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the-south-asian.com                         7  August   2000

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Chakwal – Fondly Remembered


By O.P. Dutta


The Partition of India in 1947 rendered millions homeless. The displaced carried with them nothing but memories. More than fifty years later O.P. Dutta, film-maker and writer, living now in Bombay, fondly remembers his first ‘hometown’ Chakwal - now in the Punjab province of Pakistan.


The railway station at Chakwal, the second last station on the ‘Mandra-Bhon’ railway as it was known then (I am talking of twenties and thirties during the last century) was a running distance from the town, if not a walking distance. The moment you alighted from the only train that arrived from Mandra, you were greeted by the drivers (and not coolies) anxious to grab your baggage. Not only were they looking for passengers to the town, but to neighbouring villages such as Karyala, Bhalla, Udharval and Roopwal. They gave special attention to well-dressed ladies and the gentlemen of the ‘Khoja’ community who were mostly engaged in the leather business at ‘Calcutta’ or ‘Hong Kong’. The attention was for obvious reasons.

As one drove down (or walked) the road to the town, one was greeted by the aroma of cooked food in the air. There were quite a few cooking joints (they are now known as ‘dhabas’). The aroma of the curried lamb was so arresting. A little distance down the road was the bus ‘adda’ (then known as the lorry stand) which looked more like an auto garage. It seems the vehicles were constantly under repair.

The small but important building of the ‘Town Hall’ greeted you next. The gargoyle like shapes on the roof, to drain away the rainwater, were really imposing. This Town Hall was looked after and maintained by one Sardar Hukum Singh who belonged to the well-known family of ‘Dilli Lootan’. It is believed that their forefathers had supported the British army during the Uprising of 1857, and during the operation, like all victorious soldiers, looted houses and business houses in ‘Delhi’.

The town hall had a library of sorts. Hukum Singh would lend the books for reading to the locals and maintain a register. The most popular books, of course in Urdu, (as that was the court language then) were: -


‘Fasaan-e-Azad’ by Ratannath Sarshar

‘Prem Pachisee’ by Munshi Prem Chand

‘Sangeet Ramayan’ by Jaswant Singh Tohanawi


At  the northern end of the town was a mosque, adjacent to the ‘Sanatan Dharam Mandir’. The two places of worship had a single brick wall that was common to both the buildings. They say the ‘Hafiz’ in the mosque and the Pujari in the ‘mandir’ were all the time at logger heads but secretly they had maintained a loose brick in the wall that could be removed easily to pass on some eatables from one to the other.


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