Maharaja’s bungalow  
Ranjit Singh’s house on the bank of Chenab is in ruins. Is it because Maharaja was not a Muslim?
By Salman Rashid 
History has no religion. This is a simple truth that we in Pakistan seem to be unaware of. For 65 years the government strived very, very hard to give it a religion and the sad thing is it succeeded. Consequently, now the history of Pakistan is only what is Islamic. Hard put to ignore Mehrgarh, Harappa, Moen jo Daro and Taxila, we simply try to wish away all relics of our built heritage if they did not originate under a Muslim patron.









On hearing the news of declaring Dilip Kumar’s house a national heritage of Pakistan, the veteran Bollywood actor in his blog ‘On My Ancestral House and Childhood’ fondly talked about his childhood memories: “The news that the house where I was born (1922) and where I spent a good part of my childhood in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar, then in Undivided India, will be given the honour of being a part of the national heritage of Pakistan has sent my mind racing back to memories of happy days spent in the spacious home and its surroundings. I am at once full of fond remembrances of my parents, grandparents and numerous uncles, aunts and cousins who filled the house with the sounds of their chatter and hearty laughter.”

But that was then, in early 2012, now the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has dropped the idea of rehabilitating and preserving the family house and turning it into a heritage site, due to a row over ownership of the property.

The cultural department had announced in Feb 2012 that it would purchase the house and would preserve its old structure, where Yusuf Khan (Dilip Kumar) was born. By giving it a heritage status, the government had planned to promote cultural activities of the province.

A walk down the narrow and dingy street of Domba Galli in Mohalla Khudad of the old Qissa Khwani Bazaar shows the three-storey house built over five marla land in shambles due to lack of maintenance. This old house is being used as a store for hosiery items and the entire locality has become a hub of commercial activity.

Though nobody in the area is able to claim having seen Yusuf Khan as a child there, some old people remember the renowned Indian actor once he came in 1985 and stood in the street to see his house. They recalled he had brought some gifts which he distributed among the neighbours.

“I remember when he came to Qissa Khwani Bazaar. He stood in the street for some time and kept looking at the house. He went back without entering his house,” said an old shopkeeper Haji Salimur Rahman, who sits at his shop flaunting Dilip’s posters. He was 12 years old when his family moved to India and never returned.

Azmat Haneef Orakzai, provincial Secretary for Information and Culture department of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government, tells TNS that the government had almost struck a deal with the present occupant of the house, Haji Lal Mohammad when another man, identified as Fawad Ishaq, claiming to be the real owner of the property surfaced.

“I had visited the house along with Minister for Information and Culture Mian Iftikhar Hussain and we held a meeting with the present occupant and informed him about the government’s plan. After a few meetings, the occupant agreed to sell it to the government at Rs30 million. We finalised the deal and the chief minister also approved it. The government was going to release the amount when this man claiming to be real owner of the house surfaced,” he said.

Azmat Haneef says Fawad Ishaq claims to be a relative of Dilip Kumar and real owner of the property. He says the man had obtained a power of attorney from an Indian court, claiming that Dilip Kumar had sold the house to him and he was owner of the house.

“And we have to stay away from the deal at the moment as they made it difficult for the government to ascertain who is the real owner of the building,” the official says. Through a special branch police, the government investigated the issue and declared it a disputed property. Now the provincial government has constituted a high-level committee headed by Hussain Zada Khan, member Board of Revenue, to determine its real proprietor.

Interestingly, the KPK government had also decided to renovate Raj Kapoor’s ancestral house in Peshawar and turn it into a heritage site.

“The government has decided to preserve the old family house of Raj Kapoor and wait for settlement of Dilip Kumar’s. Raj Kapoor’s house is comparatively in good condition and is located near the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) Peshawar,” Azmat Haneef Orakzai says.

Meanwhile, the current owner of Dilip Kumar’s house, Haji Lal Mohammad, claimed he had bought the property in 2005 at a cost of Rs5.1 million.

Talking to TNS in his hosiery shop in Mohalla Khudad, a 70-year-old Lal Mohammad argued he had bought the house from Badshah Khan, son of Mohammad Yaqub Qureshi, through the legal means and had all relevant legal documents of the property. He says Yaqub Qureshi had bought the house from Dilip Kumar’s father in 1943.

“Dilip Kumar’s father was a dry fruit dealer and had suffered losses before moving to India. Qureshi had first given him Rs3000 in 1943 and then Rs2000 more when he came back from India to take his family. Qureshi was issueless and adopted a boy named Badshah Khan. He registered two marla in the name of his daughter in law and one marla each in the name of his three granddaughters,” the present occupant explained.

Why did Fawad remain silent during all these years when Qureshi had been living in the house since 1943?

“I never heard of him, even in 2005, when I bought this house to build a shopping plaza here. It was actually after he learnt from the media that the government has purchased the house at Rs30million that he surfaced and claimed ownership of the property,” Lal Mohammad says.

He argues if Fawad was the owner, he would have gone to the court by now. The occupant claims he didn’t know the film star Dilip Kumar had once lived in the house when he purchased it.

It is a case of ownership, one will have to wait and see if Dilip Kumar has something to blog about now!





Maharaja’s bungalow  
Ranjit Singh’s house on the bank of Chenab is in ruins. Is it because Maharaja was not a Muslim?
By Salman Rashid

History has no religion. This is a simple truth that we in Pakistan seem to be unaware of. For 65 years the government strived very, very hard to give it a religion and the sad thing is it succeeded. Consequently, now the history of Pakistan is only what is Islamic. Hard put to ignore Mehrgarh, Harappa, Moen jo Daro and Taxila, we simply try to wish away all relics of our built heritage if they did not originate under a Muslim patron.

Now, we cannot deny that Maharaja Ranjit Singh (Nov 1780-Jun 1839) was a great warrior king of Punjab. Astute, highly intelligent and possessed of immense cunning to boot, this man used his mental faculties to turn the divided Sikhs into one great community. Upon attaining the throne after his father’s death in 1799, Ranjit Singh found himself ruler of a small part of Punjab. Within a few years, this remarkable man whose prowess in the battlefield matched his acumen as a statesman and diplomat had increased his sway from Kashmir to Multan and from the Jumna River to the Khyber Pass.

The Maharaja himself said, “My kingdom is a great kingdom: it was small, it is now large; it was scattered, broken and divided; it is now consolidated: it must increase in prosperity, and descend undivided to my posterity.” Sadly, however, within nine years of his passing away in Lahore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom had fallen to the British juggernaut.

At the apex of his power, the Maharaja built a beautiful home just outside the village of Ramnagar — originally Rasulnagar, as it is again; it had been re-named after the Sikhs defeated the Muslim Jatts of the town. Sitting right by the banks of the Chenab, the house took its inspiration from European architecture, which had flooded Delhi some years earlier. It was a bungalow much like any Raj building of similar size.

Here were verandas on two sides, a number of side rooms and one large audience room which may also have served as the Maharaja’s living and working quarters. The east façade had a marble plaque installed by some thoughtful British civil servant after the country had been annexed. It read in English, “Residence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, AD 1830-1837.” Underneath, the same was repeated in Urdu.

In November 1991, working on my book ‘Gujranwala, the glory that was’, I saw this house for the first time. I was impressed by the rafters holding up the roof and the window and door jambs — every single timber being first-class teak. Outside, a veritable orchard of mango and jamun trees all but covered the beautiful house.

From the roof of his summer house, the Maharaja would have watched the Chenab flow languidly by or strain at the banks in monsoon frenzy. But now, there was a high flood protection embankment blocking the view. Nearby was a set of graves recalling the British dead of the Battle of Ramnagar fought on 22 November 1848. It was on this battlefield that the empire that Maharaja Ranjit Singh hoped would pass in its full glory to his descendents died.

Recently, I was in Rasulnagar again to digitally photograph the Maharaja’s house. 21 years is a very long time between the writing of my book and the present. In this while, I had thrice returned to Rasulnagar, the last time being in 2000. Until then the house was as it had been for more than a century and a half. But the upheavals of the past twelve years were apparently too severe for Rasulnagar.

The house of the greatest Punjabi ruler since Raja Paurava (Porus) was a ruin. The exterior was smeared with cow dung patties. The timbers, every single one of them, had been wrenched out, the roofs had caved in, the windows were gaping holes and the plaster on the arches and pillars was damaged. The brickwork floors were now covered with the debris from the roof. Only the marble plaque commemorating the building remains in place. Much of the work was clearly done in a destructive frenzy by who but some spiteful louts who despise the history of this land.

But the sad part is that no one evidently tried to stop the vandalism. The people of Rasulnagar where a young Ranjit Singh cut down an Afghan force much larger than his paltry band watched in silence. Here at the famous ford of Rasulnagar, having humbled the Pathans in fair battle, the seventeen year-old future Maharaja deprived the highlanders of the cannon Zamzama they were attempting to carry off to Kabul.

But no Rasulnagar native moved a finger. The corrupt and inefficient police remained mindless of the carnage. The worthless assistant and deputy commissioners, who should be hanged for negligence, cooled their worthless behinds in their air conditioned offices as a priceless Punjabi monument was laid waste.

I wonder how many images of the house as it once stood, are preserved in private archives. So far as I know, there is only one in my book on Gujranwala. In another few years, the hulk will collapse. The last remaining memory of a great king will be lost from Rasulnagar.

But we do not care. For Maharaja Ranjit Singh was not Muslim. And so far as we are concerned history should only be Muslim.








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