This piece was first published in Hindustan Times.
It’s been more than two years of my stay in Ludhiana and there is a certain route I traverse almost daily. Lined up on the kilometre-long stretch are beauty salons, department stores, a single-screen theatre, gurdwaras, a gym and various small eateries dishing out pizzas, ice creams and momos.
Recently, I chanced upon a newspaper story on the internet and discovered that a huge fenced ground at a turn on that route – that barely catches the attention and looks like a piece of commercial real-estate property waiting for construction – has underneath it the remnants of a civilisation that existed 3,800 years ago!
The story said that during excavations at Ludhiana’s Sunet village, carried out by the Punjab archaeology department in 1984, thousands of coins and seals from the times of ancient kings such as Hermaeus, Gondophernes, Chandragupta and Samudragupta were found. The land was subsequently declared protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, the instruction announced by a small rust-eaten board in a corner.
This was incredulous to me. I wondered how a site of such massive historical importance could lie in total disregard. No friend who accompanied me to that area for evening strolls had mentioned it. To my shock, it emerged that they had no clue and, in fact, didn’t show much interest either. Those few who did know had only a vague idea about the excavations and rubbished my curiosity with, “Yeah, there was some talk of rare coins back then”
In this city of flashy cars, deep pockets, colossal houses and a long roster of successful homegrown industries, history is neither preserved nor bothered about.
Curious to dig more, I met a family with the help of a local resident which has been inhabiting the area for more than 60 years. The eldest member, a smiling Sikh, though hard of hearing, chatted with me happily and offered me eye-popping glimpses into the land’s recent history. It was 1965 and the family began construction of a new pucca house in the area, moving from a rundown tenement nearby. As the masons dug the earth, the family discovered at a depth of 7 ft a pot (matka) buried underneath. As the digging continued, they found 11 similar pots hidden underneath in a row!
What did they do with the pots? “One or two were cracked, so we broke them down. The ones that were in good shape, we used them to store grains. But they burst. Until a year ago, I had one of those pots,” he said with childlike excitement. While I sat stunned, regretting it all, he saw my disappointment. “Nobody like you ever came to me asking anything about those things. My children and grandchildren never valued them and eventually I, too, began to think little of them.
Anyway, he showed me three coins he had saved over the years. Interestingly, people from faraway places in the country used to visit the village, asking residents about the rare coins and artefacts. The innocent villagers would barter the rare possessions for what they thought was a princely sum. There are quite a few elderly people in the village who have safeguarded these artefacts in cupboards, he said, but with little hope that their children will take care of their prized possessions. Not that they understand their real value either.
Sadly, owing to uninhibited commercial activity in the village, the historical site has been reduced to the fenced ground spread over 10-12 acres. Further excavation work on the site has not commenced since 1984, with the archaeological department blaming the inactivity on the lack of requisite technology.
This village has the potential of being declared a tourism site. If only the city wakes up to its roots.