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Rawalpindi Rhetoric and realities
Located between landscapes of the rough, rolling plains beginning from the foot of the Murree hills, Rawalpindi city, commonly called Pindi, has a kaleidoscopic history spread over several millenniums extending to the ancient times corresponding with the decaying period of Buddhism to the invasions of the Macedonians and then to the dawn of the Muslims era. The long spells of darkness overcast the history of the religion as well as the city before Muslims conquest.
From its small beginning as a camping ground called Ghaznipur after the invasions of Mahmud Ghanzavi, the city eventually came to be known as Rawalpindi after the Gakkhar chief who ruled the locality.
Following the British occupation in 1849, the city became permanent cantonment of the British army in 1851. It was around 1881 that the railway line to Rawalpindi was laid. It is 110 years ago that the colonial type building of the Rawalpindi Railway Station (along with many others) was built. The need for having railway link arose after Lord Dollhouse made Rawalpindi the headquarters of the Northern Command. And, Rawalpindi became the largest cantonment in the South Asia.
Like the rest of the region constituting Pakistan, the people of Rawalpindi and adjoining areas took heroic part in the War of Independence in 1857. The British troops based at this strategic location used to be sent to the scenes of insurgency in the adjoining districts up to Hazara, Peshawar and Murree hills. According to Punjab Gazetteer, "the British troops were sent from Rawalpindi to Murree hills to deal with the most extensive rebellion that occurred in the Punjab."
The Leh Nullah flows zigzagging through the city. An early edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the Leh Nullah as a river. Until 1923, according to the old timers, the water of the Leh was crystal clear and considered fit for human consumption or performing ablutions. At that time, the city drains were not allowed to be discharged into the Leh as all the nullahs were supposed to flow toward depression on the other side of the Arya Mohalla running along the Murree Road. Now it has been reduced to a carrier of sewage of the twin cities. Heavy amounts of industrial wastes combined with the domestic refuse are deposited in Leh. The presence of two factors had made the Leh water highly polluted and rendered it unsafe even for agricultural use in the suburbs of the city. And, pungency of the flowing water has made the life of those living beside the nullah miserable.
Rawalpindi's Thandi Sarak, better known as The Mall - the glory of the cantonment - with its row upon row of the senior Cypresses and seasonal flower beds, was formally inaugurated in 1910 with the beautifully sculpted statue of Queen Victoria standing majestically at the convergence point of the Murree Road an The Mall in close vicinity of the flashman's. The statue was chiselled in the United Kingdom in 1906. After independence, the statue was shifted from The Mall to the British High Commission.
In old times, Rawalpindi had developed a unique architectural style. Both in the older quarters of the city and cantonment, it was considered fashionable to have wooden balconies with intricately designed motifs. Lal Haveli - in the downtown - is located in the neighbour hood of the Purana Qilla, Sarafa Bazaar, Bohar Bazaar and Moti Bazaar. In 1920 in the pre-partition days, it was home to Budhana Bibi, a famous dancing girl.
Enter the old part of the city and you will find yourself in archetypal form of an ancient town - crooked and narrow streets, dense housing, intricate woodwork on Jharokas, bay windows and doors, cut brick corbellings. Like Multan, Pakpattan or Lahore, the old quarters of the city, better known as the Purana Qilla, have a series of alleys with some of them being so narrow that they barely leave enough space for two people to walk side by side at the same time. At least there is one street through which only one person can walk. It is the entire urban fabric of the place that is historic. There is still a chance of seeing specimen of solid old masonry in construction of some of the old buildings. Homes have also retained their essential trait despite renovations to make them comfortable for modern living and their division for growing population.
The old sleepy Barrack City of Rawalpindi is no more a city of the khakis alone. It is rapidly undergoing a change. In Chaklala, Westridge and some other areas of the cantonment, the architectural style is fast changing with the quaint buildings replacing the old ones.
My own alliance with the city started in mid 1970s when I commenced my career from Rawalpindi. It was like boarding an express train. Later, I was admitted in National Institute of Modern Languages Islamabad but I stayed in Rawalpindi for three years commuting daily to and from Islamabad via Murree Road. Inter city buss terminals then used to be in Liaqat Bagh. Now the terminals have been shifted to Pirwadhai but the situation of traffic on the main city roads has not improved. Moreover, Pirwadhai is no more out of the city. The city has expanded so much that one can not define as to where Rawalpindi finishes or Islamabad starts.
The number of vehicle plying on the city roads has exponentially grown. Seeing the mixed traffic on every road, one wish that some of the roads - Raja Bazaar or few of the byways in Saddar Bazaar - might be declared totally pedestrian with vehicular traffic and all hustle-bustle contained out side. This idea might look new but is very common in many large cities the world over.
Once upon a time, Rawalpindi was famous for its tongas, which were in demand throughout the country. The tonga has now been replaced with Suzuki Pickups. One sees huge and artfully decorated structure indigenously mounted on small chassis of vehicles lined up in Raja Bazaar or on Islamabad International Airport and young conductors shouting Tench Bhata or Saddar. The vehicle of convenience is being used as carrier and or loaders on almost all routes within the city. Foreign tourists wonder to see the innovative use of the utility vehicle and make their photos like unusual items.
Every available inch of the small vehicles seems decorated in some fashion. Badges and motifs plastered across the grills, fringes hanging down beneath the bumpers, gewgaws hanging from the mirrors, studs pined on to the mud flaps, a pyramid succession of mascots stacked on the front like the prow of an ancient sailing galleon, a star burst of reflectors across the back are common sights. A vision-obscuring decorative edge applied around the inside of the windscreen is also popular. Flickering lights, tassels, streamers, plastic flowers, glass-patterned metal cut-outs and other kitschery complete the happy picture.
Another class that has grown exponentially is that of beggars in the city. The moment traffic light turns red; they will flock around you. Most of them are of very tender age.
Get off the motorway to enter the twin cities; you are instantly reminded of familiar city roads with water filled in the potholes, right of the way reduced due to excessive encroachments and horn blaring mixed traffic. Rawalpindi city is a place where the cultural traditions of at least two provinces (Punjab and NWFP) meet. Local population is a heterogeneous mix of both the provinces. Tourists from foreign countries and embassies in Islamabad are yet another fraternity found in Rawalpindi that adds an extra dimension to the city life.



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