For whom the bell tolls

The 16th day of April 1853 is special in the Indian history. The day was a public holiday. At 3:30 pm, as the 21 guns roared together, the first train carrying Lady Falkland, wife of Governor of Bombay, along with 400 special invitees, steamed off from Bombay to Thane.
Ever since the engine rolled off the tracks, there have been new dimensions to the distances, relations and emotions. Abaseen Express, Khyber Mail and Calcutta Mail were not just the names of the trains but the experiences of hearts and souls. Now that we live in the days of burnt and non functional trains, I still have few pleasant memories associated with train travels. These memoirs are the dialogues I had with myself while sitting by the windows or standing on the doors as the train moved on. In the era of Cloud and Wi-fi communications, I hope you will like them.


The Rawalpindi railway station is as cold and indifferent as the city itself. In 1849 the British took over Rawalpindi and converted it into a garrison town. After a lapse of around a century and a half, the prima facie of the city remains Military. The local Gakhars had their day, when in 1881, the train whistled into the city, making it the largest garrison of India. The three triangles sitting atop the main building of the Railway station are a premise to the three distinct regimes which define the development of this city.

On entering the city from Peshawar and having bypassed the national and international bus terminals, the area of Westridge starts. This part of the city is a reminder of the Ayub Khan regime and likewise radiates positivity in a short span. The neighborhoods include the political and non-political king makers of 1960s, well-to-do doctors and vintage politicians. Besides military establishments, markets, CNG pumps and private schools dot the area. The place can rightly be termed as the “who’s who and what’s what” of 1960s Pakistan.

During the regime of West End Mard-e-Momin, the city saw the rise of Chaklala Scheme III. All and sundry of the second generation of military elites reside here. The drawing rooms that once hummed with the planning of Afghan Jihad are now rented out to Banks, Boutiques and Saloons.  Since the series of slum dwell with every regal residence, Range road prefixes Westridge and Dhok Choudhrian suffixes Scheme 3. Across Chaklala Air base, the limits of the Islamabad capital territory start, a city that is located 10 km from Pakistan.

The third part of the city is in fact the last episode of the largest interest of state. This residential scheme has finally seen the light of day after years of stay in cyberspace and power point presentations. The marketing supermen of Gulf based developers have traded far better on the promise of quality life. Heavily paid contractors are tested to the limits when they design the noise free air conditioning and uniformly spread lights. Every house has an old couple living on Vitamins, gossips and spoilt servants, marking their time from one prayer to another. They mostly talk to each other of differing time zones and the travels taken by their kids in these zones. Fewer make it to the office of the Housing Society and while they lodge complaints regarding low gas pressure, they do not forget to remind the customer service representative, about the military services rendered to the ungrateful nation.

Since the majority of the household is military in origin, the houses have dim lit ambiance. Souvenirs from across the world mark their existence next to ash trays on small side tables and centre tables. Across the drawing room, cashew nets and pickles guard the dining tables as a universal benchmark of prosperity. Alongside the TV, hang the family photos, kids and their families vacationing in some desi restaurant, newly acquired farmhouse or Europe locales. These photos have, in the due course of time, replaced the graduation portraits with proud parents.

Almost every other house has a linkage to a non-resident doctor or engineer in the form of son / daughter or children-in-law. If the conversation kicks off, one will discover a professor mom as well. The professor / teacher mothers appear so profoundly in every success story that one cannot imagine any mother from the last decade who stayed home and refrained from teaching. With the summer approaching, these proud parents prepare themselves for their assignments as baby sitter, serving their kids, who in turn are serving humanity, only at some country side western hospital. The biggest dilemma of the parents of South East Asia (on both sides of border) is the choice to stay with their kids or see them grow.