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Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 12:01 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 12:01 AM (IST)IMPRESSIONS

A Bridge of Romance

Jasmine Singh in Amritsar
Pul Kanjri near Amritsar reminds you of the passion of love, the softness of art and the generosity of a chivalrous king. Alas! It also reminds us of the very meaning of the word 'kanjri' — even though the place has earned the heritage status

Jasmine Singh in Amritsar

PICTURE this: a beautiful dancer while crossing a small canal linked to the Ravi loses her silver sandals. There’s no bridge across. That night she refuses to dance for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Maharaja, known for his valour and chivalry, when informed about Moran's predicament, immediately orders an overnight construction of a bridge over the canal. “Uss din to iss pind da naam Pul Kanjri pai gya (ever since the village has been known as Pul Kanjri,” says Sucha Singh, the caretaker of what has now become a mere pond. 

“She came from Makhanpura village... over there… can you see?” Sucha Singh points in the direction. “She would then perform in this Baradari,” says Sucha Singh looking at a dilapidated structure that was once a rest house for Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and where Moran performed. As you move closer to the Baradari — a battered structure — a BSF soldier shouts: “Issey age nahi jaiye (don't go beyond).” This is when you realize you are only 100-meter from the fenced border with Pakistan. 

“This is the Taj Mahal in this part,” gushes Sucha. The ‘pul’ is gone, and so is the canal. There are lush green fields, old historical structures, the sarovar, Shiv Mandir, the crumbling baradari and the War Memorial. Half-a-dozen families make up this village. They are the ones who stayed back after the Partition. 

Swaran Singh, an elderly farmer from Thathi, tells the story of the glorious village, now reduced to a few houses. “Jo cheez Lahore ya Amritsar te nahi mildi si, oh is pind wich mil jandi si (whatever was unavailable in Lahore or Amritsar, was sought here in this village).” The village was a big trading centre, inhabited largely by Arora Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. During the Partition, many families shifted to Pakistan. “These families didn't leave anything behind. Hun bus kuch ghar reh gaye ne (only a few houses remain)," says Swaran.

The sarovar was in a bad condition till the Spring Dale School along with the Archaeological Survey of India had the site cleaned up. Sucha Singh is the officially caretaker and cleans the sarovar, the Shiv Mandir and the War Memorial every day. The place is a Unesco heritage site. A board outside the sarovar says: ‘Conservation and redevelopment of Pul Kanjri (financially assisted by ministry of tourism).’

The structure is used as a backdrop for pre-wedding shoots and for Punjabi music videos. You may bump into wedding photographers, nicely-dressed brides & grooms, makeup artistes. They all know Sucha Singh. The Shiv Mandir inside the sarovar is made of Nanakshahi bricks. A fading fresco work marks the roof of the temple. The War Memorial perpetuates the memory of the soldiers of the Sikh Regiment who recaptured the Pul from Pakistani Army in 1971. 

Though the Spring Dale Senior School authorities look after the cleanliness and maintenance, they have to go by the ASI instructions. “In case of any repair, we have to inform the ASI,” says Rajiv Kumar Sharma, principal. The school encourages its students to know more about the place through Heritage Education Program. The School has organized two international festivals Sanjh to generate interest in the heritage site. 

School administrator Ravi Kalia says the heritage site should be restored as soon as possible. “We have spoken to the authorities, written memorandum... what else can we do?” 

Before her death, former principal, Manveen Kaur Sandhu, made efforts to change the name Pul Kanjari to Pul Moran as ‘kanjri’ is taken as an abuse in Punjabi language, a view being shared by many Sikh historians. 

“Kanjars were the much-appreciated community of Pakistan. Later they were reduced to street dancers. So, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh kept the name Pul Kanjri, it was a sign of respect for Moran. Kanjri is now used as a cuss word,” says Tejwant Gill, a scholar and a modern Punjabi critic.

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