend and fellow writer from Jacobabad says John Jacob was the most outstanding administrator that the land of Sindh ever knew. And I know at least two modern Deputy Commissioners who agree. Having read H. T. Lambrick’s John Jacob of Jacobabad it is difficult not to acquiesce; for not only did Jacob possess remarkable ability as a frontiersman, but was an administrator of outstanding ability besides being an engineer and mechanic as well. But who was John Jacob?
 
 
Born on January 11, 1812, John was one of ten children (eight sons, two daughters) of Stephen Jacob, the vicar of Woolavington (Somerset) and his wife. In 1826 when he took the entrance test for the army, his examiner, probably taking Jacob’s very bad stammer as a sign of nervousness, made it a point to inquire after it saying it would be necessary make a report of it. Jacob’s peers of course told him he would never make it, for not only did he have the speech impairment, he was also rather short-statured. But make it he did, and with distinction too.
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Ferry Tale

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The lettering on the prow declares her to be the Indus Queen, and she certainly has known better days. But now, well into her fifties, she seems not to have very long to live. One day, not far in the future, the bridge spanning the great width of the Indus flood plain between Mithankot and Khanpur in southern Punjab will be built. Then she will either be beached for the last time to rot away, smothered by cat tails and reeds as has been the fate of at least two other steamers on the Indus, or they’ll come with their blow torches, crow bars and sledge hammers to break her up and cart her off to some foundry or other.

 
Then commuters will not be crowding the sandy, sun-baked banks of the Indus attracted by the pounding of her engines as she comes around the island where the grass grows tall. Then the clanging of her brass bell will resound no more. Then, barely a thousand metres south of where she now berths, commuters will be zooming across the Indus over the new bridge in less than ten minutes as opposed to her unhurried one hour. After almost six decades the Indus Queen will finally have become redundant.
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A Tale of three Castles

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On February 17, 1519 Babur, who was later to found the Mughal empire, crossed the Sindhu for the first time with his eyes on the rich and fertile lands of the district of Bhera on the east bank of the Jhelum. Two days later, he dismounted on the bank of the Soan River where Langar Khan of the Salt Range Janjuas brought him a message of peace from his uncle Malik Hast (Asad), the chief of the territory that Babur was camping in. The emissary was well received and on the Mughal’s bidding, he galloped off to fetch the Janjua chieftain who arrived with a gift of a horse in mail. And so friendship between a Janjua of the Soan River valley and a Mughal of Ferghana was forged.


The next afternoon (February 20th), Babur tarried beside ‘densely growing corn’ in the vicinity of Kallar Kahar Lake and promptly fell in love with this ‘charming place with good air’. The lake, he writes in his memoir, fed by run-off from the hills and a spring on its western side, was ‘some six miles round’. On its shores he laid out the foundations of the first ever Mughal garden of the subcontinent: the Bagh-e-Safa. Promising to give out more details concerning this garden further on in the memoirs, Babur somehow forgot to return to the subject. Therefore, and also because no trace of any construction remains, it is not known what civil works, if any, were undertaken. The fruit trees along the southwestern shore of the lake still mark Babur’s Bagh-e-Safa, and a rough stone pedestal with a prepared surface even today goes by the name of ‘Takht-e-Babri’ - the Throne of Babur.
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Jehangir on the highroad

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Emperor Jehangir’s life was an endless succession of hunting expeditions all over the empire and those yearly trips at the beginning of each summer to escape to Kashmir from the furnace heat of Lahore and the return journey in September. In between were those tedious interludes of ruling the vast empire of India. On one of those trips in mid-April 1607, Jehangir favoured us, by way of his diary, with an account of his passage through present-day Jhelum district.


Having sojourned briefly in Rohtas and then travelled up to Tilla Jogian, he tells us of his journey thence to a place he calls Bhakra which evidently is Bhakrala on the Grand Trunk Road near Sohawa. It is a right light-hearted and delightful account of a king in vernal rapture.
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Kohistan - The Land of Chandios

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Kutte ji Qabar (Dog’s Grave)

'The Kohistan – bare, harsh, arid land of gravel wastes, torrent beds filled with boulders, pebbly slopes leading up to range after range, razor-edged and crowned with precipices. Under a June sun at midday refracted from the rocks, the mirages dancing along the maidans, it is indeed a penance to be there. But visit it in the cold season; see, when night is nearly ended – when the eastern horizon begins to glow, and above towards the zenith deep blue pales to steel, and the stars are fading out – see the dim bulk of the Khirthar put off the veil of sleep, awakening to the delicate touch of first light; from gray to lilac, from lilac to pearl and opal, the tracery of cliff and crag and chasm begins to show, and before we, far below, can see the first fiery edge of the sun, that high range bursts into a golden glory, seeming to throw back on us the lower ridges that darken awhile from the contrast.’


Such is the poetry that the Khirthar Mountains inspired in the mind of H. T. Lambrick. He was the man who served in the 1940s as Deputy Commissioner Jacobabad and wrote the definitive biography of John Jacob, the founder of the town that carries his name to this day. It was in those days that Lambrick visited the Kohistan region on hunting trips with Nawab Ghaibi Khan, the chief of the Chandio tribe of Baloch who live in the districts of Larkana and Dadu along the eastern foothills of the Khirthar. (While the Chandios themselves prefer to be called Baloch, some historians contest this claim on various grounds.) And it was in those days that he fell in love with this harsh mountain country on the border of Sindh and Balochistan.
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‘Oh, Samarkand!’

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It is a narrow, winding black ribbon that connects Kallar Kahar and Chinji. Some 18 kilometres west of the former, lies the small village of Maira Emma, that first received notice almost a hundred and fifty years ago when a British surveyor was shown the square mouthed well in the fields south of its jumble of houses. Among the limestone blocks that lined this well there were, on three sides, some with barely legible Kharoshti inscriptions. These inscribed blocks were removed to Lahore Museum for preservation.
 
 
According to the first decipherment made in the 1850s, the inscription appeared to give out the names of the builders of the well together with the year ‘Sam [Samvat] 58’. The inscription thus coincides with the first year of the Christian era. But in the absence of any proper investigation it was impossible to know whether these inscribed stones were prepared especially for this well in an age when Buddhism was the predominant religion in this country, from the time of the great Buddhist king Asoka to the beginning of the 6th century AD. If so, the well would have been built in the beginning of the Christian era; however, if these inscribed stones were cannibalised from an earlier building, it would be impossible to give the well a definite date. That is all that was ever to be known of these inscribed blocks, for today they cannot be traced in Lahore Museum. For all intent and purpose they have either been lost or pilfered. The ancient well at Maira, however, even today continues to serve up good, clean water. Past this well and the fields of Maira lies a series of folded, red tinged ridges beyond which looms a higher wall of rock that encloses the valley known as Samarkand.
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Without pride, nations fail

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Pakistanis are the most shameless nation on the planet earth! And let no man contest this statement for I make it with sound, unassailable reason.


We do not deserve to have a country. We should forever have remained slaves to be guided by men better than us. Men who could teach us the meaning of patriotism, self respect, sense of belonging to a land, and, above all, a sense of identity and pride in our nationhood. Men who could have taught us to forswear empty rhetoric and words high-sounding devoid of substance and sincerity. For this is all we have learned in our six decades and a half of sordid, sorry existence.
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Joy of life

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Baghanwala: place of gardens

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Kamil Khan Mumtaz, the noted architect and architectural historian, calls Baghanwala ‘a poor man’s Fatehpur Sikri.’ While that fabulous ghost town of Akbar the Great bedazzles with red sandstone buildings splendidly curved as if stone was but puttee in the hands of the masons, the tiny village of Baghanwala too boasts a few houses with lintels and mock pilasters of similar sandstone. Of course, this is not the famous Jodhpur sandstone, but thee somewhat more porous one quarried locally in the Salt Range.


The town itself, placed in tiers upon a hillside, has a pleasing appearance as one approaches it from the east. At closer quarters it is not very different from most Salt Range hill villages with neat flagstoned streets and houses constructed mostly from dressed grey and red sandstone. Brick construction is only now catching up. But it is not the architecture of Baghanwala that drew the attention of kings and adventurers in the past and today that of the tourist and student of history. Great events unfolded right outside this village.
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Pakistan is a country free for some

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When the new government took over only some weeks ago, we were promised that cars with engines larger than 1000 cc will not be permitted CNG as fuel. I thought that was good thinking. But I also knew that like all past governments this will just be some more hot air and nothing will be done about enforcing this, just another of the State’s worthless orders.

Sure enough nothing happened. Just yesterday (13 July 2013) returning from Islamabad by the Grand Trunk Road, the driver stopped to get CNG for his 1300 cc Corolla from a pump near Kharian. Also in line to fill up were a number of Toyota Hi Ace vans and one super luxury Toyota 4x4. As for the last, I have a question: if you can afford to spend Rs 10 million on a car, you can surely afford to run it on diesel. That you cannot shows what you really are.
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Alexander on the Hydaspes

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After taking Taxila and tarrying there some two weeks, Alexander headed for the kingdom of Raja Paurava. The Hydaspes River formed the border between the realms of Raja Ambhi of Taxila and that of Raja Paurava in the Chaj doab – the belt between the Chenab and the Jhelum. The question of the route that Alexander took from Taxila to his crossing point of the Hydaspes and the site of the epic battle with Raja Paurava has long been debated by scholars.


From very ancient times, Punjab was criss-crossed by a web of roads. The most famous and widely used was the Rajapatha or the King’s Road (shahi sarak, as the road has also been known, is a translation of the Sanskrit Rajapatha) that stretched from Patna in the east to Kabul in the west. This was the precursor of the Grand Trunk Road that we so love to attribute to Sher Shah Suri – as if before this great Pakhtun king the road simply did not exist.
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Documentary makers who refuse to learn

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When the great and peerless Obaidullah Baig (OB) passed away last year, I wrote a piece in Express Tribune. In my praise for that unmatched human, I lamented how we had not learned a thing from him. Among other things I vented my spleen on this current crop of so-called documentary makers that plague the worthless private TV channels: they are ignorant as ignorant can be and they speak an atrocious language which is neither English nor Urdu. Yet, with no knowledge of anything, they claim to be making documentaries.

Among the readers’ comments to this, one Tariq Ahsan wrote to say he was appalled at the language I had used in my criticism of TV presenters who say, ‘We have reached so and so place, let’s ask the chowkidar about its history!’ For crying out loud, the moron has not read anything himself and is relying on a semi-literate chowkidar to be familiar with history.
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Classic travels

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If we read classical writers, the first thing that strikes is how the subcontinent of India intrigued the western mind. From about the year 500 BCE, India rode the minds of thinkers of the world power of the time: Greece. One could say that they were interested because of the reports of high culture and learning emanating from this great and truly wonderful land of the Maha Sapta Sindhu, Ganga and Yamuna. But then Persia was no less cultured with which the Greeks had closer contact. And what of China? It was another centre of culture where such great minds as Confucius were saying things that seem to belong to the 20th century. They may have been interested, but these were not countries the Greeks raved about, places that they wished to learn more of. That was a place reserved only and only for India.

In or about the year 520 BCE, Darius the Great sent a Greek sea captain, Skylax by name, to explore the Sindhu River. This man put himself in a boat near Peshawar, sailed down the Kabul River and into the Sindhu which took him all the way down to the Ocean. Upon returning home to the Persian king, Skylax wrote out a detailed report for royal perusal. This report is now sadly lost but we know of it from the work of Herodotus who wrote his Histories about seventy years later, in the middle of the 5th century BCE. Already at that time we see a great degree of romance connected with the subcontinent. Either Skylax created wonderful creatures to people the wild and desolate regions of this unknown country or Herodotus embellished the captain’s account of what he saw.
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Living in a Torture Cell

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I have spent nights (and days) in some of the remotest parts of Pakistan. Once slept on the wall of a graveyard somewhere near Domeli; have been in hundred years plus old rest houses all by myself and been terrified of wolves out in the open at night on Deosai but nothing beats the experience of the irrigation Department Rest House in Sanghar town (Sindh).

This was March 2012 when doing some work for the NGO SAFWCO, I ended up in their office at Sanghar. Hameed Mallah, who looks after the affairs there, said he had made arrangements for me to sleep in the office. Just when I was ready to turn in, he said, it would be better if I spent the night in the rest house which had just been sanctioned for me. So we drove off. At the gate of this large building with the rambling, unkempt garden I quipped, 'This is just like the Addams' family home.' I should have kept my mouth shut.
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Sardar Naseer Tareen: A Man for all Seasons

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As the son of the last sardar (chief) of the Tareen tribe of Pashtuns of Pishin, north of Quetta, Naseer Tareen should normally be wearing the mantle of the sardar. He is, however, anything but the archetypal tribal chieftain: he is suave, cultured, educated, outspoken and down to earth. If that is not remarkable enough, Tareen is also one tribal chief who never approved of hunting and in a society where meat eating is macho, prefers vegetarian eating. His Urdu is untainted with the hard Pashtun accent and his English gives away his two decades in the United States where he studied and worked.


When he first went to the University of Connecticut in 1958, he had hoped to return home with a degree in International Relations to join the coveted Civil Service. However it did not take long for his mentors in school to realise that his real line of work was theatre arts or communications. ‘There I was, the son of a Pashtun sardar, being told to pursue what would be called the mirasi’s work at home,’ he says with a laugh. Perhaps because he never saw himself as a bureaucrat, Tareen was looking for a way out, and a year later he decided to study Film Making.
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Travelling Back in Time

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If I could travel back in time to a particular place, I have one clear choice: Taxila in the late 4th century BCE. Now, this would be at or immediately after the passage of Alexander the Macedonia. This choice is not to have been able to see the all-conquering Alexander. It is a wish to know and live in a virtual Utopia.


Taxila, so the Greeks who were in Alexander’s train tell us, was a city of high culture and learning. Here the streets were sometimes roamed by the philosophers who wore only a loincloth and lived outside where farmland gave way to forest. They came into town and I would have liked to have been there to hear their Stoic views on life – views that they abide by with rigid exactitude. Though they followed a thinking very similar to that of Diogenes, they nevertheless valued life and did not endorse destroying it or persecuting another simply for adhering to a differing way of life. And how could they?
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Deosai or Shuddle Gali

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There are two 'most beautiful places to pitch a tent' in my opinion. The first is, without question, Deosai. Anywhere on Deosai. The fantastic vistas of wide open space of miles and miles hemmed in by snow-capped crags. Here the sky is an impossible shade of blue and the thunderheads like huge, huge bales of cotton flung about by some careless cotton packer. Here the clouds do actually look like anything you wish to imagine them to look like. Here, if one has nothing to do (that is, if you are not on assignment), lie on the ground in the sun and just spend hours doing nothing.

The second is Shuddle Gali on the ridge leading up to Musa ka Musalla from Kund Rest House. The ridge here is almost knife-edge sharp, falling away on both sides at an acute angle. The views to the east contain Makra, Pir Panjal, the beauty Malika Parbat and, I think Nanga Parbat. For this last, on both occasions the cloud cover was too thick to determine correctly. To the west, way beyond the misty blue valleys at the bottom of the ridge, rise the peaks of Kala Dhaka, always darkly forbidding. Darkly forbidding because crime lives in the folds of the Kala Dhaka.

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Who remembers Karam Hussain Shah?

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My friend Brigadier Humayun Malik has a canny eye for detail that makes him a storyteller par excellence – a storyteller of the old school. And this is the true story of a man called Karam Hussain Shah as told by my friend the brigadier. Karam Hussain Shah of the village of Chhoi lying some twenty or so kilometres southwest of the town of Attock on the highroad to Basal. Though I tell the story in the third person, there isn’t a grain of addition or subtraction. It is told in the exact words of Brigadier Malik.

The year was 1959 when Malik, as a young captain in the Special Service Group (SSG) was posted at Attock Fort. Among those of his commando company was a soldier called Nazar Hussain Shah. A stout, handsome specimen he was of the trans-Sindhu country of Attock then called Campbellpur. Yet shy of his twenty-second birthday, he was as fine a soldier as they made them in bygone days.
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Ambition: to work under shade

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Darya Khatoon of village Leemon Solangi was born in a poor farmer’s home. That has been her lot all her life as she grew up picking cotton or weeding the wheat fields under a blistering summer sun. In her mid-twenties, she is married to a college graduate who for want of other work continues to be a farm labourer. By her own account, even as she and her husband sweated under the open skies to bring home the daily bread, they dreamed of a better life. But neither knew when or how their big break would come.
 
Darya Khatoon and her Goats
 
In 2008, after the birth of her first child, she became a goat-keeper on adhiyari. Now, goats being as prolific as they are, Darya Khatoon did well. In three years, despite having given her goat-owner his share of the kids, she had disposed of a number of kids of her own, put together the proceeds and purchased a milch cow for herself. In the beginning of the year 2011, things looked rosy for Darya Khatoon’s two children who got a regular supply of unadulterated milk from the cow in their yard. She also had four healthy yearling goats to be sold for the sacrifice of Eid al Azha due in November.
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Our Dream for the Twenty-first Century

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More images 

From Healing History: Overcoming Racism, Seeking Equity, Building Community - an Imitative of Change conference  in CAUX, Switzerland

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Speak the same language

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I think there are over two dozen languages spoken in Pakistan. Though, my much respected friend the fine artist Mian Ejaz ul Hasan says there are eighty. If there really are eighty languages, then I can go into depression that I know so few of those. But if there are two dozen, then I speak at least three. Not good enough, but better than none at all. All these languages have been picked up, never learned formally.

In my last few months in the army I was posted at Peshawar and that helped my Pushto considerably. The language I had picked up previously from the Pathans in my unit. But when I left the service and went to live in Karachi, I gradually lost the language. Now, I can just barely understand the Pushto of the Yusufzai plain. Of course, no one, not even those who speak it themselves, can understand the Pushto of Bannu! It does not even sound like Pushto. Heaven knows where this language came from even though it is said to be Pushto.
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Healing History

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Unbeknownst to me, Prof Rajmohan Gandhi (the Mahatma's grandson) had visited my mother sometime shortly after my father died in January 2005. He wrote a piece which was accessible on the internet about the killing of my grandfather Dr Badaruddin and the rest of the family in Jalandhar. When my series of articles was published in April 2008, it was noticed by Rajmohan and his wife Usha. A couple of years after that, the husband and wife came to Lahore and we met.

Rajmohan insists that I turn my story into a book. He believes there is book material here. I promised him I will, but the pressures of making a living have so far kept me from completing the project because I need to make one more trip back to Amritsar to meet Prof Joginder Singh of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar who was, in 2008, researching Partition and had some startling new information to give me. Some of that fit into my own observations from what I heard about my grandfather in my village Uggi and in Jalandhar.

With the current load of work taking me through to December, I think I should be travelling in India in February 2014 before I get down to writing my book. The title (not telling it just yet) comes from what the late Mahindra Pratab Sehgal said to me back in March 2008.

Now when Professor Rajmohan Gandhi emailed me in March to ask if I could attend a conference at Initiatives of Change in Caux (Switzerland) I wrote back apologetically: I am very poor at writing papers and reading them at conferences. If truth be told, I have very conscientiously kept away from conferences of all manner. Rajmohan very kindly wrote back saying I would not be required to write or read anything and that I should only come.

On 2 July I therefore reach Geneva from where I will take a train to Caux (near Montreux) for the 2-7 July conference. The programme includes presentations and case studies to provide perspective and historical analysis of disputes between communities. Workshops and informal meetings will include personal stories. (I suppose my story of the holocaust my family faced is what takes me to Caux.)
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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days