Monday, September 17, 2007

Memories - "Once So Many Hindus Lived in Taxila"

An old lady recounts the time when Pakistan came into existence.

[Interview and pictures by Syed Kamran Safdar, teacher at the University of Engineering and Technology in Taxila, Pakistan.]

I live with Zubeida Khatoon, my mother, in Taxila - a small town in northern Pakistan famous for its Buddhist ruins. Amma, now 77, was a young married woman when Pakistan was created out of India. Thousands of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were killed in an orgy of mindless violence. She recently talked to me about those times.

Amma, I can still see two Hindu temples out there in the town.

Yes Kamran. Once upon a time there were so many Hindus living in Taxila. Do you know the place next to the Jamia Masjid was a Hindu Dharmshala? That is where they recited Guru Granth Sahib every morning. Now there is a water tank built on that place.

There were so many Sardars. I remember those little Sikh boys helping their fathers in selling vegetables. The bhatiyaran (pop corn lady) was also a Sikh woman. She used to make murandas (a kind of rice cake) for us.

During this year's Muharram procession, I overheard two old men talking about how they took part in the looting of the bazaar during the partition. One of them had managed to grab a Ghee canister from a Hindu's shop when his uncle asked him to return it back.

Those were bad times...

Amma, what exactly happened in Taxila during the partition? Were people massacred here too?

Allah be praised, it was mild compared to other towns but we did hear the killing of two men in the railway station. They were either Hindus or Sikhs. The train was coming from Peshawar. You know, beta, things were quite till then. But trouble started brewing as the stories of the massacre of Muslims reached here. Our young men were outraged and they raided the bazaar, robbed the shops and burnt down everything. The bazaar burned for several days. I myself saw the flames from the rooftop.

But there was so much hardship. Since all the shopkeepers were Hindus and the bazaar was destroyed there was nothing to buy for several days. We had to live on a strict ration.

The Killer Station

But Amma what happened to the Hindus? Where did they go? Were they killed?

Our Hindus were mostly wealthy traders. You know what traders are like...they are smart enough to handle situations like those. They had an inkling what was coming so they removed all the jewels and money out of their shops in time. Later they took refuge in the homes of Muslims neighbors, mostly in the mansions of Syed families. When things calmed down they all left for India.

The Decaying Hindu Heritage of Taxila

Were there Hindus in our neighborhood? Did Shahji (my late father) help them?

Yes, a few of them lived in our locality. Your Abbu was their good friend. When the mahaul became kharab, they gave him the house keys, with all the furniture locked inside, and moved into our guest section with their families.

What did Shahji do to those houses? What happened to the furniture and other things Hindus left behind?

What could your Abbu have done? We waited for them to return. Afterwards, he opened the houses for the refugees who had come from Delhi and Kashmir. Many abandoned havelis were taken over by the locals. Some even took the possession of the shops in the bazaar. But the land that once belonged to the Hindus was allotted only to the refugees.

So, the refugees were lucky then?

How can you say that, Kami? They left behind everything they knew and owned. The Kashmiri immigrants were very poor. They were content with the vacant neighborhoods behind the Jamia Masjid. But those Delhi people were too sheheri. They found Taxila too small for their taste. As far as I recall, they later left for Karachi.

How did the Hindus and Sikhs escape - on the lorries?

There were no buses. In those days people simply walked or used bullock carts if they had to go to a nearby town. But the fleeing Hindus…they all took trains going towards India...

Amma, did you have Hindus as friends?

Yes. (She smiles) They fondly called me Baji. They would often bring Kashmiri kajoos for us but we would eat them only after reciting the Kalma. Arre Kami, have I told you about my school?

No, Amma

Beta, we had Hindu teachers as there was hardly any educated Mussalmaan around. The Hindu girls were taught Hindi while Muslim girls were taught Urdu. In history, we used to read about the vilayati kings and queens. Arre Kamran, tell me is Elizabeth the daughter of Queen Victoria?

No Amma, I think she is her granddaughter…but I'm not sure...But Amma, what about the Christians? There are so many of them in Taxila. Why were they not harmed?

But they had nothing to do with the jhagra-fasaad of Hindus and Muslims. Do you know the story of the Christian hospital, Kami?

Everyone knows about it. It was set up by the English missionaries. Hundreds of poor people go there from all over Pakistan for its inexpensive treatment.

Yes, yes, I know all that. But things used to be different then. In the beginning no Mussalmaan wanted to go there. We were not sure what was done there. We thought they wanted to convert us.

But Amma it is no longer like that. There are even Muslim families working and living inside the hospital's colony.

Yes, yes, I know all this. Anyway let's talk something else. I don't like thinking about all those times. I'm old. What's the point…

As you say Amma.

Interviewer's Note:

Zubeida Khatoon witnessed an era when Muslims, Hindu, Sikh and Christens lived peacefully in Taxila. Now it all appears like a fable.

Recently, an elderly family friend traveled to India where he met some of his old Hindu friends. They showered him with kisses and hugs claiming his body carried the unmistakable fragrance of their Taxila.

But they should know their Taxila has changed. Today there are only two surviving temples and only a few old people, like my Ammaji, who remember those times.

The Dharmshala is gone, the Baawali well is under mud, and the bazaar has undergone drastic renovations. Havelis reminiscent of Hindu architecture are fast disappearing. But these symbols of Taxila's multi-religious past should not be allowed to fade away. The town must restore and preserve the remnants of its recent history, just the way it has cared for its ancient ruins.


Anil P said...

It's so important to protect and save the fabric left behind that wove a communty once.

YB said...

how hard should you try to humanize the inhumane.

Harsh Satya said...

i'm so happy to read this post.i'm so happy that i have tears in my eyes.khushi ke aansu what we say in india. i think it's important to have stories like this where hindus have helped muslims and muslims have helped hindus. too much of hatred is preached in the media. when gujarat burned a few years ago, everyone talks about how hindus massacred muslims. but i know there were lots of instances where hindus helped the muslims, protected them. sadly such stories never find their way to media. it's only when you go and talk to the victims, they tell you how somebody helped them.
i'm so glad to hear, that shahji gave the land to the refugees instead of confiscating himself. i'm so glad that the same teacher could teach hindi and urdu to different students....i'm glad that such teachers still exist...thank u again.

Rajnish said...

I was at Nalanda last Monday after visiting bodh Gaya.Guide was telling me about Taxila based on the writings of Huen-Sang.Now I am reading about the same city.Beautiful thoughts and I apprecite the feelings of Ammi.

Unknown said...

Very touching my friend. My father who is now 80 was in the Army at the time of partition. He said there was a referendum, and himself he voted AGAINST the partition of India and creation of pakistan, he claims he knew what the outcome would be.
He had many many Hindu friends and spent most of his childhood brought up by Hindu neighbours in his village, he has nothing but fond memories and blames Mullahs and Pathan tribesmen from outside the Punjab of causing much of the havoc and strife.
He was present when the lahore to Amritsar railway line was ambushed and the passengers massacred - at the time he was along with several platoons accompanying the Engine - in Jeeps and horseback using the adjacent road. Some people had created a road block which slowed the road going military for an hour or two, later when they caught up to the train it was stationary and such horrors as he witnessed there have affected him for life - almost every (hindu and sikh) man woman and child had been slaughtered, pregnant women - massacred! Hundreds of bodies! My father to this day says "Tauba taubasufar, Tauba" (mercy mercy God have mercy and repentance) he talks of it in shock and horror. And Muslims were responsible for this evil.
I wish for peace, let's also hope our Indian heritage can be preserved. The trouble with many Pakistanis is that they think they're Arabs - they don't realise they have Persian Turkic along with a wealth of predominantly Hindu and Buddhist history culture which is an integral part of Pakistan!

Anonymous said...

Very well laid out story Kami! It's an old tale you can... My grandmas story is very similar but she is a Sikh.

Thanks for sharing this.
- Raju

Anonymous said...

I am so much touched Ibraar just like Harsh Satya that I have placed a link on a web page.

I too would have wished that peace prevails but as Abbu (with respect to Ibraar's father) said, I can see the golden and purest heart of Abbu, a true India devoid of bad faith, fanaticism.

In Mauritius too, most of the evils come from Muslims' religious people. In spite of their minuscule representative of 17% of of the Mauritian population. Yet, like in many Islamist countries, they think it their birthright to appropriate everything for them. Mullahs/Mawlanas create here lots of triffles and represent a threats to the peaceful co-existence.

The difference between Mauritius and India is that, there is a sense of the majority of Muslims who are proud Indians compared to Mauritius, who, seems to have forgotten, where their ancestors came from (India) and consider themselves Arabs ! Such shallow narrow parochial attititude!

The articles on Taxila is really bearthtaking, heartening and likewise, if everybody tries, those with true human nature, we can have a true sense of brotherhood. Afterall, in all our veins flows the Indian blood of Hindu ancestors. (read the Rape of Sind : )

Such notes/writeups from the author of paindabad deserved to be congratulated for his laudable effort to bring peace, a sense of dignity for human beings to live in cohesion, admidst different faiths which Swami Vivekananda says which the sole aim is towards God Realization (Religions are like rivers flowing from different parts and merge into the sea). This is the true aim, God Realization through love, support, mutual help and mutual respect, accepting others as a human being and see God in all living creatures.

love and good wishes from Mauritius

Anonymous said...

Akshaye, I am from Mauritius also and i strongly disagree with you when you say that the 17% muslim population are evil ! This is pure racism !