Continuing his journey along GT Road, Raza Ali Abidi reached the city of Allahabad at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna. The city was originally known as ‘Prayaga’ or the place of sacrifice, in memory of Lord Brahma’s sacrifice of his horse here. Akbar had renamed it Allahabad and had built a fort (which in 1985 was home to the Indian Army and, therefore, not open to public). It was also here that the Mughal King Shah Alam II had entered into an agreement with Robert Clive that changed the course of Indian history; and it was here that Nehru was born and received his earliest indoctrination in the ideals of Indian self-determination. Despite its many, equally fascinating facets, however, the city’s primary identity remains that of a place of pilgrimage for devout Hindus and a centre for academic excellence.
From Allahabad, Mr Abidi went to Banaras, arguably the oldest city in the world and famous for its ghats. Located at the banks of the Ganges, Banaras gets its name from the rivers Varuna and Assi, which meet the Ganges at this point. Attempts to change its name have never been successful: it was once renamed Mahmoodabad, but the name did not stick even for a day and Varanasi, too, is confined to official usage. Besides its temples, lights and exquisite saris, Banaras is also famous for being home to Agha Hashar Kashmiri — the famous Urdu poet and playwright who had created the legend of Anarkali; married the beautiful dancer Mukhtar Begum; and had given Indian and later Pakistani cinema some of their most enduring stories. His nephew was still residing in Banaras in 1985 and, in visiting him, Mr Abidi found himself transported to an era where the love of art still transcended all religious and social boundaries.
There was, however, not much time for nostalgia. Soon Mr Abidi hopped on a bus to Sasaram — the town in Bihar where Sher Shah was born and buried — mainly to visit Sher Shah’s tomb, which he discovered was not only as grand as any Mughal building but also located on an island in the middle of a large lake which seemed to emerge magically from the water itself. Upon enquiry, Mr Abidi was told that the credit for preserving the tomb was almost entirely due to one Mr Doobey, who had made it his life mission to ensure that Sher Shah (and by extension Sasaram) was given its due recognition. Ruminating on the devotion of a Hindu for a Muslim ruler, Mr Abidi started towards the original fort of Rohtas located in the mountains surrounding the town, which Sher Shah had not only conquered, but also cherished enough that hundreds of miles away, near the banks of River Jhelum, he had constructed another fort and named it Rohtas. Alas, his visit to the original Rohtas was not meant to be due to fear of dacoits, who were reputed to haunt the area.
Somewhat disappointed, Mr Abidi continued his journey towards Calcutta. En route, he pondered over the fate of many towns that had once lived and prospered along this road, but which, after the advent of the railroad in 1858, became relegated to history’s footnotes. He wondered if towns, like men, did not have their own destiny according to which they lived and died. Before long, however, Mr Abidi was in Calcutta and at the end of his journey. He marvelled at this city which was once the gateway to the British but which now seemed to be weighed down by history, population and sheer size. Meandering through mandirs, mosques and crowds of humanity, Mr Abidi finally reached the Botanical Gardens. When he went up to the guard to confirm whether or not the road ended there, the guard looked at him in surprise and said: “Ends? Array sahib this is where it begins”.
Mr Abidi turned away, suppressing perhaps a little smile, at the wisdom of Sher Shah who with the help of a little ambiguity had won hearts at either end of his domain and allowed his people to feel pride in, and ownership of, the road that passed through and connected their land.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2011.
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I commented on an observation made by @Vin. Please point out as what is so wrong in giving an opinion. Besides, the siphoning of money by eminent historians has extensive documented proof.
Please feel free to dispute the facts he presents, if you think they are falsified.
Your vitriolic rant against some of internatinaly reputed historians fail to add anything to the discourse. Abuse is no substitute for criticism. Though, I would agree, you are entitled to your opinion.
But that aside, since when Arun Shourie has become epitome of historical truth? However, I am amused by the idea of a columnist/op-ed writer (a very competent one at that) taking on historians (a specialist job) to expose something or any thing at all.
The secular stories were cooked up by eminent historians like Irfan Habib, Nurul Hasan and Romila Thapar who formed a coterie at ICHR and siphoned off lakhs of Indian Government funds in 1970's without doing an iota of work. Even when they work, they simply butter-up the lives of intolerant bigots like Aurangzeb so much that he would be drowning in butter in his after-life. Arun Shourie did a very good job of exposing these eminent secular historians. You should visit his blog sometime.
@Cynical: that's a great piece of mind reading, thank you :)
cynical I do like the movie monsoon wedding and actor Dubey acting its hillarious man ..
@Cynical, Yes i apperiasiate Mr Dubey for his great works to maintain sher shah suri tomb as a land mark for sasaram Bihar, but i forgot to mention Baberi Mosque on other hands distroyed by exremist Hindus and many more mosques in East punjab forgotten and even changed to some other used.
Upon enquiry, Mr Abidi was told that the credit for preserving the tomb was almost entirely due to one Mr Doobey, who had made it his life mission to ensure that Sher Shah (and by extension Sasaram) was given its due recognition. Ruminating on the devotion of a Hindu for a Muslim ruler,
This is where Pakistanis fail to understand India. Mr Dubey (that is how Indians write it) is just an Indian, a resident of Sasaram, trying to preserve a part of Indian history, which incidentally involves a ruler who happened to be a Muslim. And this not true of Sasaram alone. Just read reports of restoration of Ghalib's haveli in Delhi and look at the people who have made the effort.
forget those britishers and muslim rulers who invaded us by cheating or forcibly . Now It is our term to explore our full potential and dictate our own term. Just we have to take some nationalism within us....
@Vin I agree, He may not be true secular in today's sense, but he tried. The name of city is not Allaha-bad as spelled in english, it is ilaha bad. The name was given after Akbar started new religion with name deen-e-ilahi which was a mixture of various religions. In a sense he followed the Indian tradition by launching his new religion on the bank of holy river Ganga.
@Vin: Hahahaaa. I can't see an ordinary muslim who is secular, how can you expect secularism from a muslim wielding highest authority at that point in history. Secularism for muslims is only skin deep, means till they are not in power.
Thank you dear readers for traveling with me along G.T. Road. We have now reached the end of our journey, I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.
I thought Akbar was a staunch secular... but renaming Prayag to Allah-abad...and... Attempting to douse the eternal fire at Jwalamukhi temple in Himanchal...these two incidents of his cast a doubt on his secular credentials ...Thank you for the information...
@Amber Darr Excellent as always.Feel like I am actually visiting those places.
@Ali Tanoli Why this special salutation for Mr Doobey? I think I know the answer, but still would like to hear from you.
@Vijay K Actually GT Road was there even before Sher Shah, but covered a lesser distance compared to what it is today. Sher Shah should be credited for extention of the same and bringing improvement in conditions of both the road and facilities like sarais (present day motels) for the benefit of the travellers..
Wasn't the GT Road (Lahore to Calcutta) also built by Sher Shah? There are culverts on that road from that time which are still intact and taking the weight of lorries !
Great sher shah and amazing story like allways thank u maam. all ways something new to learn Mr Doobey zindabad.
Very nice and descriptive. Keep up the good work!