Once upon a time, many years ago, in fact around fifty years ago, Amroha was a beautiful town of mango and guava orchards, lush green fields, holy dargahs, ancient temples, caravan sarias, takias, khanqahs, wonderful lakes and enchanting pools. People used to enjoy their morning and evening walks at Lipton Road known as Thandi Sarak (Winter Street). The life was simple – no big frills attached. You would see a lot of amateur fishermen sitting patiently by the lake side with their fishing rods dangled in silent water, waiting for the catch. Now, all those pastimes are gone forever. As the generations pass their stories and memoirs can no longer be heard. Only a few stories of human interest, bits of wisdom, family histories and humorous happenings are left for future generations to enjoy. However, two lines are common in all of them: Amroha is situated at the banks of River Sot. Amroha is located near the River Sot. Unfortunately that river does no longer exist. There is no water; the river bed is a parched dry land. There stands a lonely bridge that reminds a gruesome old story.
Hundred years back a train fell into the river as the bridge caved in. All the travelers were killed.
Several images conjure up when someone asks you to remember the childhood. Every one of us has too many wonderful stories and memoirs to narrate if someone touches the emotional cord. According to individual psychology people don’t recall the events that happened to them correctly but they recall them in a way that best describes their subconscious state of mind. As a child we wanted to grow up but now we realize that broken toys and lost pencils were much better than broken heart and lost friends.
This one is a blast from past.
I can still vividly recollect the distant sound of train gracefully passing over the solitary bridge of River Sot in the dark nights. The trundling sound was gentle and often furious. I would get up in my bed and ask my father, “Why the whistle of the engine is so strident? Why the train makes so much sound when it passes over the bridge?” My father was a systematic man who would never get irritated with my most idiotic questions. He would promise me to give the answer in the morning and instruct me to sleep.”
“The train moves against the wind. First, it’s the wind that generates the sound. Second, the sound is due to stress which is created between the wheels of train and iron track. Third, the vibrations of the compartments also create noise. The combined effect is that intensity increases aided with the water below the bridge. Vibrations are absorbed by the earth when the train moves on track on the land. I don’t have to explain the noise of the whistle.” Since my childhood the technical explanation often helped me in winning appreciation of my peers and the admiration of elders – a reason to remember my father in difficult times.
Tower Bridge spans over River Thames in London. It is the only bridge in the world which could be raised from its middle section to permit the large vehicles to pass through it. There is another bridge which always brings back the memories of distant past – “The Bridge On the River Drina.” It was built by Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic. Construction of this bridge began in 1566 A.D. and it took five years to finish it. It connected Sarajevo pashaluk (the territory of present day Bosnia and Herzegovina) to rest of the Turkish Empire. He was a Serbian child and was taken away from his mother as a part of levy by the Turkish rulers. His mother followed him wailing until they reached the river where they parted and the boy boarded the ferry. This boy, in the years that followed, showed extraordinary talents. In due course of time he became the Grand Muslim Vazir. He assumed the name – Mohammed Pasha Sokolovik. Yet, his childhood memories had always haunted him and he ordered to build a bridge at the specific spot where he was snatched away from his mother.
Sot River has no such rich past to boast. The bridge over the River Sot was built by Britishers.
Come Shab-e-barat and groups of believers would walk down the river front, early in the morning, to plop into the water an AREEZA from the bridge – a kind of written supplication to Living Imam. There would be lots of fireworks by the river side and prizes were often awarded for the best firework. All is gone now into folk- lore. Now, no one visits Sot for spiritual reasons. The story of ‘tragedy- of-Sot’ had been kept alive by stray Dastango – the traditional itinerant story tellers.
Long before the advent of theaters and films, the minstrels used to practice this medieval art of story- telling. They would engage the public at street corners with stories of adventures, romances, tragedies, djins, fairies and prophesies. A baton in the right hand and a wrist full of iron bangles was the instrument to provide the background music. “Dastan Ameer Hamza” was one the favorite topic.
The narration of the tragedy of River Sot was so impinged upon my memory screen that I have carried it all thorough my life. According to Dastango, the river looked best at dawn. It was the time the train met its preordained fate. Sit down under the bridge even today and you couldl hear the cries of unfortunate travelers. Listen to the faint whistle of train and you won’t miss the last shriek of Hameeda – the unfortunate groom who had rebelled against society to marry a craft- man who was lower in ranks. The first time she was going her Susral. The couple had put on their wedding dress. As the train slipped down every traveler including the newly wedded couple disappeared into ocean and with them died the dreams and ambitions of that great caravan.
The story had some unbelievable segments but it was always listened in pin drop silence with awe and agony. Absolute concentration was the name of the game.
I can recollect just one couplet of dastango:
“Sot naddi pa mehshar bapa ho gya,
Bhai se bhai juda ho gya.”