A leaf from history
It was sometime after nine in the evening and young Rizvanullah was at home in Badalai Village near Madyan with his family. It was the second day of incessant rain the likes of which, so the elders said, they had never witnessed before. The word around his village was that this was the second deluge.
From the door of their single-room hut about a 100 meters from the river, Rizvan had watched the level rise, the water more and more taking on the shape of a living, growling monster. Without warning, at some point after nine, the door and the wall it was fixed in were sliced away as if by a giant knife. The foaming white demon now dizzyingly roared past leaving no room for them to escape.
With their gardening implements, Rizvan helped his father break open the opposite wall. Through this hole, they had barely escaped into the chill downpour when the rest of what was their home was swept away like a matchstick.
Earlier, Rizvan’s father, Sanaullah, had watched the river swallow up, bit by bit, his plot of land measuring about 1,500 square meters. There, like all past summers as far as he could remember, he had grown tomatoes and cucumbers for the market in Mingora. Only a week before the rains came, he had sold some of the harvest and brought home a fortnight’s rations. But now, Sanaullah and his family were only able to escape with the clothes on their backs.
The family took refuge with a kindly neighbour. However, such welcomes do not last very long, especially when the host, too, is under pressure. After a few days, Sanaullah got the first hint to look for alternative arrangements for his family. The rain had slackened off and as the flow of the river began to recede, Sanaullah was horrified to see that what was his vegetable plot was now a mass of boulders brought down by the torrent.
Sanaullah moved his family to nearby Madyan into the house of an acquaintance in the hope of finding work in town. In the face of continual rain, however, Sanaullah was unable to find work and pay his keep. Soon, this hospitality wore off as well.
Promising to pay rent for the use of one room in the house, Sanaullah left Rizvan in charge in Madyan and went to Okara where he worked winters in a factory. He was only fortunate that the flood did not hit the town and his employer and there was work to be had.
I met Rizvanullah in the food aid distribution point of Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan in Fatehpur Village near Madyan. All of ten years old and a mere stripling, he looked lost and forlorn for his mates had already received their share of food aid and left for home. The aid package comprising of wheat flour, sugar, rice, lentils, tea leaves, and cooking oil weighed just over 137 kilograms. This was more than the load a strong man can carry with difficulty; it was simply too much for a child.
The difficulty of transportation was aggravated by the fact that the road in the five kilometers from Fatehpur to Madyan had been washed away and there was no transport, save for a short distance only. I asked how he was going to manage. Rizvanullah wobbled his head and spread out his hands helplessly. He had no idea. That he got the load home before nightfall was entirely by the kindness of a CWS-P/A volunteer.
Rizvanullah and his family are not alone. Here, the particular disadvantage is that the boy left to fend for his family is still but a child. In Punjab or Sindh, despite every restriction, women are still very much their own persons and most are capable of functioning reasonably well in the absence of their men folk. Under the harsh social restrictions of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, this is impossible. Since no woman will ever be permitted out of the courtyard, in the absence of a grown man, this family (and others like it) is especially vulnerable.
If Sanaullah remains away at work in Okara, there will be some money to make things go, but this means leaving his family to fend for itself. If, on the other hand, he returns home, he and his family will be entirely dependent upon charity. For the time being, this comes from organisations like CWS-P/A and World Food Program. But for how long, is anyone’s guess.
It is not to make comparisons, but the fact is that because of the inundation and the layer of new sediments that remain after the floods, farmers in Punjab already look forward to a better wheat crop next summer. But in mountain villages, thousands of farmers have lost their entire arable land to the ferocity of the floods. The topsoil is gone and only rocks brought down by the river sit where crops and fruit trees once grew on terraced fields.
The cost of rehabilitation of terraced farmland is huge, in terms both of expenditure and man hours. A comprehensive assessment of damages will take time to complete; reconstruction will take even longer. The issue is that farmers like Sanaullah depend upon their land for survival. Their families will suffer miserably if too much time is taken before recovery initiatives are in place. How long will the thousands of Sanaullahs have to wait before they can resume normal life? Will Rizvanullah and his siblings be able to return to school in the near future?
Floods change landscape. Here is how it happened near Chunian
By Haroon Khalid
As evolution paves its way the map of civilisation unwittingly alters. Cities, towns, villages and temples that are centre of our existence enter the realm of oblivion when nature takes its course. The recent devastating floods in Pakistan would also have a similar impact. Various locations that only a few months ago were thriving with activity would no longer remain important, while on the other hand; those areas that were alien to human existence would become important. This has been the course of nature.
About 260 years ago when river Beas used to flow parallel to Sutlej near the vicinity of Chunian there was a massive flood that permanently sealed the fate of a huge Sikh temple called Dera Chubara. The river no longer flows from here but the remains of the old track are found all the way till Multan.
The Lahore Gazeteer of 1883-84 gives reference of this flood and this building. This huge complex was associated with a sect within Sikhism. These were the followers of Prithvichan, the rebel son of fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das and elder brother of the fifth Guru Arjun. He was jealous of his younger brother whom the Guru had nominated as his successor, so he established his own sect, which functioned simultaneously with the mainstream religion. The smadh of Prithvichan is found outside the village of Hair on Bedian road. Dera Chubara was an impressive structure, now just a torn down building.
His son Mehrban summoned this edifice near the city of Chunian. The complex was composed of three buildings, one square in plan whereas the other two rectangular, originally built on an elevated platform made out of burnt brick. The main square structure was right in the middle. According to the survey report of Archaeological Sites and Monuments in Punjab Volume 1, this portion of the structure was constructed during the Shahjahan era.
The other two were additions made during the Sikh tenure. It was constructed in the form of a pavilion with nine arched openings, three on the eastern side and two each on all the others. All the entrances are adorned with elaborate stalactite designs decorated with fresco on the soffits. Floral frescoes mark the structure. The vaulted roofs are covered with lime plaster and decorated with floral motifs in fresco.
The remains of Mehrban were buried in this building. Presently inside, earth has been dug and a couple of potholes are present, perhaps in search of hidden treasure. The additional buildings on the Western side are also constructed and adorned in a similar manner. They must have been rooms for travellers and priests.
A thick boundary wall of which only the remains are visible protected the entire structure. Tajamol Kaleem, a Punjabi poet from Chunian who entertained us in the city told us that there were life size elephants sculpted on each corner of the wall. Now no trace is found. The archaeology report on this building also confirms this piece of information.
Devotees of this sect used to come from far away regions to pray here. This was the centre of this school of thought. However, after the flood this entire structure was destroyed never to regain its popularity. Ardent believers say that after the flood Mehrban cursed the river which resulted in it drying up.
There is no easy way to get to this place, especially if not commuting by a jeep. On the Changa-Manga-Chunian road there is a road that turns left about, 2 km before Chunian if one is travelling from Changa Manga towards Chunian. This road that passes through the village of Mohammadipur takes us straight to our destination. There is no metalled road from the village to the monument.
Most of the part is made of earth with huge holes and gaps. In this rainy season I strongly advise not taking such a journey without a jeep. The final part of the road is made of bricks constructed by a local landlord who travels on it; however, now it is in such a bad state that one wishes it wasn’t there at all.
The descendants of Prithvichan and Mehrban had established themselves at the neighbouring village of Muhammadipur after the construction of this edifice. When Ahmad Shah Abdali attacked this region he forcibly took away all of the land from this family and appointed a Muslim governor, as is noted down in Punjab Chiefs. The person dislocated at that time was Jevan Mal seventh in line from Guru Ram Das. From here he travelled on to district Ferozepur where he met a Muslim landlord called Sultan Muhammad from the Dogar clan. Sultan Muhammad took him under his protection.
At that time the landlord had a conflict with the neighbouring jagirdars and he thought the clot that Jevan Mal enjoyed amongst the local community would increase his power and would serve the cause of peace too. He gave him a large portion of his land where he established his own village. This community was named Guru Harsahai after his eldest son. This property, which was worth 3,740 rupees annually at that time remained with them, even when Ranjit Singh came to power and later the British acceded the throne.
Despite this restoration of the status the Dera destroyed by the flood was never restored. In pre-partition Punjab devotees of this sect were mostly found in Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Kohat and Dera Ghazi Khan.
An interesting aspect of the history of this particular sect is that even though they diverge from the mainstream religion, the antagonism that one finds between other religious sects was not present in this case. When Ranjit Singh came to power, showed tolerance by allowing them to retain the property that they had acquired in the previous era. Also despite being in vulnerable position due to their small population, communal riots were never reported.
On the contrary this community even serves in some of the mainstream Gurdwaras during langars and other religious festivals displaying the form of tolerance not many religious sects have been able to exhibit. Perhaps in contemporary Pakistan, Muslims from various sects can learn a lesson from these Sikhs.
Floor of the platform.
By Saima Mohsin
The most amazing airport I’ve ever been to is right here in Pakistan and that undoubtedly is Skardu. It’s like no other I’ve been to in the world.
As you fly over the Himalayas the view brings ‘every passenger to their feet’, so to speak. Carved out of the majestic mountains that tower over you as you step down onto the tarmac — it’s as though you’ve taken off from Islamabad and arrived in paradise.
I was on board a flight to Skardu in October 2006 as part of a press team covering Prince Charles’ royal tour to Pakistan. It was his first trip here and my first to Skardu. At the time I was a reporter/newsreader for GMTV, a breakfast show in the UK.
It was in Skardu where I discovered parts of Pakistan I never knew existed. It opened my eyes to all that Pakistan has to offer and all that I wish the world could see. When the 20 or so reporters, photographers, cameramen and I landed in Skardu we were overwhelmed. I’ve never seen so many journalists so quiet! Gobsmacked and awe-struck, we took a deep breath of clean crisp air and soaked up the sight. And then click, click, click… the photographers went mad. Photographers are known to dislike photos of themselves, but this was a location they all wanted to be snapped in.
We weren’t in Nepal or Switzerland or New Zealand. This dominating and delicious landscape is right here in Pakistan, I thought. Skardu is like an “anti-airport”. Everything we know, love and hate about airports is missing. There are no long queues to get in or out, no hideous multi-storey car parks, no exhaustive check-ins, no annoying waits in the departure lounge, no wasted money on duty-free goodies — none of which you really want or need.
And the best part… no agonising wait for your luggage. A man comes along, opens the right hatch and hands you your luggage as you stand and wait right next to the aircraft. It is as simple and elegant as the region it is in. No nonsense and as close to nature as you can get.
The people are equally striking. Their weather worn faces are as inviting as they are cold. Their unique features made them unlike any Pakistani I had seen before. Pale faces, red cheeks, light brown hair and sleek almond eyes. It was my first introduction to the idea that Pakistan is as diverse in its geography as its people. There are many, many, faces of Pakistan, many different cultures, roots, religions, historic events and races that have left their mark on this land and enriched it.
But I realised that this is a diversity not many of us think about or absorb. Pakistanis have hardly discovered what is available to them on their own doorstep. This is a land so rich in heritage, ecology and sights. What is even more maddening is that few people around the world have been able to experience or even hear about this most dazzling of destinations.
It made me proud to be Pakistani. I was so pleased to have shared this location with my British colleagues. I learnt so much about this country and was hungry for more. I promised to return to Skardu one day and meet all the people I met on that trip. I did return and move to Pakistan but I’m still waiting for another taste of heaven on earth…
The writer is a freelance journalist and broadcaster and can be contacted at saima@saimamohsin. com or facebook.com/saimamohsin