The Maharaja’s residence

Published: March 8, 2013
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The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society
salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

The writer is author, most recently, of The Apricot Road to Yarkand (Sang-e-Meel, 2011) and a member of the Royal Geographical Society salman.rashid@tribune.com.pk

In August 1991, when I first saw it, the house was in perfect fettle. This was surprising for it was constructed around the year 1830 and was then fully 160 years old. The marble plaque on the façade, fixed by some thoughtful British civil servant after the annexation of Punjab read, “Summer residence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, AD 1830-1837”.

Inspired by European architecture, the house was unlike a traditional vernacular residence. It had verandas on two sides with rooms on the remaining two and a central atrium. The side rooms and the verandas had lower roofs while that of the central foyer’s was higher. The rafters, door and window frames and every other timber fixture were first class teak.

The house sat on the east bank of the Chenab River, just outside Rasulnagar (Gujranwala district), right by the ancient ferry where a young Ranjit Singh had deprived the Afghans of the Zamzama that now sits outside Lahore Museum. Here, long after he had defeated the Afghans and put an end to their predatory raids, the Maharaja would have reposed with his customary glass of strong drink, watching the brown waters of the Chenab roll past forever and ever.

This house became part of my book Gujranwala: The Glory That Was (1992). It also featured in one of the episodes of my PTV documentary series “Nagri, nagri ghoom musafir” produced during 1998-1999. I returned to the house a number of times thereafter when I was pressing for it to be taken over by the district administration to turn it into a library or a museum so that it may be preserved forever.

But we, the people of Pakistan, have no connection with the dharti. We have severed the umbilical that would bond us with the motherland to give us a sense of belonging and pride. Without the connection, we drift aimlessly in a wasteland harbouring vague and false notions of Arab or Central Asiatic ancestry. The disconnect is so strong that nothing that belongs to this land turns us on. We simply do not care.

Last August, I returned to Rasulnagar again to digitally preserve Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s house. What I beheld left me in tears. The house that had withstood every vagary of nature until about 2004, was a ruined hulk. The roof was gone; every single door, window and ventilator removed. What was once the interior of the house was now a pile of debris.

Until 2004, the house stood in open fields. But this time round, there was next to the historical building, a semi-permanent house inhabited by what seemed to be a family of gypsies. They had plastered the walls of the Maharaja’s house with cow dung patties.

No one seemed to know who had laid low this historic building. Neither the gypsies nor the men minding the nearby tube well. In fact, one man even ventured that the building had been in that state since the time of his ancestors!

Though I do not know who to blame for the crime, I know the teak fixtures of the building now adorn the house of some well-connected thug. When he or his men started to dismantle this historic building which should have been part of the national heritage, the DCO and his minions simply looked away. No one bothered as it went down bit by bit.

Rasulnagar is historically a very interesting place because it sat on a busy ford. An elderly ferryman once told me that until well into the 1950s, there used to be fully 100 boats catering to the back and forth traffic. Moreover, this was the very place where Ranjit Singh, just 19-year-old and leading a small force, had routed a much larger Afghan army to bring their periodic raids to an end.

This also is the place where the Sikhs under Sher Singh Atariwala, 15,000-strong, fought a desperate battle against the British in November 1848. The British prevailed, the Sikhs withdrew to the west of the river to fight and lose their final battle two months later at Chillianwala.

All this — and more — makes Rasulnagar a tourist destination for the history buff. But we do not belong to this land, so what do we do with our heritage? We destroy it.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • observer
    Mar 8, 2013 - 9:59PM

    Those devoid of a past, are also devoid of a future.

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  • Aftab Nabi
    Mar 8, 2013 - 10:15PM

    Salman saheb,
    I read your book on Gujranwalwa. I think it was the then D.C. Gujranwala, Khushnood Lashari, who had the passion to keep up these monuments. You need more administrators like him.

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  • Ejaaz
    Mar 8, 2013 - 10:20PM

    The Story of my country neatly encapsulated.

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  • Zalim singh
    Mar 8, 2013 - 10:25PM

    really sad.

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  • Foreign Leg
    Mar 9, 2013 - 12:12AM

    Satyameva Jayate = Truth always triumphs!
    .
    Never mind the edifice is gone, your memory of it will live in our hearts forever.
    .
    I share your angst and pain and I wish I could offer you more than the above words.

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  • Happens
    Mar 9, 2013 - 12:25AM

    @Salman Rashid
    People of Pakistan know only invaders like Ghaznavi or babar , be it a short range or long range missile . They might have some connection with dharti physically , but the umbilical cord originates from Arabian palace . Maharaja Ranjit Singh had not that much aura for them . They even won’t admit their ancestors had managed to put a full-stop to the conquest of so called Alexander, the great. But don’t worry , there are some people other side of border who not only boasts their history , but also gladly embrace their history.
    Regards

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  • Save historical buildings.
    Mar 9, 2013 - 12:30AM

    Someone tell if pictures of this building still available anywhere?

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  • Punjabi from other side
    Mar 9, 2013 - 1:01AM

    Before coming to this site I was reading the book ‘ Maharaja of Punjab’ and to hear about the situation of home left me really sad.
    “Moreover, this was the very place where Ranjit Singh, just 19-year-old and leading a small force, had routed a much larger Afghan army to bring their periodic raids to an end.”
    [From Maharaja of Punjab] Collins,British Resident,after the annexation of Punjab said “Without Ranjit Singh the whole of Punjab which is the richest province would have become a desert waste since it is the boast of these northern savages (the Afghans) that the grass never grows where their horses have once trodden.”
    I am surprised see to see that the invaders whether it is Gori,Ghaznavi,Timur,Abdali who just represents Barbarism and killed ,looted ,raped the people are celebrated as Heroes by their decendents and those Son of Soils who protect its people are subjected to this treatment.
    JUST SAD!!!!!

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  • Quantum
    Mar 9, 2013 - 2:31AM

    For the Indians, any article, whether critical or appreciative of Pakistanis, is an opportunity for self-aggrandisement. Happens’ comment is a case in point. As for Mr. Salman Rashid, like NFP and some others “liberals”, he has chosen a punching bag (“Arab ancestry”) and keeps at it in every piece he writes.

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Mar 9, 2013 - 3:35AM

    We have severed the umbilical that would bond us with the motherland to give us a sense of belonging and pride. Without the connection, we drift aimlessly in a wasteland harbouring vague and false notions of Arab or Central Asiatic ancestry. The disconnect is so strong that nothing that belongs to this land turns us on. We simply do not care.

    Do not be so hard on your compatriots. People always like to associate with the winning side or the side that seems to have solutions. During the presence of the Muslim Invaders, lots of Hindus became Muslims because it seemed to be the logical thing to do; just as there were conversions to Christianity during the presence of the British for similar reasons.

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  • Mansi
    Mar 9, 2013 - 3:50AM

    This is why the ideology of Pakistan angers me so much. Apologists aside, it was based on a supremacist ideology that indigenous culture was somehow inferior to Arab and central asian ones. Why? Just because we could not win against barbarians? And don’t give me the crap about caste system, there was no single society which was/is utopia for every class their propaganda claims not withstanding.

    Now I need to see places, mountains, rivers that are sacred to this culture be torn to shreds by importing culture of desert nomads. Zero awareness of how our ancestors had viewed this land, it mountains and rivers and elevated to worshipful status. May be people of Pakistan should also pick up those books too. See the kind of men and women who walked in the lands that feeds you today and then judge their culture with the one you are following today.

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  • jodh
    Mar 9, 2013 - 4:14AM

    Sham Singh attariwala and not Sher Singh Attariwala

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  • RAW is WAR
    Mar 9, 2013 - 5:31AM

    @ Quantum

    what is your say on this pathetic situation? Are you happy?

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  • John B
    Mar 9, 2013 - 8:15AM

    @Punjabi from other side:
    You quoted Collins very succinctly. I remember reading the phrase ” the grass never grows where their horses have once trodden.”

    Heritage sites have meaning only if people cherish their past. For average Pakistani Sikh history is not their history; it is part of Indian history and hence has no value. What the PAK fails to understand is that without Indian history, PAK has no history. This is irksome to PAK. Whatever Ranjit Singh did, he did it for his people who are part of Indian history and have nothing to do with PAK history, and hence he is as meaningless as his residence,

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  • Faraz Kakar
    Mar 9, 2013 - 1:30PM

    @Punjabi from other side:

    I find the remarks of that British officer hypocritical and brimming with racism and hatred. That is not surprising but attributing divine status and blind following of the British masters version of history, that to by the educated people of subcontinent, is inconceivable. Or is it that this blind obedience and love for these mental chains is one of those many permanent side effects of colonisation? So, the Afghans were savages, looters and plunderers and the British came to the subcontinent for what? To gift you democracy? And the British hated Pashtun Afghans not because of suffering their greatest defeat in history at the hands of Afghans but because they were savages.

    I don’t understand why do we have so many different versions of the history of subcontinent especially that of last few centuries. Ranjit Singh is (and should be) a hero in Punjab but a villain in Pashtunkhwa. Abdali is a hero in the Pashtun lands but a symbol of terror in Punjab. Mughal King Aurengzeb is a hero of the Muslim Nationalists of Lahore and Karachi but in the hills of Quetta and Peshawar, Khushal Khan Khattak is a symbol of pride for Pashtun Nationalists for fighting Aurengzeb. Is it that our prejudice and bias for each other forms the core of our versions of history? Ghani Khan said, ”prejudice and bias are mothers milk to man. The sooner you admit it, the better.”

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  • Jim
    Mar 9, 2013 - 2:42PM

    What if Indians start dismantling Taj Mahal and other moghul monuments in the name of old useless history ? If that is not digestible to Pakistan then dismantling of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s palace is also not digestible to India.

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  • Faraz Kakar
    Mar 9, 2013 - 2:50PM

    ..but the same prejudice that influences the many different versions of history here in Pakistan reaches an almost schizophrenic level on the other side of the border. Joda Akaber, Ashoka, Prithvi Raj movies are just but few examples.

    Yesterday I found this story online and posted it on my facebook as well:

    ” When the foreign minister of Ranjit Singh’s court, Fakir Azizuddin, met the British Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, in Simla, Auckland asked Fakir Azizuddin which of the Maharaja’s eyes was missing. Azizuddin replied: “The Maharaja is like the sun and sun has only one eye. The splendor and luminosity of his single eye is so much that I have never dared to look at his other eye.” The Governor General was so pleased with this reply that he gave his gold watch to Azizuddin. ”

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  • Quantum
    Mar 9, 2013 - 3:01PM

    @Raw is War

    I didn’t say I am happy with the plundering of historic sites. It’s the kind of stinking attitude exhibited here that I commented on.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 9, 2013 - 11:54PM

    The way u guys feel about our heros we do the same salmani sahab.

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  • Prerna
    Mar 10, 2013 - 12:47AM

    @Faraz Kakar :The British did not have to tell us that the Afghans were savages.We knew that already.There are plenty of sayings in Punjabi that speak of Afghans as looters and plunderers.

    And no one in India thinks of the British as being any better than the Afghans.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 10, 2013 - 12:55AM

    Babary mosque, shrine in Ahmedabad Gujrath, many places of worship and living in east punjab why dont salman sahab see those…

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  • Mar 10, 2013 - 7:53AM

    It’s painful when man made marvels are destroyed due to sheer disaffection, ignorance and callousness. Its not as disappointing when they are destroyed due to natural calamities. Humanity calls for more men like you to come up for their protection, preservation and restoration. The same is happening to the magnificent Panchmahal Maroth Jiliya State Fort (having 150 gates) of Maharaja Raghunath Singh, a favourite of Aurangzeb, whose grandson defeated the Afghan Freebooter Amir Khan (General of Marathas having army of 12000 men) by cleverly kidnapping his children, thereby leading to conclusion of a treaty, which made the Jodhpur ruler Man Singh (who even pretended to be insane for 2 yrs) request aid from Maroth-Jiliya when being attacked by Amir, and then made him attack Jaipur instead which was initially supporting him to attack Jodhpur. British, who were also affected by his loots, made him the Nawab of Tonk in 1818 on disbanding his great pindari army.
    This fort is the only place where a Jodhpur prince was recognised as ruler outside Jodhpur. But people are searching treasure in it, taking off its pillars and doors. I’ve heard it’s roof is about to fall.

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  • bmniac
    Mar 10, 2013 - 12:06PM

    But we, …have no connection with the dharti. Does no pride in ancestry(real) translate to hope for posterity? How sad!

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  • evil
    Mar 10, 2013 - 12:56PM

    @Quantum
    if you were a productive and usefull individual of society , you would’ve more concerned over the pathetic treatment of the building than whining about some internet comments , where no permanent or physical harm done to anything or anybody. somethings ruined and beyond fixing in your place and you’re crying over what others say!

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  • observer
    Mar 10, 2013 - 2:06PM

    @Ali Tanoli:

    Babary mosque, shrine in Ahmedabad Gujrath, many places of worship and living in east punjab why dont salman sahab see those…

    Would you care to learn about East Punjab first, Sir?

    http://www.milligazette.com/news/5249-desolate-mosque-restored-by-hindus-sikhs

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  • Faraz Kakar
    Mar 10, 2013 - 3:46PM

    @Prerna: ”no one in India thinks of the British as being any better than the Afghans”

    Mr self-proclaimed spokesperson of entire India… Get well soon.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 10, 2013 - 8:04PM

    @observer,
    if its true then i take back my words from east punjab. and thank u for sharing.

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  • Komal S
    Mar 10, 2013 - 10:08PM

    @Arijit Sharma:
    I can understand Germans not being proud of Hitler legacy and the Russians the Stalin legacy but to say that the pakistani system is not proud of it’s Non Islamic past is actually very disturbing and we can see the results of that mindset. Pakistanis need to understand that they got a Islamic republic 60 years and it is time for them to be secured about themselves and let plurality flourish in pakistan before it is too late.

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  • Khurram
    Mar 10, 2013 - 10:09PM

    @ Jodh “Sham Singh attariwala and not Sher Singh Attariwala”

    Sir if I may correct you Sardar Sham Singh Attariwala died in the Battle of Sabraon February 1846. The author is correct Sher Singh Attariwala had fought in the Second Anglo Sikh War 1849 at RamNuggar, Chillianwala and Gujrat.

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  • Khurram
    Mar 10, 2013 - 10:29PM

    @ Salman Rashid Sir your articles are absorbing study of lasting importance there is so much to learn from them. It is so sad that our so called leadership with myopic vision and for their own selfish reasons disowned without a care what rightfully once belonged to us. We are now a people with a fictional identity but no roots.

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  • gp65
    Mar 11, 2013 - 3:52AM

    @Jim: “What if Indians start dismantling Taj Mahal and other moghul monuments in the name of old useless history ?”

    Well but we in India own all our history – be it the Taj Mahal, the Goan cathedrals, the Meenakshi temple or pillars of Sarnath. They can stop celebrating basant, we will not stop singing Miyaan ki todi. Why should we disown our hostory and culture just because they do? They are the losers in the process – not India.

    @Ali Tanoli – DEfinitely do not support what happened to the Babari structure (it was not a mosque since no worship had been held there for over 150 years when it was padlocked bythe British due to a dispute). I hope you are aware though that Babar destroyed a temple at that very site that people believed was birthplace of Lord Rama and then to add insult to injury built a mosque on that very site? Surrounding this structure that BAbar built are all Hindu symbols of revernce. Were you aware of this?

    As far as Gujarat is concerned, are you aware that 58 Hindus pilgrims were burnt alive by a Muslim mob? That in the riots that followed both Hindus and Muslims were killed? That the rioters have been prosecuted and amongst those sentenced are 33 Hindus? Now tell me how many people were sentenced for Gojra? How many do you think will be sentenced for Joseph colony? How many sentenced for descrating 100 Ahmadi graves? How many sentenced for ongoing sectarian killing that targets Shias? Every country has some bigots. But when law and order turns a blind eye to such bigotry it continues to increase. fyi : In Gujarat there has been no riots in the last 11 years.

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  • Mumbaikar
    Mar 11, 2013 - 12:58PM

    @Punjabi from other side:
    The best part of it that they are not even descendents of gori…..etc but descendents of the sons of soil who could not bear the brunt and got converted under compulsion. Probably they suffer from the guilt that their forefathers yielded under oppression. They need not but they do.

    Even section of people on this side of border also fall in the same category as described Mr Salman ““We have severed the umbilical that would bond us with the motherland to give us a sense of belonging and pride. Without the connection, we drift aimlessly in a wasteland harbouring vague and false notions of Arab or Central Asiatic ancestry. The disconnect is so strong that nothing that belongs to this land turns us on. We simply do not care.“ Most of extremist actions are resulting from disconnection and inability to accept the history on both sides of border. Worst part of it that Arabs do not and will never accept these guys as their descendents – this is what Mr. Salman has highlighted.

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  • Prerna
    Mar 11, 2013 - 4:06PM

    @Faraz Kakar:

    @Prerna: ”no one in India thinks of the British as being any better than the Afghans”

    Mr self-proclaimed spokesperson of entire India… Get well soon.

    Is that your extremely kind way of saying that you have evidence of research that shows majority of Indians think otherwise?

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  • Cynical
    May 1, 2013 - 12:34PM

    Nothing escapes the hands of time, the most powerful agent of change.
    All good things come to an end. Nothing is permanent. In a changing world change is the only constant. Every day anything between 50 to 200 hundred species of plants and animals become extinct, some of them even before they are discovered. Languages disappear, rivers dry up. How about that?

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