The communal Partition of British India emptied Punjab of Muslims. The Muslims from the Indian side of Punjab crossed over to Pakistan leaving behind umpteen number of mosques, madrassas, mausoleums, graveyards and eidgahs. Towns and cities in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab preserve the deep cultural imprint of centuries of Muslim rule. In absence of Muslim inheritors of the grand legacy, dargahs are now routinely leased out by the Wakf Board to anyone who could assure the best annual returns. No wonder then why the new mujawars bear Hindu names prefixed or suffixed with 'Shah'.
But Malerkotla was one town where Muslims stayed put. It continues to be the only place in Indian Punjab hosting a thriving Muslim community. Incidentally, the town sends the only Muslim MLA to 140-member Punjab Assembly. Currently, Razia Sultana represents the town in the Assembly. The town has earned the sobriquet of 'Culinary paradise in Punjab' what with eating joints flaunting signboards like 'Naeem Dhaba' or 'Bhatti da murg' doing roaring business. The town claims the distinction of having the highest per capita consumption of meat in the country.
Why did the communal flames spare the Malerkotla Muslims? The nawabs of the tiny princely state are said to have been blessed by the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, for the valorous opposition to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's fiat to brick alive the two sons of the Guru. History records that Nawab Sher Mohammed Khan walked out of the imperial court of Aurangzeb voicing his opposition to the punishment describing it antithetical of Islam. Nawab's defiance of the imperial ruling earned the state special love and respect of Sikhs. During the cataclysmic days of Partition, Sikhs safeguarded the town's Muslim and did not allow them to leave for Pakistan. Guru is also said to have blessed the state in the words: 'its roots will always remain green'. Environs of Malerkotla remain sheathed in greenery all round the year and the town is the major supplier of vegetables to faraway cities.
Arriving in the town on a sultry morning of July, I could spot nearly a dozen minarets spiking out of the humble skyline of the town. It is the only place in current Punjab where skull caps could be seen in bazaars and non-vegetarian food attracting gourmands from afar.
The rich embroidery skills of the town's Muslims have spawned the industry for production of insignia and emblems for all kinds of uniformed forces within and outside the country. Even Cambridge and Oxford Universities and armed forces of the Gulf and Royal British Air Force make a beeline for Malerkotla to get their badges.
Intense heat and humidity drove me out of the town within 24 hours. But the thought of historic sense of gratitude of Sikhs has never departed me ever since my return. If just one bold pronouncement in the cause of justice could earn peace and harmony for the community over four centuries, I wonder what could be the dividends if the universal brotherhood could stand for justice for the entire humanity, jettisoning the partisan objectives of its faith.
Malerkotla could perhaps also boast of the most picturesque Eidgah anywhere around the world. The portals of the Eidgah are flanked by two tall towers. Once inside, the captivating beauty of the Eidgah could take away ones breath. The Eidgah sprawling over 10 and odd acres is dotted with canals, fountains, gazebos, pavilions and glades, all criss-crossed by neat pathways. Few could explain as to why a humble town needed such a well-endowed Eidgah. All that they could say is that every chief minister in Punjab had been liberally doling out funds to give a facelift to the congregational ground, with the scanty Muslim populace in the State having nothing else to demand grants for.
The princely state of Malerkotla was set up by Shaikh Saradaruddin Sadar-e-Jahan, an Afghan Pathan who had married the daughter of Delhi sultan Bahlol Lodhi in 1454. Shaikh received a lot of villages in jagir and three lakh rupees as marriage gift from the sultan. He looked after the subjects with kindness and affection and said to have won everyone's affection. The state ceded into the Indian Union in 1947. The 400-year reign of the Sherwani royal family had been enough to endow the town with a handful of monuments. One among these is Sheesh Mahal where Punjabi University of Patiala has set up the Institute for Arabic, Persian and Urdu Studies in recent years.
Begum Qudsia Aizaz Rasul, the only Muslim woman member of the India's Constituent Assembly was born into the royal family of Malerkotla. She however, was married into a nawab family of Oudh and rose to become the most famous Muslim woman politician of India with a public life spanning over six decade. She died only in 2001. Governor of Louisiana state of the United States, Bobby Jindal too is said to have been born to a former couple from Malerkotla.