Recently, while driving to Ludhiana from Chandigarh with a friend, I suddenly exclaimed, ‘I want to stop at Samrala.’
‘No more of Samrala now! It’s been bypassed by a long flyover,’ my friend smiled and continued to drive. But I was transported to the good old days spent in Samrala.
‘It’s the place where I was born more than seven decades ago. I wanted to stop for a while, pay my respects to my birthplace and remember the childhood days,’ I said with a soulful sigh. ‘Anyway, you won’t recognise it; it’s changed beyond imagination and recognition,’ he comforted me.
I remembered that a groundnut research station was set up at Samrala under my father’s supervision. He had studied at Punjab Agricultural College in Lyallpur. It so happened that one early morning, Sardar Partap Singh Kairon, the then Chief Minister of Punjab, while passing through Samrala, decided to spot-check the research station.
He saw a person wearing a vest and a pair of underdrawers, busy tending to plants in a field. The CM asked, ‘Beldar, tera afsar kithe hai (O worker! Where’s your officer)?’
‘I’m the officer in charge here, sir,’ replied my father as he quickly got up off his haunches and moved towards the Chief Minister to greet him. Kairon was impressed. He asked my father’s name and patted him. While at Samrala, my father developed new varieties of groundnut; one of these, named Punjab Groundnut No. 1, was an instant hit with farmers of Punjab.
Samrala was then a small place, just like an overgrown village. Its outskirts towards Ludhiana were dotted with rolling sand dunes. The popular mode of transport was the horse-driven tonga, and as a kid I loved and looked forward to a ride on it. To catch a train, we would have to travel to Khanna by tonga, a distance of nearly 9 miles. The historical gurdwara at Machhiwara, about six miles away, was a place of pilgrimage and I visited it a few times with my family.
What I remembered most were those exciting picnics along the Sirhind canal, which isn’t too far from Samrala. It carries water from the Sutlej river and originates at the Ropar headworks.
A marvel of irrigation infrastructure, the canal was completed way back in 1882. The banks of the canal were lined with mango and jamun trees for miles together. During the monsoon season, the bridge on the canal at Neelon attracted lots of people for a feast of summer fruits. Its water currents were very swift and looked scary to me, though some adventurous young men could be seen jumping into the canal.
The journey to Ludhiana overwhelmed me with the nostalgic echo of those evocative Samrala days.
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