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Future of the past

It was once an important and dignified town in the plans of Central Punjab. Gogera today is only a sleepy suburb of Okara on the bank of river Ravi on Okara Faisalabad Road. Town boasts its importance when it was important British power centre and district headquarters from 1852 to 1865 and the part played by the resilient people of the area during War of Independence in 1857. The stories of the war that was fought around Gogera still echo in the pages of history books. 

The only historic building - the British court - that reminds of the colonial period has been converted into a school. The verandas of the old building with round arches have been clogged to create additional rooms and red thin bricks are covered with coats of whitewash. It was much better if the building could have been conserved in its original shape. That does not seem possible now. 

Just in front of the school are dilapidated and crumbling treasury and a safe house, locally called Bakhshi Khana, with its round corners towers. It was built in Mughal era. The treasury room inside the huge complex is still in tact and being used as a living room these days. The barracks where prisoners used to be kept before and after appearing in the court have vanished. The huge bargad tree in the compound is an abode of squirrels and common birds. There is also water well in the courtyard that serves as a source of drinking water for the residents. Sitting in the shade of old tree, the occupant of the evacuee property told, "We want to build a new house in place of this khandar (ruin) but presently the property is under litigation. We will do it after the decision by the court." Another sign of old time we are poised to loose forever. 

In the middle of the lush green fields, the circumferential walls of a Christian colonial cemetery -- the last resting-place of Lord Berkley -- can also be seen. Neglected ever since! The British Government had allotted agricultural land to the local trustees for upkeep of the cemetery but they have not been able to preserve this important historic sign. "The parameter has been used to keep the animals in the past," told my host Agha Najm ul Hassan, a school teacher and social activist who accompanied me during exploration of the area. I asked many locals but no body could indicate the place where used to be Gogera Central Jail. 

History not only chronicles the events, it also influences the readers as to how the historians had experienced the events. It often describes just what authors want you to know. Most of the sources for the history of the Subcontinent for the colonial period are gazetteers written by British army and civil bureaucrats. And, sadly, they have written our history from their point of view. 

British have narrated the history of 'War of Independence 1857' as a 'mutiny' and the heroes of the war have been portrayed as 'insurgents'. One of the first real precursors of the storm that was brewing against British occupants in the Subcontinent occurred in Gogera on the night of July 26, 1857 in the shape of an outbreak in central jail. News of British military actions at Mian Mir (Lahore) reached Gogera on May 13, 1857 that triggered the chain of events. Elphinstone, the Deputy Commissioner Gogera and Extra Assistant Commissioner Berkley fought the people of the area. The villages (including Jhamra -- village of Ahmed Khan Kharral) were burnt and innocent people killed in search of Ahmed Khan Kharral and other activists. Troops and artillery gun from Lahore and Multan garrisons also reinforced the Gogera based British forces. British suffered heavy losses including killing o...  

There are at least one folk romance that unfailingly echoes in the mind of any one who let his fancy and feet roam around this historic tract. There love story set in Mughal period village named Akbar near Gogera. Legend has it that a girl jumped into the grave when people were burying her lover and insisted that she be buried alive with him. The grave is still there on the citadel - accumulated derbies of ages - in Akbar village. 

Gogera Town Committee was established in 1995 but the committee has no resources to conserve the heritage or make any difference in the condition prevailing in this market town. Hence it remains oblivious of what happens. Many of the old buildings lining Gogera's sinuous streets have seen no care or maintenance in near past. Population migration from interior has turned it into a sprawling town without civic amenities of the modern time, in a short time. Town is more rural than urban. It is a mixed cluster of houses widely varying in size and quality. Agha Najm ul Hassan says, "The residents are not familiar with civic amenities that should be available in the modern towns. There is no body to see the growth of the town and co-ordinate the effects of different agencies." 

Gogera has every thing nature could bestow; hard working and spirited people, fertile land, water, communication infrastructure and clean healthy environment. This important power base during British period can be converted into important farm town though scientific development and adoption of modern techniques in the field of agriculture. This has not started happening yet. 

The ionic counter point is the lack of attention in maintaining the bits and pieces of unique heritage - the resource base of tourism. The neglect may be attributed to lack of awareness, education, coordination between authorities, economic constrains and or simply the natural hazards. The magnificent vistas of a land of plans, fields and orchards have to be opened to the rest of the world. There is a need for information in the form of travel guide writing, pure travel journalism, travel book writing and geographical description in form of maps. No ordinary coldness of phrasing can express the surprise and delight, with which one makes acquaintance with the sites. Their perspective gives you a wonderful sense of being there. In fact, that is my recommendation: be there.


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