Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pakistan's Rababi’s unfulfilled desire

Rababi’s unfulfilled desire By Rashmi Talwar
AMRITSAR ------------WITH an ardent desire and hope in his heart, Bhai Lalji, the 17th generation descendant of the family of Bhai Mardana, came to Amritsar from Pakistan, to perform kirtan at Sri Harmindar Sahib. All his hopes were dashed when the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) refused him permission, upholding the ban imposed on non-Sikhs performing kirtan at the Golden Temple. A visibly distraught Bhai Lal, a ‘rababi’ and Muslim by birth, in a special interaction with The Tribune said, “Even my old age does not allow me the comfort of the claim of having achieved all in my lifetime, as a fervent desire still remains with me of performing kirtan for the one last time at the Harmindar Sahib. The craving for blessing from Guru Ram Dass, the founder of the Golden Temple, after performing kirtan is the life’s only mission left unfulfilled”. The ‘rababi’ who performed kirtan for two hours at the Golden Temple for one last time in 1962 besides 14 kirtans at Akal Takht asks emotionally, “Will I go back once again to Pakistan with an unfulfilled dream?” The ban was imposed soon after his last performance in 1962. Belonging to the generation of Bhai Mardana, a Muslim ‘rababi’ of the time, being nine years older than the first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev, he started accompanying the Guru. Then for 47 years at every forum that the Guru sojourned to, Bhai Mardana performed kirtan with him. So much so, many of the ‘banis’ of ‘rababis’ were incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib. In the footsteps of his forefathers, Bhai Lal too, is completely devoted to the traditional ‘parampara’ of kirtan. He can perhaps be counted amongst the few ‘kirtankaars’ of the world today who can sing kirtan using all 31 ragas without eyeing a paper. Sikh history and historical moments are on his fingertips. Born in 1929 as Ashik Ali at Goindwal where his father was a “rababi” performing kirtan at Goindwal Sahib, Lal Singh learned the Gurmukhi (Punjabi) at a local primary school. Then he was sent to learn kirtan from Bhai Khisita at Amritsar at the age of 11 years in 1940. After two years of tutorship under him, Bhai Lal started kirtan under ‘rababi’ Bhai Chand; “Since then I came to be known as Bhai Lal and have been addressed so, ever since,” he recalls. Thereby Partition led him to flee India, and he and his father settled in Lahore where he got married and fathered four sons. While his sons enjoy kirtan and accompany him somehow none of them have actually followed in their forefathers’ footsteps due tolack of patronage from Sikh institutions and Sikh bodies. “Two of my sons are electricians, while one polishes utensils and the youngest remains a free roamer despite having passed plus 2,” he says with regret. On his last visit to India in 1999, Bhai Lal was honoured with 19 awards by various Sikh organisations. These included the honour conferred at Anandpur Sahib by the SGPC, one by the Delhi Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee another by Damdami Taksal, Patna Sahib, Hazoor Sahib and others. Talking about Pakistan, he says, “Who is interested in kirtan in Pakistan?” and reveals that the chance to perform kirtan is only during the Indian jathas’ visit at Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and Dera Sahib Gurdwaras or occasionally when a Sindhi devout of the Guru, invites him for kirtan. Sindhis, he says are the only Pakistanis who thoroughly enjoy kirtan and hold it in great regard. Meanwhile, in a fervert appeal to the SGPC on behalf of ‘rababis’ and Bhai Lal, the International Bhai Mardana Yaadgari Kirtan Darbar Society president Harpal Singh Bhullar says the SGPC going against the very tenets of Sikhism which follows the tradition of denouncing discrimination on all levels, including religion, caste and colour by disallowing ‘Rababi’ Bhai Lal to perform in the Golden Temple, while no ban exists on them in any other gurdwara in the world.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

SGPC may withdraw dossier on Darbar Sahib

BY Rashmi Talwar
Amritsar, April 20, ---------The dossier to declare Darbar Sahib as world heritage site is likely to be withdrawn by the SGPC executive meeting, scheduled to be held here tomorrow. According to highly placed sources in the SGPC, the chief has already got the ‘green signal’ from the Shiromani Akali Dal president, Mr Parkash Singh Badal to recommend immediate withdrawal of the dossier on the basis of steep division in the community the world over . While majority of the executive members will recommend the withdrawal of the dossier , Bibi Kiranjot Kaur , an executive member who had coordinated preparation of the voluminous document, will give a dissenting note. On her return from Pakistan, Bibi Kiranjot Kaur said at least six members of the executive body were the same who had earlier passed the dossier during the presidentship of Mr Kirpal Singh Badungar. She said it was shocking that certain persons, close to SGPC chief, had described the dossier as ‘deep-rooted conspiracy’ to denigrate Sikhism. She said Mr Badungar should come out openly in favour of the dossier as it was he who had given the ‘go-ahead’ to the document. The SGPC’s general secretary Mr Sukhdev Singh Bhaur, and some members from Haryana are likely to support Bibi Kiranjot Kaur on this issue. Mr Bhaur had already announced that the required amendments should be made in the dossier. Cautioning the SGPC and SAD against showing “undue haste” in withdrawal of dossier, the SAD(A) suggested that intra-party politics should not overshadow a golden opportunity for Sikhism to get WHS status. In an urgent message to the Union Home Minister, Mr Shivraj Patil, and in an open letter to Mr Badal, Prof Jagmohan Singh and Mr Gurjatinder Singh Bhikhiwind, both general secretaries of SAD (A) while endorsing the dossier as a comprehensive document to bring Darbar Sahib, the first Sikh shrine on the world heritage map, said discussions and debate could bring about a consensus on minor changes. Significantly the party pointed out that according to guidelines of UNESCO, the Government of India was only authorised to withdraw the dossier once submitted. They demanded immediate intervention by the Home Ministry to hold discussions on the issue. Hitting out at critics of the dossier and in view of possible rejection of it at the SGPC, the SAD (A) stated that contrary to objections, out of a total of 788 world heritage sites, as many as 278 were religious in nature, including 50 relating to Christianity, evangelists (7), Eastern Orthodox Church (21), Protestants (5), Judaism (7), Islam (18), Buddhist (30), Hinduism (15), Confucianism (17) and indigenous beliefs (35). Expressing doubts over the intentions of the SGPC in not allowing widespread discussion, the party decried the soft stand taken by the Jathedar of Akal Takht on such vital issue and urged him to call a meeting of various Sikh bodies to reach a consensus.

A Tale of Two Cities ---AMRITSAR- LAHORE

Amritsar and Lahore are the cities that had to bear the brunt of Partition. However, the cultural bond between Amritsaris and Lahoris remains as strong as ever, report -----------------By Rashmi Talwar (Amritsar)-------Bollywood-style movie posters dot the city of Lahore. — A Tribune photo It’s Magic: Street shows are popular both in Amritsar and Lahore.— Photo by Rashmi Talwar
Ajj Akhaan Waris Shah Noo Kitae Kabran Vichon Bole...” (Rise and speak up from the grave, Waris Shah). These most touching lines penned by Punjabi poetess, Amrita Pritam, portray the agony of women who fell victim to the communal frenzy on both sides of Wagah at the time of Partition. The agony of the two Punjabs (East and West), separated by Partition, continued to haunt Punjabis. However, the inseparable bond is likely to be revived with the much-talked-aboutAmritsar-Lahore Bus Service. Recalling the composite Punjabi culture ofPre-partition days, a Pakistani national, Ishtiaq Ahmad, says, “There was a time when Hindus would shower flowers on the Muharram procession, while Muslims flocked to the great Ram Leela festival held in the Minto Park behind the Badshahi Masjid, and took part in the Divali and Dussehra celebrations.” The legendary origins of Lahore can be traced to Lav or Loh, son of Lord Rama, the king of Ayodhya and hero of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic from the pre-historical period. Loh or Luv is still acknowledged as the founder of the city of Lahore even in the official website of Pakistan. UNESCO also recognises this fact in its information board located at Shahi Killa of Lahore where the shrine exists. Interestingly, Kasur in Pakistan was founded by Kush, the twin of Luv. Lahore became the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) where Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lived in communal harmony. For all lovers of Lahore, the announcement by the Nazim, Mian Amer Mahmood, that his “government” had decided not to go ahead with its idea to “make Lahore Islamic” by changing the names of 58 streets and roads that bear Hindu and Sikh names is a great relief indeed. Tourists from Amritsar would ‘relish’ the old names whenever they visit Lahore in the bus. The Amritsar-Lahore Bus Service may also throw light on the matchless contrasts and comparisons that join the two cities of Lahore and Amritsar in an everlasting bond. The thawing of tension between the two countries has rekindled the interest in the cultural affinity between the people of Lahore and Amritsar. Pakistani Hindus would love to visit Durgiana Mandir in Amritsar. The Bara Hanuman Prachin Mandir and the Banyan tree in the Durgiana Temple complex, Amritsar, also arouse the curiosity of those from Lahore. According to the Hindu mythology, Lord Hanuman was tied to the tree when he opposed the royal twins (who were the founders of the two cities that are now in Pakistan) and tried to prevent them from taking back the Ashvamedha horse. What is most heartening is that Lahore and Amritsar share a cultural affinity that cuts across the borders. Many Hindu customs like putting henna on hands and wearing bangles have percolated to the Muslim weddings across the border. Traditional festivals like Basant gave impetus to kite-flying nightlong competitions that have become a rage and obsession in Lahore, though the kite-flying has been denounced by many mullahs for its association with the Hindus and the Sikhs. Earlier, pigeons — the traditional folklore messengers — with their feathers smeared with Urdu stamps and couplets had brought cheer to Indian villages like Dauke (Amritsar), surrounded on three sides by Pakistan. Likewise, kites with portraits of Indian filmstars also brought thrill to the people of the neighbouring country. Pigeon-flying, once common in Amritsar, is still a craze in Lahore, where Indian breeds of pigeons like Rampuri, Ferozpuri and Jalandhari fetch a hefty amount. The sport was popular in both cities as were games like ram-fights, cock-fights and “lattu-bazzi”. Even the markets in both cities have some kind of uncanny similarity about them. Mr Ali Raza, a senior staff correspondent with “The News”, an English daily from Pakistan, while talking to The Tribune from across the border, says that there are many areas in Lahore that may be interesting for a visitor. For instance, a Landa Bazaar with the same name exists in Lahore and in Amritsar, selling goods from across the border. Interestingly, both bazaars are located near the respective railway stations of the two cities! The booming bazaars of Lahore like the Wholesale Market at Shah Alam where plastic goods, shoes, toys, perfumes, cosmetics, bakery items, utensils are sold remind an Indian visitor of the walled city markets. The Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore showcases readymade garments, including salwar-kameez. The “Paan Mandi” displays Indian paraphernalia like Banarsi sarees, “hajmola”, “paan masala”, “paan ka patta”, soaps etc. A bibliophile can get Urdu, Persian and Arabic books from the Urdu Bazaar. Liaquat Ali Butt and Tanveer Hussain, both from Lahore, say that while both countries are flooded with low-grade Chinese items, it is Indian goods that are liked in Pakistan and vice versa. People of Lahore find Indian banana, papaya, apples, and ginger better flavoured and these items are available there at half their price in India. While Lahore glitters with its gold market called “Suha Bazaar”, the “Guru Bazaar” in Amritsar is a nice shopping stop for jewellery buffs. Though there is not much difference in the prices of pulses and daals sold in Lahore’s Akbari Mandi and the markets of Amritsar, there are some pleasant surprises like fresh “kasuri methi” available in Lahore at merely Rs 5 per kilo or the famed Pakistani rock salt available there at Re I per kilo. A bicycle costs about Rs 1500 in India, while the lowest model of “Sohrab” cycle costs Rs 2500 in Lahore. A non vegetarian may find the best Punjabi cuisine at the Food Street of Gawalmandi and the Anarkali Bazaar. Among the best buys that a visitor can have here is a pair of the famed “Kasuri jutti” and this can be bought here at one-fourth of its price in Amritsar. The Hall Road in Lahore sells electrical appliances, while it namesake “Hall Bazaar” in Amritsar, too, sells the same. Mall culture Lahore boasts of three five-star hotels — Pearl Continental, Avari and Holiday Inn — at the Egertain road, besides posh Malls at Gulberg owned by cricketer Imran Khan, and a zoo and a race course, while Amritsar lags behind. Incidentally, most “C” grade hotels in Lahore are found near its railway station and bus stand, and the same is somewhat true for Amritsar. The Western influence has caught on more in Lahore with Mc Donald, KFC, Pizza Hut and posh restaurants like Village, Buffet, Ziafat and Smoke (located at Gulberg and the MM Alam Road) being hot favourites. Besides, “Bhaiyee-dey-kabab” and famous Chinese restaurants, Xinwa and Taiwah, are also located there. Haryanvi ‘paanwala’ in Lahore Royal Treat: Rana Bhai’s ‘paan’ finds many takers in Lahore.— Photo by Rashmi Talwar Gastronomical delights available across the Radcliff Line find many takers in Amritsar. The popularity of Rana Bhai, “Shahi-Paandaanwala”, has whiffed across the Indian territory. Basically from Ambala in India, Rana Bhai can be seen sitting in Lahore’s famous Anarkali Food Street. He is cozily perched on his chair that is shaped like a royal throne. His attire, too, is usually glamorous. He often dresses up like poets Sultan Bahoo, Waris Shah, Kwaja Farid, Bulleh Shah and Baba Farid. “Many a time he is mistaken for a Mirza Ghalib look-alike with “Turki topi” and “khussa” footwear, besides a string of “taveez” and rose garlands that rest on his wrists and neck,” points out Ms Neelima Naheed Durrani, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) and Principal, Lahore Training School. What sets him apart is his style. A customer is sprinkled with rose water and then showered with rose petals. “Paan” garnished with “vark” is served to the customer, who can see himself being pampered, as the close circuit cameras show it all. He gets orders from Dubai and Middle East countries for festive occasions and sets up his stall during festivals and exhibitions in Lahore. He has also recreated the “Lucknow Bazaar” scene with some Barbie dolls dressed up in “Lucknavi” salwar suits and others in burqa.

Struggling to keep the sacred flame aliveThe Parsi community

TOP STORIES Struggling to keep the sacred flame alive The Parsi community is known for its enterprise and philanthropy, but it is facing serious demographic problems. Rashmi Talwar recount the contributions of Amritsar-born Parsis, whose unflinching courage, dogged determination and the zeal to excel have earned them laurels in various fieldsParsis — Zoroastrians of Persian origin belonging to the region called Pars — have enriched India educationally, industrially, economically and culturally.
Tehmi Bhandari, the grand old lady of the Parsi community in the city, shares a close rapport with her granddaughter Shirin Tehmina Bhandari. — Photo by Rajiv Sharma
Parsis — Zoroastrians of Persian origin belonging to the region called Pars — have enriched India educationally, industrially, economically and culturally. Jamshedji Tata, the Godrejs, the Wadias, Dr Homi Bhabha, Zubin Mehta, Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw, Admiral Jal Cursetji, Air Marshal Engineer all are from this very distinguished community. Indira Gandhi married into the Parsi community and so did Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s daughter, Dina Wadia, as Sooni Taraporevala has mentioned in her book “The Zoroastrians of India”. But this very dynamic community has become today a “dying community”. The birth rate among the Parsis is very low. In the city, too, very few Parsis are left today. Zoroastrians or the sun worshippers (the Sacred Flame at the Fire Temple holds special significance for them), had fled from Persia (Iran) and arrived in the Holy City in the beginning of the last century. Today, their number has been reduced to such an extent that they are considered a “community that is fast shrinking”. There were a few Parsi families that came to Punjab and even fewer who made the Holy City their permanent home. However, they were still able to create a niche for themselves here as they did in many fields in the rest of India. Field Marshal Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Sam Maneckshaw, the first Field Marshal of India and hero of 1971 Indo-Pak war, and 99-year-old Tehmi Bhandari, are among the last Amritsar-born pure Parsis and they are not keeping good health. Age, too, is not on their side. Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw was born in Amritsar in 1914 to Dr H.F.S. Maneckshaw. Sam Maneckshaw, who had made Delhi his home, did his FA (second year) from Hindu Sabha College (Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, was also the alumnus of the college). As per the official records, Sam Maneckshaw joined the college on March 3, 1934, and left the institution in January 1935 to join the IMA. Earlier, he had schooling from the local PBN School. Though the date of birth of the Field Marshal is said to be April 3, 1914, the record of Hindu College mentions the date as October 28, 1916, that makes him 89 years old. The city hosted a memorable reception when the Field Marshal visited the historic Ram Bagh here after scripting history in the 1971 war. He also visited the “Sur Babu & Co” in Katra Ahluwalia, the chemist shop once owned by his father, who was a doctor. Octogenarian Om Parkash Sharma, a former assistant manager of “Sur Babu & Co”, who had worked for 25 years with the company, recalled that Dr Maneckshaw was a “man of word”. He said Dr Maneckshaw kept his word and disposed of his palatial bungalow on the Mall for Rs 1 lakh. Recalling the deal, Mr Sharma said that one Gheewala praised the bungalow of Dr Maneckshaw and sought to purchase it at any cost. Not knowing that Gheewala might be having the amount of Rs 1 lakh with him, Dr Maneckshaw offered to sell the bungalow to him. Though Baiji (wife of Dr Maneckshaw) got annoyed following the deal, Dr Maneckshaw told her that he had already given his word to Gheewala and he could not go back on his word. Not surprisingly, Dr Maneckshaw’s son, Field Marshal Maneckshaw, has had a special affection for the city. Once, late G.R. Sethi, a veteran journalist from Amritsar, went to the Army headquarters for a courtesy call without appointment. The staff of the Army Chief refused to entertain him. But on seeing the visiting card of the journalist from Amritsar the Field Marshal immediately came out of the room and accorded him a warm welcome. Another noted Parsi in the city has been Maneckshaw’s childhood friend Tehmi Bogga Bhandari. In a letter written on January 19, 1948, a few months after Partition, Lady Edwina Mountbatten, wife of the first Viceroy, Sir Edward Mountbatten, praised her for her relief work for Partition-ravaged refugees. Later she was invited by the lady to Shimla, says her daughter Rattan. In fact, Tehmi met the challenge of attending to the refugees during Partition in 1947. She stitched clothes for the refugees who arrived in Amritsar and were given shelter at the Govindgarh Fort and other camps. The cloth was provided by the government and the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC). “I worked with nearly 25 tailors at my residence in the cantonment and stitched clothes. I saw ‘kaflas’ of penniless and semi-clad refugees crossing over to Amritsar,” she says. Tehmi is a frail and quiet lady today. She will complete her 100 years in January 2006, and so far she has been abstaining from medicines, says her favourite granddaughter Shirin Tehmina Bhandari. Born in a rich, conservative Parsi family in 1906, Tehmi continues to live in the city, though her children are abroad. She was the second child in a family of five sisters and a brother. Her father, Adeshwar Bogga, was the owner of ice factories in Amritsar and Ludhiana. She had rebelled when it was unheard of a girl not conforming to social norms. She is a woman who has been much ahead of her times. Perhaps, she was the first woman to own and drive a car. She drove it herself for her sojourns to Lahore and back. Her uncle, Rustomjee Mulhaferot, always chaperoned and accompanied her and later bequeathed to her the sprawling mansion at the cantonment as he died issueless. Owning a Lincoln 12-cylinder car in the mid- 1930s, she used to drive in the open car to Lahore. She shopped at Anarkali, went for silent movies, and after coffee at Fallty’s Restaurant, which is still in Lahore, returned to Amritsar before the “forbidden hour”. She was lovingly called “guldasta” by her friends and admirers, among whom were writer Mulk Raj Anand, and Surjit Singh Majithia, who went on to become Deputy Defence Minister of India in 1958. While she was studying for her Masters in English at Khalsa College, Amritsar, she fell in love with a Hindu gentleman Padam Chand Bhandari and married him. He was an executive officer (EO) in the Improvement Trust. She says, “The famous ‘Bhandari Bridge’ was named after my husband in 1954. He had executed the marvellous vision of a multi-lane bridge, a modern concept of a flyover, which connected the walled city areas with the Civil Lines.” Ostracised by many, including family and friends, for a love marriage, and that, too, outside her community, Tehmi had to fend for herself and her family after her husband died when she was just 48. She had three daughters and a son to look after. Undeterred, she rose to the challenge and converted her palatial “red bougainvillea home” into a guesthouse with the help of an engineer D.D. Kaila. She became the first woman in these parts to run a business. To ward off unwanted attention, she took on a tough demeanour. She says she had to use “abusive” language so that she could protect her own self and her children. Four years after losing her first husband, she remarried at a time when remarriage of widows was unheard of. She married D.D. Kaila, an engineer, who provided the transport and conveyance service to her guest house. In 1962 during the Chinese aggression, the flow of tourists lessened and Tehmi’s business suffered. The 1965 Indo-Pak War, too, took its toll. She lost her second husband to a heart attack just before the Indo-Pak War of 1971. Family and friends urged her to move to a safer place, but she preferred to complete her swimming pool. The decade-long terrorism in the 1980s caused loss to her business. She struggled to maintain her guesthouse for more than ten long years. There’s yet another Parsi family in the city. This family of Keccki Kawasji has only one surviving member here, while their only daughter Shirin has migrated to the US. Baktwar Bhuller Khambatta, an international discus and shot put thrower, also a Parsi by birth, has been staying in the city for many years. She is in Amritsar by virtue of her posting here as a senior Railways officer married to Manjit Bhuller, an international hockey player. Interestingly, most of these Parsis can speak fluent Punjabi! Play of elements Strangely, in the city all Parsis have been following the practice of burying the dead, despite their religion forbidding the “defilement” of elements like fire and earth. Burial has been chosen over cremation as the Parsis are considered to be the sun or fire worshippers. Tehmi Bhandari has expressed her desire to be buried in the Parsi cemetery here after being cremated according to the Hindu rites. Her children have promised to carry out her last wish. Mini Bogga, a Parsi who lost her claim to the Parsi community by marrying a Canadian, has pledged to be buried here and has even prepared her gravestone. Survival versus success The 2001 Census reveals that the Parsi community in India collectively stands at 69,601 heads (33949 males and 35652 females) — down from 76,382 in 1991. According to the Delhi Parsi Anjuman, in 2003, the number of the recorded Parsi births in the city was two, while the number of deaths was eight. Worse, only 4.7 per cent Parsis fall in the 0-6 age bracket — to the national average of 15.9. The number of Parsis is reducing every year, it’s a “dying community”. Sooni Taraporevala, a scriptwriter and photographer, writes in her book “Zoroastrians of India: Parsis”, “By the year 2020, India will be with 1,200 million people, while Parsis will number 23,000 or 0.0002 per cent of the population.”

Tapeworm infection

Cases of tapeworm infection on rise
By Rashmi Talwar
There has been an alarming rise in the number of tapeworm infection cases in the city in the recent months. The disease manifests itself in epilepsy-like seizures when the worm settled in the brain releases certain toxins, causing severe trauma to the patient. According to Dr Prabjit Singh, a neurologist with Escorts Multi-Speciality Hospital and Adlakha Hospital, 2-3 cases were being reported in both these hospitals daily. The neurologist said he had treated almost 100 cases in the last six months. The medication for the disease needed to continue for two years to eradicate the worm from the body, he added. The worm completes its cycle in the pig. The faecal matter or stool of pork/ pig-meat consumer carries the worm to the sewerage. The water contaminated by this kind of sewerage disposal is mostly used to irrigate fields. The worm then settles in vegetable leaves. The neurologist, who had undertaken research in this field in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, says, “Cabbage is the most vulnerable to house this worm. Since the vegetable is used in raw in salads and fast foods much washing, the worm continues to subsist in its womb. The consumer of the infected cabbage thus gets infected when the worm lodges itself in the intestines, he adds. “The worm can also affect any and multiple muscles in the body and cause seizures, frequent headaches and loss of vision when lodged in the eye. The disease is referred to as Nuero-Cysti-Cercosis (NCC) in medical terms, which also manifests itself as frequent body aches and swellings under the skin.” The life cycle of the worm can only be cut by controlling the population of pigs, hygienic disposal of faecal waste and checking samples of pork sellers, say experts. The farmers too need to be made aware of not irrigating their fields with untreated water, they add.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

PM's childhood friend in Pakistan awaits visa to meet him

PM's childhood friend in Pakistan awaits visa to meet him Rashmi Talwar in Pakistan meets PM's friend ..........with Pix Lahore (Pakistan )February 27, 2007--------- Even as India and Pakistan struggle to achieve sustainable peace it is still not easy for a common man to get visa to each others country --be it the PM's childhood friend.... Raja Mohammed Ali (75) a schoolmate friend of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh from his ancestral village 'Gah' the birthplace of Prime Minister in Pakistan is longing to meet his childhood friend but is awaiting his visa for travel to India . Having studied with the Dr Manmohan Singh from class I to IV, Mohammed is restless to convey his desperation to meet his friend ever since they heard the first radio announcement declaring him PM of India in 2004. Before that the villagers never came to know the fate of the 'Kohli' family who had left the village well before partition , says Mohammed as he expresses his ignorance over Dr Manmohan's stint as Finance minister. The first words Mohammed uttered when he met this Amritsar resident --a place where Dr Manmohan Singh grew up --was "sadey Mohney ney jutti pai key nahi" (Did Our Mohna wear the shoes or not) made me wonder what he was talking about till he explained that he had sent a "tilley walli jutti" as a present to PM who had a childhood nickname 'Mohna'. Reminiscing the celebration in the ancestral village when Dr Manmohan Singh became the 17th PM of India Mohammed says "the whole village was agog with cries of "sada Mohna Hindustan da wazir-e-azam ban gaya "..... The same year the blessings continued as the village was declared a model village by Pakistan government. Hiding his overwhelming joy and nervousness Mohammed almost six feet tall, turned-out in his best 'wasket' and salwar kameez complete with a turban, shyly says—"I had especially come to meet the Indian Jatha that arrived in Katasraj with help from the only Hindu member of Zila council of Chakwal district, Pakistan Mr. Ravinder Kumar Chibber" and added "I was hoping to meet someone from Amritsar the hometown of PM". Recalling the time when he sent a "Tilley wali Jutti" to the PM with the 29-member delegation of Pakistan local council that crossed over to India in August the same year (2004) Mohammed said joyfully, “I had made the estimate of his (PM’s) foot-size from his television appearances that we collected together to watch in houses of friends and relatives in adjoining townships". Mohammed who lived merely 100 yards from Mohna's house says after 'Mohna' became PM he (PM) wrote to him asking about their "only girl" classmate Baqt Bano. She was the only daughter of her parents and since there were no sons to send to school, therefore her father had enrolled her in school where she became 'special' with all boy classmates, recalled Mohammed shyly. "I was distraught to tell the PM that she had died years ago and was married to one Khizar Hayat. And it was touching to note that 'Mohna' wrote back to the aggrieved family expressing his condolences on the demise of 'Bano'. Mohna called me 'Ali' and we were zamidaars while Mohna's family were dry fruit agents in Gallah mandi... "Mohna was very fond of marbles, gulli danda and often we used to play kabbadi ", recalls Mohammed. Ravinder Kumar who had accompanied Mohammed and claims to be from the family of Bhai Mati Das of Delhi who was beheaded with an 'arra' as he defied Aurangzeb and fearlessly propagated Sikhism said, that the 'village 'Gah' that falls in his district declared model village was now being inter-chained with the main Motorway to Islamabad . The school at which the PM studied was being renamed as "Manmohan Singh High School" He further informed that the Kohli Family's kachcha house was washed away; a remaining structure is being renovated. "The only girls' school is being upgraded, also a guest house and rural health centre have been established while the roads of the village have been metalled", he added. Interestingly, the schoolmate has also kept a carefully laminated photocopy of the primary village school register in which the name of Dr Manmohan Singh is written in Urdu son of Mr. Gurmukh Singh. His admission in Class I was recorded in 1937. The date of birth is registered as February 4, 1932 (4-2-1932) and the admission date is March 31, 1941 (31-3-1941). Mohammed said that along with him there were three other classmates of Manmohan Singh namely Ghulam Mohammed , Shah Wali Khan and Mohammed Ashraf and all were eagerly awaiting his arrival in their village to give him a "King's welcome" ......................................eom......................

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


email rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

New York May 15, 2007 ---------
-Sylvia Alexander took a ladle full of the batter and swished it onto a hotplate, expertly scrapping the extra batter with few drops of oil to make it ultra slim and rolled the golden DOSA. So far the dosa was Indian until she started filling in Smoked Turkey, with spinach, Jack Cheese and balsamic roasted onions on to it. Sylvia is a Trinidad/Tobago national and head chef at the famous Hampton chutney Co-- that has revolutionized the Indian dosa/uttapum into an American specialty and now Dosa and Uttapam are truly set to go ‘GLOBAL ’. ----------
. Giving apt competition to Pizzas, hot-dogs and Burgers a chain of three joints by the same company came up in last five years in New York at Amagansett in the long Island borough , another at the hip SoHo district and yet another at upstate West side and became hot on the gourmet lists in USA.
An American couple Gary and Isabel Mac Gurn started this extraordinary foray into essentially Indian cuisine and Americanized it with their indigenous fillings. Recalling their first meeting Isabel said they met each other at the kitchens of Siddha Yoga Meditation ashram in Ganeshpuri, India and loved dosas and dreamt of opening a Dosa/Uttapam joint back home in America. Having done seva - selfless service - in the ashram kitchen for nearly 6-years where devotees from all over India and around the world cooked for hundreds of people, Isabel says we learned the perfect art of dosa making and started small in 1987, by making Indian chutneys combining it with American ingredients and supplied them first to food markets in Hampton and then on to bigger markets --Fairways, Zabars, Balducci's and others in NYC.
''The chutneys turned into a big hit and subsequently we pooled in money, took small loans and approached a friend to rent a place and opened our first joint in Amagansett NY. Gary made the first dosas and uttapams and I served the customers! ", recalled Isabel with a smile.
After tandoori tikkas made famous by former US president Bill Clinton and Chinese cuisine that caught on to the world palate in its indigenous forms now it’s the turn of “new avatar ” of this Indian dish to go universal, she added. It is not surprising then that at no time of the day or night the place is empty. People of all nationalities flock to taste the dosa /uttapam or the even the fruit flavoured –'LASSIS ' in New York
The fillings indeed are extraordinary and unheard of --sample a dosa with - Calamata Olives, Arugula, Goat Cheese, Grilled Chicken, Roasted Peppers, balsamic roasted onions, grilled portobello mushrooms, spinach, scrambled eggs, jack cheese , avocado, Tuna fish, Cilantro Chutney Dressing or roasted tomato . "Many of our innovative customers enjoy using hands and 'finger- licking' techniques when we guide them to the best way to eat dosas ,' laughs Isabel .
Of course one can match the cuisine with another indigenous preparation of the Indian "lassi" with flavors of mango, strawberry or peach or even Indian 'chai' or special south Indian cardamom coffee . kiddies too have their special menus with avocado, grilled chicken , scrambled eggs or smoked turkey all combined with jack cheese .
Interestingly not a single Indian is among the entire set of chefs and other staff that prepare and serve this Indian cuisine. To which Isabel smiled and said they advertise for help not for nationalities!
On tapping an absolutely unexploited territory Isabel and Gary said –' we were confident to make a mark! "And our concoctions are definitely changing America's perception of traditional chutneys and other cuisines"!
Appreciably the joint has taken upon itself to educate people with a guided tour of their five flavours of famous chutneys through a maze of foods and sandwiches and suggests them to be eaten with varied combinations that are mostly and absolutely "un-Indian"!
Like 'cilantro' or green chutney with shrimp, chicken/ fish or advised to be added to black beans for quesadilla filling, folded into tuna fish or dip for tortilla chips.
While the 'mango' chutney is supposed to taste best with seafood/ lamb / pork!! The nuttiness of 'peanut' chutney with roasted chicken, soba noodles, stir fried or steamed vegetables, grilled shrimp or pretzels. The 'pumpkin' concoction with roast turkey or bagel or 'curry' chutney for marinating chicken, vegetables, shrimp or lobster and 'tomato' chutney adding zip to pasta !
What clinches the choice in their favour from rival eateries of pizza, hot dog or burger joints is the nutrition information that claims 189 calories for plain dosa /uttapum with carbo at 36 g and protein at 5g!
Gary and Isabel have however not forgotten their roots of learning as could be seen with 'Om Namah Shivaya' written in bold letters with pictures of gods and goddesses decorated with peacock feathers, a shivling, an oil glass chimney lamp serving as diya, on an embellished red prayer cloth in the special corner. The rest of the restaurant has copper wall ledges and bar stools for seating !
Devotional chants playing in the background that spells out the calming atmospheric ambience consonant with India . The fact that 'no' beef is used in the fillings and Isabel dressing up in a saree on some special occasions is something that totally keeps them grounded to their guru.
Joanne, a customer aptly describes the experience 'Though I loved the non- vegetarian dosa, I did walk away feeling a bit weird - the non-veg options seemed a bit of out character with the rest of the vibe. I always thought that a vegetarian diet went hand in hand with yoga and a more tapasic lifestyle. I guess I'm wrong'
Rashmi Talwar is a freelance writer for special magazine section of "The Tribune"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


By Rashmi Talwar

A panoramic view of seven Shiv temples which are without idols and ‘kalash’ (elongated tip of the dome), in Katasraj. — photo by Rashmi Talwar
Katasraj (Pakistan ), March 13, 2005
-------------The holy Katasra in Pakistan, considered the second holiest shrine for Hindus after ‘Jwalamukhi’ in undivided Punjab, is connected with ancient temples of Lord Shiva and the Pandavas. It is also known for the little known Buddhist stupa and historic ‘haveli’ of Hari Singh Nalwa, general of the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is facing a threat of pollution in its “unsullied” mountainous air and its natural pure water springs and water bodies due to cement factories being allowed by the government .
Three cement factories are operational and three more are in the offing in the nearby area of Choa Saidan Shah, 3 or 4 km from the historic shrines. According to sources, ‘Bestway Constructions’, ‘DG Cement’ and ‘Chakwal Cement’ concerns are in the pipeline.
Locals here who mainly have meagre sources of income from farming-related activities, mining and industrial labour and public sector are sore over the alleged acquisition of their land by private cement moghuls due to abundance of limestone and other raw material for cement.
Last month, a protest was launched by locals that forced the companies to assure them employment and to take anti-pollution measures. Experts feel that the assurances were merely lip service and the effects could contaminate the water that flowed from the holy sarovar of Katasraj and was supplied to some 40 villages in the vicinity, besides other water sources.
Apprehensions have also surfaced over the marine life and natural habitat that has hundreds of migratory birds, besides peacocks, in ‘Kallar Kalar’ nearby, encompassing the composite beauty of the holy area to be affected.
A cement factory already exists at Tatral village near here. The shrines are devoid of much vegetation and a holy ‘Shisham’ tree that legend states was half burnt and half green, is a mute spectator to ruin of these shrines .
The development work sanctioned by the federal Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs with a grant of Rs 2 crore for the site has invited doubt from the Hindu jathas visiting here. New construction of concrete steps and guest house adjoining one of the ancient structures were pointed out as eyesores, incompatible with the ancient architecture, a majority of which is known to be influenced in a unique blend of Kashmiri and Gandhara tradition, according to some experts.
Jatha leader Prof Krishan Chand had suggested that development should be in congruity with shrines and modification of existing new structures could be taken into account. Lt-Gen Zulfiqar Ali Khan (retd), chairman of Evacuee Trust Property Board, when asked about cement factories, said he was not aware of the development. Katasraj is also connected to Alberuni, a famous muslim scientist and explorer who learned Sanskrit here and performed experiments.
Mr Ravinder Kumar Chibber, the only Hindu member, zila council of Chakwal, said a joint committee needed to be set up for the maintenance , renovation , restoration and upkeep of this sacred historic site.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Katasraj (Pakistan ) February 2007 ----

KATASRAJ(PAKISTAN) March 26, 2007 ------------
For many of those who had devotedly participated part in 'Mahashivratri Puja' at the holy Katasraj shrines in district Chakwal of Pakistan for a number of years, the sight of defacement, decaying temples, missing idols ,doors and Kalash-- that had been cut from the tops of temple structures) had been extremely painful . They had seen the leaders of their Jathas to Pakistan handing over printed copies of demands for maintenance, conservation of these structures and environs of immense historical and religious value, but were crestfallen over mere assurances year after year.
However a ray of hope shone for the first time this year as the religious Puja at Katasraj and at Krishan temple –the only one left in Lahore, were conducted amongst idols of Lord Shiva's family and Lord Krishna and Radha respectively, were installed for the first time in 60 years of Indo-Pak partition.
The idols were allowed to be carried across the Radcliff line for the first time in the Samjhauta Express ---considered as a train of emotions between the two countries --.just days before the ghastly blasts in Samjhauta that took away innocent lives and left behind heart-rending tales of separation, loss and destruction.
With one eye on forging and fostering religious tolerance and the other on the immense potential of tourism, this time the Pakistan government seems to be serious. Apart from handing over the project's reins to Directorate of Archeology ( DoA) of the provincial Government from the Department of Archeology & Museums , Government of Pakistan , a massive outlay of Rs 108.107 million Pakistani rupees (roughly $1.8 million) for conservation, restoration , beautification of the shrines besides civic facilities has been demarcated . "It is the biggest amount to have been sanctioned for any religious project in Pakistan", says Orya Mqbool Jan Abbasi, Director General DoA.
A whirlwind 17-day survey led by DG , along with Mr Shahbaz Khan Director DoA besides others to various religious shrines in India including Akshardham Mandir , Delhi, Ajanta –Ellora caves, Mandirs in Varanasi, Jaipur , Bikaner , Mathura too have been seen as part of project for conservation in a study of structures and architecture of that Era to be replicated for some structures and frescoes facing decay.
However Pakistan is overtly skeptical of carrying on the conservation and restoration 'alone' without the help of Indian experts, as fears of hurting religious sentiments cannot be dispelled.
Rightly so, as Brij Mohan Gupta president of Hindu Council , UK(who was on visit to Katasraj ) raised objections on the use of word "death" for 'Sati' --wife of Lord Shiva with Sardar Gulam Abbas District Nazim Chakwal and asked for a favorable way to describe the demise of gods and goddesses .
There is merely a trickle of Hindus left in this district of Punjab and no one knows any the better about religious customs and traditions, exclaimed Ravinder Kumar Chibber the lone Hindu member of district council, Chakwal.
If the claims of Orya Maqbool of preparation of 250- page dossier on Katasraj to be submitted in a few years for recognition as World Heritage Site are to be believed the vision could gladden many a hearts across the border in India . However Orya says the structures need to be first fortified and strengthened.
Presently hectic activity was seen in the precincts of the shrines with fencing by grills of the periphery. Embankment has been constructed on one side of the sacred Sarovar with grills on the opposite side and a water channel.
CHAUDHARY SHUJAAAT HUSSAIN FORMER PM PAKISTAN "Our aim is to restore the ancient structures to their former glory" Chaudhary shujaat Hussain former Prime Minister and president of the Muslim League party announced at the civic reception to hindu pilgrims at Katasraj .
"no modern building material like iron , cement etc would be used in keeping with the character of essence of the ancient structures that were mostly built using lime with corbelled stones and bricks says Orya while giving a breakup of the fund to be spent ."it is a three year project with the first phase currently on at the outlay of Rs 63.650 million rupees for the conservation and preservation of Satgarha temples , Shiv temples , Gen Hari Singh Nalwa's Haveli , Ram Chandra temple , Hanuman temple , library building besides fortification of wall , reconstruction of Buddhist stupa , landscaping, establishing a museum and detailed documentation of site .
while the second phase at rs 26 .816 million rupees entails civil works of public facilities, reception block , guest house, toilets residences and fencing of area . a sum of Rs 10.500 is to be spent in the final phase of de-silting the sacred Sarovar , embankment , storm channels and removing the pumping chamber .
No one however uttered any word over the large scale emergence of cement factories near the shrine that could be cause for large-scale pollution in the area or the heavy electrical cable wires that cross over the sacred structures. Katasraj is facing a discomforting predicament of pollution of its “unsullied” mountainous air, its natural pure water springs and water bodies, say experts in Pakistan.
Meanwhile it is indeed sad to note that no one among the pilgrims raised any concern over the conservation of the Loh (son of Lord Rama ) Samadhi –the founder of Lahore city-- housed in a descript room at the Shahi Killa Lahore that is recognized as a world heritage site even as Lahore is enroute to the Katasraj shrines.
Legends of Katasraj Shrine : Katasraj is considered second holiest pilgrimage for Hindus in north India
after ‘Jawalmukhi’ temple. The shrines connected with Shiva and ‘Pandavas’ of epic era of Mahabharata holds much sanctity even after partition of the country wherein the shrines became part of Pakistan in west Punjab. (PIC 1.)
‘Amar Kund’(holy sarovar) a huge sweet water spring with its crystal clear water flows at Katasraj , to fulfill water demands of 40 villages. At present, the Kund is unfortunately narrowing down and is infested by algae. Failure to de-silt it may eventually lead it into a marsh. (PIC 2)
Already in ruinous state, locals further vandalized the shrines in the aftermath of Babri masjid demolition in 1993. Consequently all idols in temples here are missing and ‘kalash’ (elongated tip of the domes) destroyed.
According to stone plaque by the government of Pakistan at the site, the mention of Katas is found in epic Mahabharta written in 300BC. The etymology of this place is mentioned in old edition “Tarikh –E –Jhelum” according to which lord Shiva wept on death of his beloved wife sati and two holy ponds emerged from his tears .one at ‘Pushkar’ in Ajmair, India and other at Kataksh’--believed to be two ‘netras’ of lord Shiva .
Heroes of Mahabharata the Pandav brothers spent 12 years of their exile here and built the “Satgarha" temples. The questioning session between eldest Pandav brother Yudhistra and the Yaksha also took place here. (PIC 3)
Another legend mentions an ancient ‘Sheesham’ tree that stood here half burnt and half green.
A legend connects it this to a meditating Rishi Chawan on the banks of Amar Kund whose body was covered with mud termite house, a chance piercing by stick by young lass led to blood flowing from the eyes of rishi who cursed her with marriage to him for disrupting his meditation, ultimately turning into a young man.
Locals say that violation of the Kund had led to severe floods in 1960s. Another connection to Katasraj is that this is the place where Al-Barunni-- the Arab explorer measured the circumference of the earth as mentioned on the plaque.
At present the site is under the archaeological department of Pakistan notified in 1956 and excavation was in progress.<br> There are seven Shiva shrines and an equal number of satgarh shrines (‘Sat’—seven Garh—shrines) believed to be built by Pandavs in Kashmiri and Gandhara tradition learnt to be of the Hindushahiya period (650-950 AD) (PIC 4) Distributed over a vast expanse of area through which a road passes now. A once palatial Haveli of Hari Singh Nalwa a general in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh,
which too stands in ruins.
Gen Nalwa was given governorship of North West Frontier province and Afghanis still remember him with fear, say some old locals. No mention is made about this historical Haveli by the archaeological department in the plaque defining the history of the place. (PIX 5-6)
Also missing is the mention of a ‘Buddhist Stupa’ nearly 200 feet high that lies in shambles , according to Dr Muner Chand general secretary of Krishna temple in Lahore who accompanied this correspondent and some experts -- The temples of the Salt Range are the missing link between end of Buddhism and rise of Islam in subcontinent.(PIC 7)
An agreement made in 1955 by Ghazafar Ali Khan –the first Pakistan ambassador to India agreed on the first Hindu yatra to Katasraj in 1956 but was cancelled merely 12 days before scheduled visit. The story of agreement and cancellation was repeated in 1960 and again in 1979. In 1982 the first Hindu jatha visited the shrines, 35 years after partition. The jathas were stopped due to several hitches including Kargil War , the Indo-Pak stand-off after attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 and restarted in 2003 when conditions eased a little between both countries.
Rashmi Talwar Writer is freelance journalist with The Tribune Email rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com, rashno1@hotmail.com

Rashmi Talwar