Guest post by S A J Shirazi
Pass the River Chanab and one starts thinking of romantic folklore Sohni Mahiwal, the last and decisive battle fought between British and Sikh forces, the saints who left their marks in this part of the world, micro encephalic children called 'Daulay Shah k Choohay' (rats of Shah Daula) or world class industries that are Gujrat’s claims to fame. But what you see while travelling on Grand Trunk Road passing through Gujrat is the nerve jarring rattle of auto rickshaws, tangle of tongas and donkey carts vying for space with mechanical transport, vendors and shoppers and second hand cloths (landa) hung on the walls. Even the lately built bypass is as crowded and encroached upon.
History has it that Gujrat was founded by Bacchan Pal who migrated from the Ganga valley and settled in Jhelum and Chenab corridor in 460 BC. Later, Raja Bhadar Sen’s wife Rani Gujjran rebuilt the old city and gave it the name of Gujjar Nagar but General Cunningham I of the opinion that Ali Khan who was the chief of the Gujjar clan rebuilt Gujjar Nagar that was later destroyed by Shankar Verma between 888 and 901 AD. Mehmood Ghaznavi during his sixth attempt also invaded and destroyed the city. Gujrat was again rebuilt by Bhalole Lodhi in 1453 AD. During Mughal era, King Akbar laid the foundation for Gujrat city in 1580 and appointed Dasnat Roy and Wazir Khan Mughal to supervise the construction work. Another historian Ganesh Das Wadera in his book Chahar Bagh Punjab says that Gujrat was founded in 1589 and Nadir Shah destroyed the city in 1738. Ahmed Shah Durrani subdued Gujrat in 1741 and appointed Muqarrab Khan as its governor. After that Kaka Singh, Charhat Singh and Gujjar Singh ruled Gujrat from 1765 to 1787. Mahraja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab, captured Gujrat in 1810 and carried out some renovation in the city in 1835.
Now that glorious history part out of the way, roam around the city and one can see, like almost anywhere in Pakistan, the depilated relics of Gujrat Fort and various other buildings like the public bath known as Akbari Hamam constructed near the fort are fast facing extinction. The preservation of the rich heritage doesn’t seem to be on a priority of Archaeology Department or the city government.
From an ancient town to present day market city, Gujrat is changing slowly. To-ing and fro-ing, at time zigzagging, Gujrat introduces to wonders and legions of what may be called as middle ground of cultural fusion of the present Punjab. Two things are clear, One, that Gujrat has matured as an industrial city, that wood, lather and fan merchandize can be seen going out from here. Secondly, with the establishment of a world class public sector university in 2004, the only one between Lahore and Rawalpindi, the city is attracting large population of academics and students from all over Pakistan. The unprecedented growth of the student body in the University of Gujrat shows that the University was much needed in industrial triangle of Gujranwala, Gujrat and Sialkot.
That is, combination of its student body (over 10,000), internationally qualified staff including alumnae of University of Chicago and University of Michigan (20 PhDs, 80 MPhils 253 MScs and 10 more PhDs as visiting faculty members) and a purpose built campus promises a great deal in provision of new research facilities and higher education in a country where both are very much needed.
Sitting on the central citadel near tomb of Hafiz Muhammad Hayat in the middle of the University of Gujrat, one can see the wish of saint Hafiz Muhammad Hayat coming true. Legend has it that saint Hafiz Muhammad Hayat came to Wazirabad from Delhi during the Mughal rule. Here, he met another saint Hazrat Baqi Shah, who asked him to cross the river Chanab and settle near the fort of Raja Kaladhvi. The mound on which he settled belonged to the Raja and was surrounded by a dense forest. The Mughal administrators of that time granted him several acres of land which the saint donated for the cause of education and prayed that this place become a seat of learning one day. Named after the saint, the main campus of the University has been constructed on that very land donated by Hafiz Muhammad Hayat more than three centuries ago. Spread over 200 acres of land, the University campus has been artistically designed and looks very aesthetic. As an emerging cultural hub, the University has FM radio station and a daily newspaper and a TV channel are in the offing. You leave G T Road near Service Chowk to reach the University.
I have known Service Chowk all my adult life and have cluster of memories is attached to the place. In route to my home (historic battleground of Alexander and King Porus village Mong), Service Chowk is a wonderful place with its unique character. The Chowk has developed into a shopping centre for the passengers and folks from nearby villages. Transport to different villages in suburbs of Gujrat pass from here. Every time, day and night, the shops play music. People coming from all around the district to attend to their business in District Courts stop here, shave, take bath in one of those Garam Hamams and move on. They also buy whatever they have to take back home from here.
Going to the University from Service Chowk, you have to muscle your way through the waves of tongas, rickshaws and animal drawn carts till you cross District Courts. From there travel 15 kilometers on Jalalpur Jattan Road till the University. Gujrat is a last fertile district before expanse of Punjab transform into low hills known as the Pabbi. Commute on a single way metallic Jalalpur Jattan Road, plied mainly by overloaded old vintage busses, tractors, animal transport and milkmen on the motorbikes. Besides driving slowly, close to the edge of road and avoiding tractors with overloaded trolleys behind, you ride through endless expanses of waving crops of different shades of color, out of which the small villages and deras seem to rise like islets in an ocean of green. After the harvest all is changed: the dull brown of the fields is relieved by the trees, solitary or in groves and avenues.
When you travel on one rural road in Punjabi, you have travelled on all, except Jalalpur Jattan Road. Establishment of University on the road has given a new surge to construction along the road. Traffic on the road is growing and so are the encroachments. May be the University of Gujrat should be given another approach road direct from G T Road one day.
This article also appeared in the daily Nation, Feb 7, 2010