THE STORY OF THE GREAT QALANDER – Karachi
Wayne Croning: Here is the story, told in my mother’s (Stella) own words. I have not written this; just added the title and made a few changes.
PARTITION: An incident in KARACHI recalled
I was six years old when India was divided in 1947, and Pakistan came into being. So being in Karachi, Sindh, we all, including all minorities, were automatically citizens of this brand new nation.
Partition, as we all know, was not smooth, on either side.. and I will not go into that… I, recall a story, a true story, as a six-year-old at that time. I observed, and heard of what was happening around our, much-loved-and-missed to this day, Mehta House.
MEHTA HOUSE was in Chand Street, or … Chand Gali. It belonged to the Mehtas, who were members of a Parsi community that was well-known, and loved by many, for their wonderful works of philanthropy.
But I digress, so let me go back to 1947…
Our building had back doors that opened to a compound for all who lived there, where children played and fought as children do. It led out to a long passage where there were smaller little houses side by side, occoupied by Iranian Parsi couples. At the end of the compound was a big gate which could be locked up.. and at night was. I can still see the colour, sort of a dusty grey-blue. The ‘gate’ was always closed, but had a small door through which one could go and come. It was fully opened only when one of the Mehta House owners would drive his car in.
Living also in the Mehta Building were several of the Parsi owners, who were related and jointly owned the property.
There were also some Goans, Hindus, and others. Including my family, who were Christians though not Goans, but were given the title of ‘Indian Christians’.
Opposite Mehta building, in Chand Gali, was a stone-and- brick building with three houses on top that had wooden balconies. This property was owned by a Muslim, who to me at least, and I guess to many kids too, looked like a Giant.. though I cannot recall being frightened to see him, even though he appeared so tall and big.. He had a beard, wore a cap on his head, shalwar, kameez, and a waist coat. As I see it now in my mind’s eye, the waist coat was black. He had a beard too, sort of black and greyish. and yes a paunch, which seemed to be suited to him. He was called by what, I guess, was his name, Qalander.
There were 2 Hindus families with small kids in the Mehta House flats. We children living in Mehta House, and the others up and down Chand Street, were all friends… it was such a different period then. .. alas .. being old now, I want to stop and go back to savour once again those days… that are gone.. but worry not. I will do that later….. in my mind.
With Partition, killings started happening, and it was happening across this divided nation, newly split in two, by religion (sigh) and no one knew who was friend or enemy.
Here is where this wonderful man, QALANDER, as we knew him by name… (at least that is all I heard when his name was spoken.. just, ‘Qalander.’.. ) played a heroic part in saving our Hindu families. I do recall, that the Christians in Mehta House, (Christians were safe) gave the Hindu families statues and crosses- to sort of cover up the fact they were Hindus, hoping that it would protect them, and this was done sometime before this awful day that I speak of.
One afternoon, there was a big commotion and lots of shouting… at the compound gate. Our elders peeped from the jaffries and I just hung around, knowing there was some sort of excitement, but not really knowing what it was all about… Lots of shouting… then.. and this I heard later, when the elders, talked about it… with awe and great respect, for the one man, who stopped what could have become a blood bath for our Hindu families, and who knows, perhaps others could have been killed too, Hindu or not… Thank God, it was all put to a stop, by this heroic man, Qalander!!
He was there at the gate (the gate had been locked from the inside but the frenzied mob could have broken it, after all it was wood, even though it might have been strong wood) Qalander. I recall the elders speaking with great respect and awe of this Saviour … who stopped them all in their tracks.. and thundered:
“Whoever dares to cross into this compound or these houses, will pay a big price… I warn you! Get away… do not dare attempt anything!…I will get you all if you dare to touch any single person in this compound or these house here. They are my people! They are good… get away now… or else!!”
the frenzied mob, suddenly fell silent… and slowly walked away. I do not know where they might have gone… and done harm or whatever, or perhaps, just sobered up, and gone home… I do not know.
I was a child then, and as I witnessed this story, I stood in awe too, of this wonderful Giant Qalander.
A few days ago, his memory came up as my son Wayne asked me about this story. This is for all of you to read, and I tell it as I remember it.
In the end as I type this, I will pause… and pray to God, and thank him for sending this great man… this GREAT HUMAN, at a time when mindless killing of innocent people was rife.
Where ever you are Qalander Sahib, I know you are at peace with the Creator of our world.
Thank You God.