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the-south-asian.com 7 August 2000
Page 3 Chakwal – Fondly Remembered By O.P. Dutta
Chakwal – Fondly Remembered
By O.P. Dutta
On the way back from Raw’s house was the imposing house of ‘Khwaja Vakil’. He was a practicing lawyer of repute. His professional rivalry with ‘Moti Shah’ was phenomenal. Clever villagers would play one against the other and eventually get their court job done, with a meager payment in the shape of a ‘pumpkin’ or a basket full of ‘Tori’.
The most famous case in the magistrates’ court involving both the rivals was a criminal charge against Moti Shah’s brother Jawahar Shah. The plaintiff was Khwaja Sahib's client. Khwaja succeeded in getting a conviction verdict. Jawahar Shah was supposed to pay a cash fine of one thousand rupees. Jawahar nor Moti Shah could muster such a sum. The locals would tell you that Khwaja Sahib went to Moti Shah at midnight and offered to help – he had brought his wife’s ornaments in a red kerchief. Moti Shah in a fit of rage tried to kick the ornaments away when offered by Khwaja Sahib. That enraged Khwaja Sahib in turn, as he could not bear the thought of his Begum’s ornaments being kicked around. The loud shouting woke up the whole locality especially the elders. It all ended in both the lawyers in an embrace and some tears.
Another prominent and distinctive personality in Chakwal was ‘Chowdhary’ - a farmer living right opposite the town hall. Always immaculately dressed in a Shalwar Kameez and a jacket, his turban on the ‘Kullah’ was the hallmark of his personality. The turban sitting on his head at an angle gave him a look of pride and distinction and the ‘Turra’ standing erect and straight almost defied the law of gravity. He was a favourite with the administration including the sub-judge and the S.D.O. They were all indebted to him and his mare ‘ Zammurat’ - the sole entertainer available whenever the local officials wanted to entertain a visiting commissioner or his guests from England. Chowdhary was an expert in ‘Neza Baazi’ or peg sticking (you ride at break neck speed with a lance in hand and stick the lance into a small peg of wood half buried in the earth and carry it along, the lance doing a full circle in your hand while maintaining your perch in the saddle) and the mare ‘Zammurat’, wearing dancing bells on her feet, danced on her hind legs to the rhythm of the drum played by ‘Amir Khan’.
Amir, the ‘Dholi’ or the drummer was quite a character. A more than fair complexion adorned by brown hair and moustache and almond coloured warm eyes, Amir was quite a hit with the residents as well as visitors. A huge ‘Dhol’ [drum] around his neck, played to different beats, with the help of two sticks – a thin straight one in the left and the other thick and bent at an angle at the end – Amir always looked balanced and graceful. When the Chakwal residents heard his drum even at a distance, they would recognize and understand the underlying message behind the beat - a different one for each occasion. Amir had a different beat to announce ‘Kabadi’ - a wrestling bout, a different one to herald the spring season or the arrival of a male child in the family of Raja ‘Khizr’. Incidentally ‘Khizr’ claimed that his forefathers were ‘Panj Hazaris’ during the Moghul Raj and stuck to the title of ‘Raja’.
Amir’s namesake, a tailor by profession, lived at some distance. This gentleman was well known, not for his tailoring, but for his wife ‘Sitara’ who was a proverbial seamstress and a go-getter. I would do injustice to her if I didn’t mention her stunning looks that could compel the highest officer in the administration to listen to her. Just behind her house was an open space that used to be rented out to any drama company that wanted to have a few shows for the locals, of course for a monetary consideration. Once when the place was rented out to a small circus, Sitara was furious. Besides the foul smell emanating from the animals, the circus boasted of a ‘lion’ too. During the very first show, the said lion ‘roared’ again and again. The next morning Sitara’s cow refused to yield any milk. All hell broke out as she went from door to door asking for cooperation. She took a delegation of about fifty women to the local ‘Thanedar’ and saw to it that the circus was packed off the next day. After all the cow’s milk was anytime more precious than a few thrills at the circus. ‘Sitara’ was once again a leading light.
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