Hardly anybody knows for how many years it stood there, looking down at its people as they lived their lives. It was the centre the whole village life revolved around. Given its majesty and grandeur, it was hard to imagine that somebody had one day planted a seedling that grew so big that people in other villages would guide visitors by pointing fingers to it. The village came to be associated with it and would be called Borh ala Gaggar (Gaggar, the banyan’s).
On one side lay a spacious pond where the villagers bathed and their cattle drank. The pond was filled with earth sometime in 80’s as households started to have their own wells. I didn’t happen to see it and was told that just in front of our gate once lied the banni (pond). Tweens and teens, so I am told, would climb the banyan and jump into the pond at scorching summer noon.
In my childhood, we used to draw water from wells using pulleys, and when the season arrived, we would put watermelon in a net and lower it into the well water. This is how we chilled big, green watermelons. As women did the dishes and the laundry around wells, there were a few incidents of a child falling into a well. And when the water smelled unpleasant, we knew a crow, or some bechari chiri (poor sparrow) was dead in the well. We would drag a certain number of buckets and waste them in order to purify the well. There was another bigger well just beside the mosque under the banyan. This one was called khuee and was shared by the whole village, as was the banyan.
There ran a stream in east of the village where children would play and swim and women would do the laundry and bathe their kids. I have a few faded memories of accompanying my mom and other women there. Locals call this stream kass. Another such kass flowed in south of the village. They flowed full during monsoon. In my childhood, I often wondered where the kass comes from and where it goes. Now in the age of Google Maps, I know that they emanate from rugged Potohar land a few miles from our villages and fall into Nala Kahan (or River Gahan) that carries them to River Jhelum.
Elders tell us that Rohtas was the grain market that villagers went to shop at. Hindus dominated both grain markets in the area: Domeli and Rohtas. These Hindu businessmen employed many a local Muslim. There were one or two Hindu families in my village too.
Rohtas’s was the only high school in the area, until around 70s. My father and his peers went to this Rohtas school that also finds its mention in Raza Ali Abidi’d Jarneli Sarak. Market and school goers would walk it to the fort in mornings.
Then came the tumultuous Partition of 1947. Hindu and Sikh population left for India and today the only sign of that diverse era are a few old buildings that they left behind. One of those who migrated from the area in 1947 was a child Sampooran Singh Kalra who pursued his passion for words and made a name for himself. Gulzar has fond memories of his native hometown Dina.
After Partition, market gradually moved from Rohtas to the town of Dina, thanks to the Grand Trunk Road and a railway track. Rohtas today is just that: a village within the majestic walls of Sher Shah Suri’s fort.
People in those olden days lived simple but pure and happy lives. They had less money but enjoyed life to the fullest. Few went to college but they were more compassionate and understood each other well.
There was an old lady who frequented my grandma. She always wore a burqa. I can’t remember of any other lady who wore burqa in those years. People on the streets had more respect for ladies though.
And on hot noons, men would sit on charpoys under the banyan along with their hukka’s. People from other villages returning from the city would take a break under the banyan and discuss whatever they had to, including buying and selling their cattle.
It was around 1970 when a minibus started plying between the village and city of Dina. It would leave in the morning and return in the evening. Electricity came to our village in 1981. My father returned from UAE in 1992 and brought a Sony television set, a VCR and a few cossets of Indian films. I remember watching Amitabh’s Ajooba with my siblings. Around the same time we bought fridge-freezer, another first for the family.
In the past, people served in the army, now they drive cabs in the Gulf or work at eateries in England. Some in the ’80s and ’90s attended seminaries but, curiously enough, many dropped out, refusing to join the clergy.
And the banyan, when the pond was gone, the soil dried up and occasionally a branch would fall off and block the road. And one day the banyan caught fire. Somebody had stuffed spaces within its wide trunk with bicycle tires etc and lit them. People came out with buckets but couldn’t control the blaze. That was the first and only time a fire tender came to the village. Fire was finally put off but nearby houses feared that a branch would fall upon them. And then it was decided, after much debate, to do away with the venerable banyan. It was year 1995 or ‘96 and a team of Pathan woodcutters took several days to fell and transport the old tree.
The banyan is gone and the natives have moved on. A few more decades down the line and who will remember that there once stood the tree alongside the pond in the early years of the village!
The Banyan Tree
By Rabindranath Tagore
O you shaggy-headed banyan tree standing on the bank of the pond,
have you forgotten the little chile, like the birds that have
nested in your branches and left you?
Do you not remember how he sat at the window and wondered at
the tangle of your roots and plunged underground?
The women would come to fill their jars in the pond, and your
huge black shadow would wriggle on the water like sleep struggling
to wake up.
Sunlight danced on the ripples like restless tiny shuttles
weaving golden tapestry.
Two ducks swam by the weedy margin above their shadows, and
the child would sit still and think.
He longed to be the wind and blow through your resting
branches, to be your shadow and lengthen with the day on the water,
to be a bird and perch on your topmost twig, and to float like
those ducks among the weeds and shadows.