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Jan 8th, 2010, 04:48 PM #1----
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Footloose, NOS, The News International
Sher Shah Suri and the Grand Trunk Road
We love to recount how he built the road from Kabul to Calcutta. But this view is grossly wrong and needs to be corrected
By Salman Rashid
In a recent column in the lead page of this newspaper, Ayaz Amir wrote a pithy and excellent overview of our history. If we lesser mortals attempt to add to Ayaz's work, we can only produce a gaffe of the worst kind. In the letters section (27 September) a certain Dr Obaidullah, a plastic surgeon from Peshawar, has done just that. He has gone so grossly wrong that he needs to be corrected.
The doctor tells us that Sher Shah Suri built the road from Kabul to Calcutta in five years. This is the great lie fed to us Pakistani Muslims since the advent of our country. Sher Shah, great king that he was, never built the Grand Trunk Road. Point: It had existed since prehistory. In our ignorance, we love to recount how the Suri king built way stations, inns, and kos minars to mark distances. Sometimes we also boast of the trees he ordered along the sides of the road. This only stems from a myopic view of history that begins with the advent of Muslim rule in our part of the world.
We first hear of the Rajpath -- The King's Highway -- from Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador representing the interests of Seleucus Nikator, erstwhile general in the army of Alexander and then Greek king of Syria, in the court of Chandragupta Maurya at Patliputra (Modern Patna). Megasthenes remained in India from the year 300 to 285 BCE and travelled widely across the land and most of what he wrote in his Indika comes from personal observation.
Megasthenes' work today exists only in fragments. However, when the geographer Strabo wrote about the beginning of the Common Era and the historian Arrian 40 years later, the original work was complete and both writers liberally used it as a source. It is from a reading of these three important works that we learn much of the India of the 4th century BCE -- things that we Muslims who all claim to have come either from Arabia or from Iran and Central Asia would only want kept hidden from common knowledge.
In the context of the King's Highway that extended from Bengal to Kabul -- the latter part of the Mauryan empire, we are told of a government department that was assigned entirely to the upkeep of this great highway. The duties of the staff included ensuring that the furniture along the highway was always in perfect fettle. The roadhouses, kos minars, and way stations were assiduously maintained in good order for travellers' ease and comfort.
When the highway was crossed by a minor road, signs told travellers where each road led and the distance to the nearest cities. In fact, the kos minar was not just a distance marker, it also pointed out by-roads and where they went. Planting of shade trees along the roadsides was a must-do.
The Grand Trunk Road or as we then called it the King's Highway or Rajpath, was a perfect highroad to travel on in the 4th century BCE India of Chandragupta, the Mauryan. That having been said, we must understand that the Mauryan king was not the one to lay down the road: it had existed long before him and may even have been equipped with all the furniture of which Megasthenes tells us. Whatever Chandragupta did, and as recorded by the Greek, is the first ever record of road works in India.
Eight hundred years after the thoughtful king Chandragupta we hear of the Guptas ordering extensive repair and up-gradation of the Rajpath. The inns were in ruins, the kos minars crumbling when they were ordered revamped.
In the next 1000 years, we hear of no governmental interest in the upkeep of the Rajpath. Then came Sher Shah Suri. He renovated the old way stations, inns and distance markers. Five hundred years after him we Pakistanis needed to glorify 'our' side, and we did it with shameless historical mendacity and a bit of stupidity as well. Surely, it is foolish to believe that Sher Shah could have built the entire road, all 5000 kilometres of it, in his five year-rule! Especially when he was beset with all the troubles around his short-lived empire.
And so the Rajpath, of which we first hear in a work written in the early 3rd century BCE, was squarely plonked in Sher Shah's lap as his Jarnaili Sarak.
Jan 9th, 2010, 11:40 AM #2----
How does glorifying Sher Shah glorifies Pakistan when he was in reality an Afghan whose empire covered parts of both India and Pakistan?
Jan 9th, 2010, 12:14 PM #3----
The point being made, and applies equaly to both countries, is we play up the contribution of our respective communities, at the expense of the other community. You have just made his point by denying Zafar Khan's Indianess.