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November 19, 2020

Haunting impressions of history

Islamabad

November 19, 2020

Islamabad : Somebody has really taken good care of this small piece of heritage of Rawalpindi, reminding us of the days when Rawalpindi used to be a small town, or probably just a big village, inhabited mainly by Sikh and Hindus with a small population of Muslims as well.

The chronicles tell us that there were times under the Sikh rule in this part of the then India Rawalpindi had a small population of not more than a few thousand people! Till the time the British decided to make it a major garrison for their advances up north.

One can still find such high and wide entrance gates in old villages of Punjab that lead to a vast compound fringed with homes and a common sprawling open area in the middle, called ‘vehda’ in Punjabi. Usually in such abodes families belonging to one particular race or tribe lived together, in most of the cases over 12 households or even more.

On both sides of this gate used to be elevated platforms with two or three steps to climb, which were always occupied by elders of families.

As the able bodied men and youngsters would lead their animals out of such gates to go to their fields for the day or take out goats, sheep for grazing, these elders would take their posts here on these platforms on both sides, smoking ‘huqa’, playing ‘12 goti’, discussing family matters, talking about crops while keeping a close watch as to who is going out or coming in!

It always served as a ‘Baithak’ as well as an ‘Observation Post’!

A look at this gate somewhere deep down in Rawalpindi’s Gawalmandi area reminds one of home back in village but with a difference. This entrance gate apparently leads into a small town as one can see the spire of a temple down the narrow alley and was not the entrance of a gated community alone.

It seems that while the big cities like Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur and others in Punjab had big and prominent gates, the ones in Rawalpindi were not as big because it was not a big city in those days. One can imagine how life would have been here back in past, probably well over a century ago at least.

The marble plaques inscribed with probably Gurmukhi and Hindi languages remind one of the people who had once inhibited this place. The one in English and Urdu language seems to be a later edition. The street running down with rusty brick houses on both sides still seems to be same as it must have been in those days.

One can visualize in one’s mind how elders would have been sitting on the raised platforms on both sides of this gate, performing the same rituals one can still observe in some villages in Punjab. But the pleasant thing to look at this picture is that these plaques in Gurmukhi and Hindi (may be Sanskrit) are still intact.

We believe there will be many more such historic gates and streets with such inscriptions from the past in old part of Rawalpindi. Only if one can preserve these relics of history and turn these into tourist sites. Who knows with some many Sikh pilgrims coming to Pakistan, not only from India but from all over the world, somebody might come over looking for their ancestor’s place!