I wanted to write on the Miani battles, which were so pivotal in Sindh’s history. Going by a ‘first things first’ approach, I worked on a bibliography. Simultaneously, I prepared an itinerary to visit the Miani battlefields.
Meanwhile, I contacted historians who have worked on The East India Company’s battles. I got valuable material which was voluminous. Even leafing through it needed some days. I segregated it according to format: books, research articles, and newspapers articles. But still, I was not sure where to start.
And so, there I was, glancing through the Imperial Gazetteer of India Volume 7, which was edited by Sir William Wilson Hunter and published in 1885. I turned pages and found an entry entitled “Miani.” It read:
“Miani is a fishing village in Hyderabad Taluka of Hyderabad District, Sindh, Bombay, 6 miles away from Hyderabad city.”
I was still undecided about how to proceed with my work on the article. Was it a case of writers’ block? Or mere procrastination? I was not sure, but in that state, I left the gazetteer and googled the word “Miani.” I was surprised to know that there was a road with the name Miani in Bangalore, India. The particular webpage stated that in the city there were two roads named after the Company’s battles. One was Assaye and the other was Miani. I wondered, why Miani had been remembered in Bangalore, India. Looking through histories of Indian regiments and battalions, I learned that Miani had links with the Madras Engineering Group which had offices in Bangalore. The group was also called Madras Sappers; and it took part in the Miani and Dubba battles of 1843. Its lead task was to clear hurdles for the Company’s army by constructing bridges, forming pathways and digging trenches.
Then the phone rang and I stopped surfing. I answered it.
“Hello,” I heard and rightly guessed that it was Amin Joyo on the phone. “Yes, dear Amin,” I started the conversation.
“Is the Miani visit schedule confirmed?” Amin asked.
I told him that it was, indeed, on.
“Okay, Hussain Bux Sarang and I shall be waiting at Qasim Chowk,” he said. I responded that Sudharath and I would reach there around 12 noon.
So, we duly reached Qasim Chowk, picked them up and headed towards the area where the Miani battles were fought.
On the way, Amin told me that he had visited the area more than once. According to him, there were two ways to reach Miani. But his favourite one was that of the National Highway. So, we took it. We headed towards Hala, crossed the highway before Matiari, drove in the opposite direction, and turned left before the police post. I think we roughly covered two-and-a-half kilometres before we were halted by a broken bridge.
I entered the memorial area while recalling HT Lambrick’s description in The Sind Battles, 1843 published in the Journal of the Sindh Historical Society, February 1943
I turned the engine off, came out, and looked around. We were in the midst of the Babul groves. I felt the forest’s tranquillity. But soon, a gush of wind disturbed the peace. I heard branches creaking, dried twigs rustling, doves singing and insects humming. I also saw quick movements of lizards to hide themselves in the bushes. However, the most romantic scene was the falling of leaves. They tumbled from branches, but their fall took a moment. Their veered fall from rain-washed lush green trees, in a background of a shining day’s blue sky, was mesmerising.
I was not sure whether to park the car there and travel on foot or to postpone the visit plan. Sudharath suggested that we should take another route. Amin also agreed. I reversed the car and drove it towards the National Highway. We stopped at the police post and enquired from a sepoy about the Miani battle area. He guided us to move towards Isra University, Hyderabad. We were asked to turn left from the opposite road where two petrol pump stations are located.
We travelled in the suggested direction. But to make sure, Amin asked from a young tea vendor about the location of the Miani War Memorial. The young man looked at us in confusion. Perhaps, the phrase “War Memorial” was new to him. Amin guessed his bewilderment, and asked him in Sindhi,
“Dheveri Kathe Ahe? (Where is the Dheveri?)”
This question seemed to make the young man come alive, and he responded: “Kaherri? (Which one?)”
“Waddi Ya Nadhi? (Big one or small one?)”
“Big one,” Amin replied.
“Chandian Wari? (of the Chandios?),” he double-checked.
“Yes, of the Chandios,” Amin said.
One of our companions asked, “Why do Sindhis call it Dheveri?”
The question pushed me to recall an entry in the famous single-volume Sindhi dictionary Sayil Kosh, which stated that “Dheveri” meant “Yadgar” or “Samadi” (memorial, grave). I elaborated that in Tharparkar, I have seen a lot of such structures, but most of them had rectangle or square cut into a wall, called “Jaro” in Sindhi, where a clay-made oil lamp was kept. These Dheveris in Sindh are revered as spiritual places.
We continued on the same link road, and after a few minutes headed towards a north-western direction. Here, we crossed mustard and red rose fields. We passed Babul tree plantations. Now “Miani War Memorial” was in our sight. Its design, even from a distance, was impressive. But the Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh (Hyderabad District), compiled by J.W. Smith in 1920, described it as a “mean ugly obelisk.’’
The author had stated that the monument was enclosed in an iron railing. But I encountered a different reality: There was no railing. Some water was stagnant on the monument’s southern side; its northern side faced some crumbled buildings of the forest department. Its eastern side faced the wider path, and on its western side an immature forest was standing. The stagnant water had badly damaged the foundation platform. I also noted some random patches of salinity on the foundation’s base. I thought that if W. Smyth had been part of our team then he would have added “decayed” in his description.
I tried to read the plaque, which was affixed on the east-facing wall. The text in the first few lines was in upper case and center-text format style. It stated:
“Erected by Major General Sir C. Napier G.C.B. and the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Soldiers of the British Army under his Command.” The next lines were lower case letters in the same style.
It read: “In memory of their comrades who fell in battles of the 17th February and 24th March fought with the Ameers of Sindh.”
“Ameer” was in capital letters. I attempted to read names of battalions, regiments and names of sepoys. But I failed to read the names of sepoys painted in lithochrome. Most of them had faded. I attempted to read from top to bottom, but I was not able to read the names. However, this time I saw Pipal tree leaves engraved on both sides of the upper corners of the plaque.
When I turned back and stepped down from the foundation, I saw an old man. The cold of January had forced him to wear a thick sweater, and he had tightly wrapped himself with an Ajrak. He slowed, halted in front of the Dheveri, joined his hands like in prayer, recited something and moved on. I thought for a while, wondering what induced the old man to pay homage to the war memorial. I couldn’t guess. I have seen that almost all Asian cultures respect “old places.” However, their love and respect for such places might be on a wider spectrum. It might be cultural beliefs, an appreciation for beauty, a longing for collective identity or a representation of memory and history. Generally, these old buildings trigger emotions – inspiration, melancholy, or historical restorative compulsion.
One of my traveling companions played Abida Pareveen’s song on his cellphone: “Asan Ji Mua Seen Safar Men o’ Sathi Ta Maneeda Manzil Pehnja Dhol Dhaati” (If we die in the struggle, be assured that success will be enjoyed by our companions, wretched people)
We had a cup of tea at a nearby tea stall and planned to see another monument that was also constructed by The East India Company in memory of those who fell in the battle of Dubbo. I took a stride from the courtyard of the tea stall. On the northern side, I saw blooming red rose fields. The wind carried their scent. I felt that the first current of air brought a bit heavy fragrance of red rose, but it faded quickly. I can say that it was quite an experience. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes to hold it for a while.
I came out of that luminous dream, and we drove the car towards the Dubbi War Memorial. We took a left turn and headed towards the east. Again, Amin asked a local vendor about the location of the war memorial. Hussain Bux Sarang gauged the situation and asked him about “Lagharin Wari Dheveri.” The words worked like Aladdin’s magic, and he instructed us to cross the bridge, keep on the left bank and cross the channel, where Lagharian Wari Dheveri is on the right side. The Deveri was opposite the Laghari village, locally called Sharti Laghari.
I entered the memorial area while recalling HT Lambrick’s description in The Sind Battles, 1843 published in the Journal of the Sindh Historical Society, February 1943. He stated that it was a plain obelisk, surrounded by guns sunk in the ground. He had added that there were two large Kandi trees close to the monuments, and he assumed that they might have been growing at the time of the battle.
But I saw a different scene. There were no towering Kandi trees, although Khabrris (a type of Salvadoraoleoides) were there. They have encroached onto the monument’s platform. In addition to that, I found that the guns were sunk in, upside-down. Their total number was eight. However, the northern and eastern guns were half covered in Khabrri bushes. I wondered who owned these guns. Were these captured on the 24th of March 1843? Or broken in action? Or discarded? I read some engraved numbers (1796, 34-1-3), letters (P, V, G, W) and signs (a crown and a cross) on them.
Sadly, the guns made of iron had rusted. Waterlogging and salinity had catalysed their decay.
But the most irritating and awkward scene was the ‘Battle Tower’ constructed by the Sindh Government. It was a cemented structure pasted with Kashi tiles. Some slots were left empty, perhaps to fix plaques. It seems that it had been abandoned in a hurry. Now the incomplete structure seems to ask: “Whose job was it to fix plaques?”
I experienced that structure as an unholy intrusion into a sacred historical place. If I am allowed to describe it, then I would say it was a “blot on the landscape” and “engineering with no imagination.” It even reminded me of the ‘Carbuncle Cup Award’ which is annually awarded to the ugliest building in United Kingdom. I thought that if somehow the award’s scope were enlarged to include our region, then I am sure that this structure would win the award.
The Dubba War Memorial shows some names of officers, their ranks and their numbers. The Company’s total sepoys, except officers who fell on the ground, were 36; and out of it 23 belonged to Her Majesty’s 22nd Foot Regiment. Few today have some idea of how they fought, and how their local opponents gallantly resisted with traditional weapons, lacking European-style discipline and centralised command.
Now, the winter sun was fast moving towards etting, so the monuments’ shadows doubled in size. It was a gloomy scene that compelled me to take some photographs in a hurry, and head towards the vehicle. We took another route. In the middle of a narrow deserted link road engulfed with Babul trees, one of my traveling companions played Abida Pareveen’s song on his cellphone: “Asan Ji Mua Seen Safar Men o’ Sathi Ta Maneeda Manzil Pehnja Dhol Dhaati” (If we die in the struggle, be assured that success will be enjoyed by our companions, wretched people).
I am not sure what was going through the minds of my friends. But I was thinking about war memorials: what was their particular context? What was their specific function? What is their role in Sindh’s history? I found myself thinking that their public existence reminds us that world affairs are still divided in frames of us vs them, winners vs losers, conquerors vs subjects.
I took a right turn. Now the orange-coloured sunset was in front of the car’s windscreen. This brief scene reminded me that in art and literature, sunset and sunrise are symbolically used. So, I thought:
“If 1843 was a sunset moment for Sindh, then how long has she to wait for the sunrise?”