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My ancestry – an initial exploration

The other day someone visited my house and asked me where I “belong”. I actually don’t “belong” to any part of India, having travelled and lived across India on numerous occasions before working in the IAS first in Haryana then in Assam and Meghalaya. The longest I’ve lived in any place in the world is in Melbourne (nearly 17 years), followed by Los Angeles (5 years).

In India I lived four years in Jullundur, twice for two years each in Pune, nearly four in Visakhapatnam, followed by shorter stints in Secunderabad, Shillong (twice), Guwahati, Barpeta, Dhubri, Bangalore, Mussoorie (twice), Perth, Hojai, Patna, and Dehradun.

Essentially I’ve been a vagabond, and consider myself to be a citizen of the world. But given this prompting (about “where I belong”) I decided to find out. I had a vague idea about my ancestry (e.g. see this) but it was probably time to find out more details.

Btw, the disruption of the partition of India seems to have taken many members of our family (particularly of my generation) to far flung shores across the world.

Here are my preliminary findings – obtained from my father  and mother – that I will update as I find out more. In particular, I’m interested in exactly when and how my parents came from West Panjab into India at the time of partition. I’ll keep elaborating this post as I find out more. It will remain work in progress.

MY FATHER’S SIDE – FROM PINDIGHEB

PAINTING BELOW: THE MAN (Hari Singh Nalwa) WHO CREATED (bestowed title to) THE FIRST SABHLOK

==THE STORY OF THE SABHLOKS BEGINS WITH PINDIGHEB ==

The Sabhloks were originally inhabitants of Afghanistan. They lived in Jalalabad near Kabul. During the 12th and 13th centuries they migrated to Dandi, a couple of miles from Pindigheb, later to become a tehsil of Campbellpore district, now in Pakistan.

Origin of the title “Sabhlok”

In 1959, my Bauji (Grand Father: Lala Gopi Chand Sabhlok) told my father to always write Sabhlok i.e. with an “h” and not Sablok.

He explained the origin of the word Sabhlok. More than two hundred years ago when Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) was the ruler in Punjab and part of Afghanistan, he appointed Hari Singh Nalwa – the great warrior/soldier as in-charge of North West Panjab and Afghanistan. My father’s great grandfather (Sultan Chand Sabhlok (c.1810-?)) was an officer (Jamadar) in Nalwa’s army.

Hari Singh used to address Sultan Chand as “Sabhlok” (a cultured and civilised person). He used to dress well with a dignified Pagri, white Salwar, Kurta etc. In Hindi the root word is “Sabhyata” and in Panjabi “Sabhta/Sabta”. Thus Sabhlok/Sablok is not a caste name, it is a title.

Hari Singh Nalwa allotted Sultan Chand 25 acres of well-irrigated land in Pindigheb (district Attock, near Peshawar) in recognition of his distinguished service, so in around 1840 Sultan Chand shifted to Pindigheb from Dandi. The Sabhloks of Pindigheb were therefore called Jamadars.

The progeny of Sultan Chand Sabhlok were addressed as Sabhloks and those who settled in nearby Dandi (about three miles away) were Sabloks.

Because of Hari Singh Nalwa, there is significant influence of Sikhism among the Sabhloks. Many Sabhloks make their first son a Sikh. As a result there are a large number of Sikh Sabhloks/Sabloks today.

A few well known Sabhloks were my tayaji (what?) Hakumat Rai Sabhlok (an officer in the Municipal Committee in Pindigheb), Sukhraj Sabhlok, Deputy Director Agriculture Department, and Dr.Rajinder Pal Sabhlok, Director WHO who finally settled in Switzerland (his brother was Registrar of Agriculture University Hissar etc.), my uncle Commodore Suresh Kumar Sabhlok, Vir Chakra.

Our particular family traces its ancestry to the following

Great Great Grandfather Lala Fateh Chand Sabhlok 

A son of Sultan Chand.

Great Grand father Lala Gian Chand (c.1870-?) (w: Rukmani Devi nee Jaggi) was the Municipal Commissioner of Pindigheb.

Grandfather Lala Gopi Chand Sabhlok. Bauji (1894-1977) (w: Bishen Devi nee 1897-1984 – Abbhat/Abbot before marriage; my Beji, grandmother ). He was the first person in the family to study up to matriculation in 1910. He joined the Agriculture Department at Lyalpur Agricuture University. The five brothers Sriram, Raja Ram, Suresh, my father and Ramesh were all born in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). There were also four sisters. [Note: Bauji’ elder brother Lorinda mal Sabhlok was a school teacher and agriculturist, his elder sister name was Chanan Devi.]

At the time of partition

Bauji had plans to settle in Pindigheb and look after his lands. But this ambition received a blow with India’s partition in 1947. Bauji was transferred from Rawalpindi (which was to go to Pakistan) to Ferozepur in East Panjab (India).

Bauji, Beji, Ramesh uncle, Chand aunty and my father left Rawalpindi on 12th August 1947. My father was 15 years old.

The family left Rawalpindi by train about 9 pm and arrived at Ferozepur early in the morning. This was the last train that faced no problems on the way. My father notes: “We read in newspapers that [in the] trains which left later many Hindus and Sikhs were murdered. Our domestic luggage was booked [separately] in [a] goods train and was 100% looted en-route.”

Where were the others at the time of the partition? Uncles – Suresh was working in Delhi College as a lab assistant in a College. Sri Ram was a soldier in the Army posted in Delhi Cantonment. Rajaram was in the Military Engineering Service in Patna. Aunties Satyawati and Raj were already in India at Shahabad near Ambala, Raj was at Patna (her husband RamAsra Jaggi was in Defence Accounts Department). Sister Shanti Dilbaghi was in Pindigheb and her husband Bansi Lal Dilbaghi was transferred to Hansi (Hissar) as a school teacher – at the time of partition. He remained in Hansi for about ten years and then transferred to Jagadhri (Yamuna Nagar).

Ambala and Jagadhri

Bauji and family lived in Ferozpur for about six months after which Bauji was transferred to Ambala City. Bauji retired in 1949 and became an accountant at SA Jain College Ambala City till 1957.

In the meanwhile, in 1955, Bauji got compensation for land and house about 25 miles away from Jagadhri (then in Panjab, now in Haryana). Bauji used to go there periodically. He asked all his sons whether they could look after the land and house which all of them refused as all were far away from Jagadhri. Therefore the land and house was ultimately donated to Vinoba Bhave on the advice of all the five sons.

My father, Ramesh uncle and my mother (and her sisters) also studied in SA Jain College, Ambala. My father was also a lecturer in Political Science in that College for two years before being selected to the Indian Defence Accounts Service (he retired in the rank of acting Controller General of Defence Accounts).

MY MOTHER’S SIDE – FROM JHANG

From my mother’s recollection:

My mother’s grandfather (dadaji; i.e. my great grandfather) had a house and agriculture land in Jhang city. He had two horses and some other animals.

At the time of partition, my mother’s father (Bauji – Balkrishan Chawla – married to Sushila Devi, also fondly called Biji) was posted in Multan and was transferred to Hansi. By that time the whole atmosphere had become very tense and full of fear and uncertainty. Violence had already started. People were being killed and properties were being burnt. Smoke was arising from many places in the Multan.

Fortunately, one of my grand-uncles (Ved uncle) was an officer in the railways at that time. He sent his younger brother to Multan and got Bauji’s household luggage booked by train. The luggage reached Hansi safely.

Finally, Bauji and family left Multan by train on 12 August 1947. Since my mother’s elder brother (Bhapaji) had to appear for his 10th class exam, he was left behind in one of my mother’s grandfather’s (this grandfather was from mother’s side – Nanaji’s) friend’s house in Multan.

The train went up to the Samasatta Junction station and stopped there. All passengers were forced to get down with their baggage. They sat on the platform badly scared and hungry. The platform was full of Muslims roaming here and there. While sitting at the platform and waiting for a further train to take them to Hansi, my grandfather’s family came to know that the entire lot of passengers in that (further) train had been massacred. The whole day thus passed in that dreadful atmosphere. As night appeared, Biji and Bauji became worried about my mother’s security as in that atmosphere all sorts of crimes were being committed.

Luckily, the station master of that station was a Hindu. He offered my grandfather’s family help and asked them to spend the night in his nearby house. Bauji stayed at the platform with the luggage while the rest of the family spent the night in the house of that station master. Next day, fortunately another train arrived and the entire family boarded that train. All passengers were fear stricken and huddled together without uttering a word.

Fortunately, the train reached Hansi safely. That’s why I exist.

Bhapaji came to India much later by air along with my mother’s Nanaji’s friend in whose house he had been left for his exams.

What happened to my great-grandfather’s property in Jhang, no one knows.

My mother (who was just around 11 years old at the time of the partition) remembers that Biji was very close to her grandfather’s elder brother’s family. They used to visit their house in Lahore. After partition, her grandfather’s elder brother settled in Delhi and my mother visited their house in Delhi also a few times along with Biji. But now, she does not remember where that family has gone as we lost contact.

TYPICAL PINDIGHEB ARCHITECTURE

I’ve got this from Flickr:

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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6 thoughts on “My ancestry – an initial exploration
  1. Joyson Fernandes

    I knew you were Khatri. They are decent people.

    The Sikh Khatris are called Bhapa, and the Muslim Khatris of West Punjab are called Khwaja Sheikhs.

    In my case, I have a relation to West Punjab as well, but that’s more than 800 years back. My ancestors were Saraswat Brahmins (Sarsut in Punjabi) from what is now Pakistani Punjab. They are reputed to be the most elite and knowledgeable of all Brahmins, because they were the ones who composed the Vedas and Upanishads.

    On my father’s side, I am Prabhu (landlord) and on my mother’s side I am Kamath (farmer).

    The Saraswat Brahmins began immigrating to South India from Kashmir and Punjab in waves from the 12th to the 16th centuries, and they adopted Konkani as their mother tongue. In the mid-16th century, my ancestors converted to Christianity under the Portuguese and in the early 17th century, they immigrated to Tulu Nadu (Mangalore, Udupi, and Kasargod districts).

    In my dad’s mother’s family, they even know their Brahmin relatives in Goa and south Maharashtra. They know their gotra, kuladevta, history, everything. There was a 90s era photo of the Brahmin and Catholic family members together I shared on quora.

    On my case, I’m not so lucky! But I’m thinking of having my DNA test taken from ancestry.com. If I get a match with a Goan Catholic relative, then I may have access to a geneology book which every Goan Catholic family of Brahmin descent keeps.

     
  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    “I knew you were Khatri. They are decent people.”

    No, Joyson, I’m NOT Khatri or any such thing. My ancestors might well have been anything. Immaterial as far as I’m concerned.

     
  3. Joyson Fernandes

    Of course, you are Khatri! You can’t change your blood and descent. It’s what you are.

    Khatri is a ethnicity, not a caste. Kshatriya is a caste.

    You are not a Kshatriya but a Khatri – a community that also includes Arya Samajis, Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians who reject varnashrama (caste system).

     
  4. Joyson Fernandes

    Humans have their own social identities. To deny this diversity is to deny one’s own humanity. People are different. And it is culture and environment that plays the dominant part of shaping what one becomes. There is no hiding from this.

    One of the major reasons I like India is because of its diversity. Every place is different and has a different vibe to it. The looks, outfits, cuisines, and customs change as you move from place to place.

    If we are all just a cultureless collective borg of so-called “vanilla humans”, the country would lose its vibrancy and turn into a boring soulless place. It would cease to remain India.

    One of the main reasons that I in fact oppose Hindutva, Islamism, and fundamentalist Christianity is because they oppose the diversity of Indians and want their adherents to be a uniform monolith.

     
  5. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    There is no good that has come out of this “diversity”, particularly the religious/caste stuff.

    Most of the West is now abandoning religion. That does not in any way affect culture. It only improves it.

     

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