From Chakwal to Jhelum: Punjabi contribution to cinema – XI
An illustration of the legendary Hussaini Brahmins at Karbala
By Ishtiaq Ahmed
One of my favourite dance choruses, ‘Pass nahi aayeeye haath naa lagaiye’ led by Lata Mangeshkar and filmed on Cuckoo is from Saqi (1952), which Talwar produced. Its director was H. S. Rawail from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). It had music by C. Ramchandra and the lyrics were by Rajinder Krishan. However, one film directed by Talwar in particular deserves special mention: Sangdil. Based on Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre, Lahore-born Ramanand Sagar adapted it to an India milieu. In it, Talwar demonstrated his masterly skills in exploiting Dilip Kumar and Madhubala’s histrionic talents optimally. Additionally, it had music of supreme quality by the very talented but very irascible Sajjad Hussain (from Madhya Pradesh) and songs written by Rajinder Krishan. One can discuss each song of that film as a marvel, but I will mention only two: Talat Mahmood’s ‘Ye hawa ye raat ye chandni’ and Lata Mangeskhar’s ‘Wo to chale gaye aye dil’. These are compositions which can be described as ‘out of this world’. I have checked all available sources and it seems that Talwar Sahib is alive. I wonder if he ever thinks of Talagang. In old age the pristine past comes back more and more in one’s life.
If we now move a little further south, we arrive in Jhelum district. One of the Bombay film industry’s most distinguished personalities has been actor, director and producer Sunil Dutt. I had the privilege of meeting Dutt sahib in his office on 20 October 2001. Originally the meeting had been agreed for some 20 minutes but he realised that I was a Punjabi from West Punjab our conversation went on for nearly two and half hours. I wanted his support for my idea that a memorial to the victims – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs – of the 1947 Partition be built in the no-man’s-land at the Wagah-Attari border. His enthusiasm for the idea knew no bounds. He promised to help in all possible ways.
R.C. Talwar masterfully exploited the talents of Dilip Kumar and Madhubala
I had many academic queries with regard to the Partition of the Punjab in 1947. Among them was the sect of Hussaini Brahmins – an amazing case of syncretism of Islam and Hinduism. Sunil Dutt belonged to that community and shared with me the story according to which their forefathers had settled in Arabia and one of their ancestors Rahab Sidh Dutt and his sons fought on the side of Imam Hussain (RA), at the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. They died fighting along with the Imam and his other followers. Some member of the family survived and returned to the Punjab. Whatever the truth about this legend, in the pre-Partition Punjab the dual identity of the Hussaini Brahmins was expressed in the following verses:
Wah Dutt Sultan,
Hindu ka Dharm
Mussalman ka Iman,
Adha Hindu Adha Mussalman
(O Dutt, the king;
Follower of the religion of the Hindu
and the faith of the Muslim
Half Hindu, half Muslim)
Sunil Dutt got his first break in films in 1955 but rose to fame in Mehboob Khan’s classic, Mother India (1957). His other co-star was Rajendra Kumar (from Sialkot) and both played the roles of sons of famous heroine Nargis who plays the role of a peasant woman struggling against all odds to survive poverty and oppression of the moneylender. Dutt saved Nargis’s life when one of the sets caught fire and Nargis was surrounded by leaping flames. At that time the Nargis-Raj Kapoor romance was proverbial. It now ended and Nargis married Sunil Dutt.
The contributions of Sunil Dutt and his son Sanjay will never be forgotten by the Muslims of Mumbai
A refugee from West Punjab life for Sunil Dutt was a real uphill task. He first got a break in films in 1955 and later acted in many famous films, producing and directing some as well. Among them are Sujata (1959), his own production Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Padosan (1967) and a string of famous movies of B. R. Chopra such as Gumraah (1963), Waqt (1965) and Hamraaz (1967). He experimented with a unique film Yaadein (1964)in which he was the only actor – so there are no dialogues in it. He continued acting in films till the end of the 1970s, only to briefly reappear again in the famous Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) in which his son, Sanjay Dutt, played the lead role. His production, Daard ka Rishta (1982), was in memory of his wife Nargis who died in 1981 after being afflicted by the cancer of pancreas. It focuses on a similar subject. In accordance with Nargis’s wishes she was buried next to her mother, Jaddan Bai, in Bombay’s main Muslim graveyard.
Dutt won several awards for his acting talent including the Filmfare Best Actor Award for Mujhe Jeene Do, which he also produced. Although the story was about dacoits or bandits, it brought out humanist perspective, thereby giving the film its special distinctiveness. The lyrics and musical score were by two natives of Ludhiana, Sahir Ludhianvi and Jaidev. Dutt also acted in a number of Punjabi films such as Man Jeeta Jag Jeet (1973), Dukh Bhanjan Tera Naam (1974) and Sat Sri Akal (1977).
Dutt Sahib’s public life was also noteworthy. His first great public engagement was to lead a long march from Mumbai to the Golden Temple in Amritsar after the assassination of Mrs Gandhi on October 31, 1984 and the subsequent massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, which shocked him deeply. His intervention was to protest the violence against innocent people.
He was elected five times to the lower house of Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha, never losing any election although he did not contest office in the late 1990s when his son, Sanjay Dutt, was facing charges of possessing a gun without a proper licence and having links with the underworld. The background to the trumped-up charges was that both father and son had taken to the streets during the 1993 anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai to protect Muslims from the Shiv Sena and other neo-fascist outfits. The riots had broken out in the wake of bomb blasts, which killed some 300 people and were blamed on the ISI and mafia dons such as Daud Ibrahim.
In 1999, when I visited Mumbai, I had a conversation with a Muslim taxi driver about the bomb blasts and the subsequent riots. The taxi driver wore a long beard and was undoubtedly a pious Muslim. He told me that Dilip Kumar and his wife Saira Bano had done a lot to protect Muslims, but the contributions of Sunil Dutt and his son Sanjay will never be forgotten by the Muslims of Mumbai. They went from street to street intervening personally to stop mob attacks on Muslims. His narrative made a very strong impression on me and I asked him: “Well, tell me would Sunil Dutt go to paradise or not when he dies?” He hesitated for a moment and then said, “Babu ji you have asked a very provocative question and I am not a learned man, but Allah sees and hears everything and He is Just. In my humble opinion Dutt Sahib should be admitted to paradise before me and my children.” I must say I have never heard a fairer statement and I was pleased he had not been trained as a dogmatic cleric. In any event, after the 1992-93 Hindu-Muslim riots, Dutt resigned in protest as member of Parliament. The tragic loss of Nargis left him alone to take care of two very young daughters and a son his life story was full of tragedies. His interview about his earlier life and connection to village Khurd in Jhelum district appears in my book The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed. This is what he narrated to me:
“My father died when I was only five and my younger brother Som was only a baby. We were brought up by my tayaji (father’s elder brother). At the time of Partition, I was on the Indian side of the Punjab border, but the rest of my family was in the village. An army truck arrived to take Hindus from that area to the main refugee camp in Jhelum. This must have been at some time in the beginning of September or perhaps in the second week. All my family members boarded the truck, but tayaji remained behind, since the feeling was that things might return to normal. Just before they left my mother informed him that she had left her gold ornaments in the house because she did not have time to collect everything. She told him where she had kept them.
When the others left, tayaji was the only Hindu left in the village. He went to the village well where, as was the custom, the men met and smoked the hookah (hubble-bubble). Things appeared to be all right. But then on Friday the maulvi (Muslim cleric) in his Friday sermon wondered why a Hindu had remained in the village. Therefore, some of his friends advised him to leave. He pretended not to be worried and went to the well the next evening too. But then he came home, collected the ornaments and went to another village, Nawan Kot, to seek help from my father’s old classmate, Yaqub. He told him that his life was in danger and that he carried with him my mother’s ornaments. Yaqub told him not to worry, ‘If someone wants to kill you he will have to kill me and my brothers before he can lay a finger on you.’
His escape from the village was detected soon after he left. The hostile elements had a good idea that he must have gone to Yaqub for help, because there was no other way he could escape on foot from that area. Some of them came to Yaqub and demanded that he should be surrendered to them. But Yaqub and his brothers pulled out their guns saying that their guest was dearer to them than their own life. So, they went back. However, a pir (holy man) then sent a message to Yaqub saying that he was on his way to visit him to find out why he was protecting a non-believer. At that point Yaqub told my uncle to leave immediately and provided him with a horse to ride to Jhelum. He left in the middle of the night and reached the refugee camp in Jhelum. Two days later Yaqub visited the camp to find out if tayaji had reached safely. That is how my family escaped unhurt from Khurd.
In 1998, I got a chance to visit Khurd, thanks to the special interest taken in my plea by the then prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. I came along with Dilip Kumar. People in our village had been informed in advance. Some of the young men had even seen my movies. It was a feeling I can’t describe, when I set my foot on the soil where my childhood had been spent. The old women addressed me by my nickname ‘Bajjya’ since my real name is Balraj. They wanted to know how my mother was. When I told them that she had died they began to cry.
My family had been saved by a friend of my uncle, Yaqub. I went to his village Nawan Kotto thank him exactly half a century late for saving my family members during those terrible days of 1947. He had died and his children also did not live there anymore. Anyhow, I met some people there and conveyed to them my regards. They promised to inform Yaqub’s children.
I came back thoroughly convinced that good and bad people are to be found in all communities and one should never judge harshly a whole people.”
In memory of Nargis he set up the Nargis Dutt Memorial Foundation which has set up several Cancer Hospitals in India. He was among the earliest Bombay personalities who took part in the fund-raising campaign for Imran Khan’s Cancer Hospital.
Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University; Visiting Professor at the Government College University, Lahore, and Honorary Senior Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore
Courtesy: Friday Times