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Roundabout: Wazirabad, its Ammi Huzoor and her lost Sikh and Hindu friends

A little girl in a lehnga was waiting at the gate in excitement. On seeing us, she ran inside to her grandmother saying “Ammi-ammi, mehman aaye ne. Hindu aaye ne.”

columns Updated: Aug 20, 2017 11:59 IST
Wazirabad,Communal harmony,Akram Varraich
‘Guru da Kotha’, a gurdwara built during the time of Guru Arjan Dev at Wazirabad.(HT Photo)

It was Eid-ul-Zuha in the February of 2004 and a friend and I were driven to Wazirabad to the home of painter-photographer Akram Varraich. A little girl in a lehnga was waiting at the gate in excitement. On seeing us, she ran inside to her grandmother saying “Ammi-ammi, mehman aaye ne. Hindu aaye ne.” The child’s reference to us as ‘Hindu’ made us feel like some extinct species, which perhaps we were to this child who had never seen one of such ‘kind’ before.

Ammi, a towering matriarch, welcomed us into her house which soon became a home for us too in the rather obscure Wazirabad, on the banks of Chenab, known for manufacturing knives and scissors, besides being the birthplace of poet Kumar Vikal. Ammi’s name was Hameeda Begum.

While the daytime was spent visiting the sites Akram felt would interest us, in the evenings, Ammi would tell us stories of her childhood and youth and her lost Sikh and Hindu friends.

Hameeda Begum. (HT Photo)

Hameeda was born in 1930 as the eldest daughter of Karam Rasool of Chak 71 near Sargodha. Her youthful tales would remind one of the times Krishna Sobti’s novel ‘Zindaginama’ is set in and the lost composite culture of Punjab. “All of us lived so happily and it never occurred to us that there was any difference between us. “Four Muslim homes of Muslim landowners were on one side and four homes of Sardar landowners on the other. In the centre was a bricked courtyard. At night, water would be sprinkled and members of all the eight homes would spread their cots and sleep in the cool open air.”

She also recalled a Hindu chacha whom they would tease saying that they would defile the sacred water he carried in a pitcher to the temple and he would laugh and scold the girls gently. Her description of the common agrarian festival of Baisakhi was vivid. The courtyard was the place for the celebrations and all the families would bring the festive goodies and the eldest son of each household would be fed first and then all would taste the special fare.

Just a few days ago, there was a cry on the Facebook of Akram saying ‘Ammi is gone’ and then a picture of her grave strewn with rose petals. “Ammi,” said Akram, “did not accept Partition till the very end”. Ammi had gone but not without instilling a deep love for the neighbours who fled in 1947. I recall Akram showing us ‘Guru da Kotha’, a picturesque gurdwara built in the time of Guru Arjan Dev which later gave shelter to the Punjabis who fled from the other side of the border. And sobbing, he told us that some 100 Sikhs and Hindus who had collected there for safety were slaughtered by the rioters and no one was pronounced guilty.

Wazirabad was also the town that did not allow angry mobs to demolish the old Hindu temple in the Bazaar after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Akram’s buddy, a singer and lover of Sufi poetry, was the counsellor who resisted the attempt by guarding the place saying, “Poor people now live here and I will not allow them to be rendered homeless.” There were other stories there and one was of a Hindu shopkeeper who had stayed on by converting to Islam. But the villagers felt that he was still a Hindu at heart even though he kept saying ‘Ya Allah’. Akram recalled that he would feed birds grain and when his funeral procession moved through the town there were birds flying overhead.

Bemoaning the loss of his mother who came to Wazirabad as a bride at the age of 16 in 1946 . Ammi had gone to her paternal village in the rainy season and met all her friends but in a month all was lost. “With Ammi goes our connection with a way of life that came so naturally to Punjab,” says Akram. Perhaps it is not gone for many persons this side are feeling the loss of a grand woman, as the eyes stare at a print of Akram’s beautiful painting of ‘Guru da Kotha’.

First Published: Aug 20, 2017 11:57 IST