A Tale of Three Cities
At Rawalpindi, beside the road leading to General Headquarters, in the compound of Army Museum, there stands a tall figure. Fashioned in military attire, holding firm to his rifle; the soldier we are talking about, stands erect in a perfect military bearing gazing across the horizons. So indifferent he is from whatever surrounds him that as an onlooker you develop a feeling of subordination. Proud he is, rightly so, because he is what others are not! He is the first recipient of Victoria Cross in South Asia and the first native-born Indian to win the honour. Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories. Khudadad Khan, as a sepoy was awarded Victoria Cross during first world war in 1914 at Belgium when he was serving in 129th Baluch Duke of Connaught’s Own. He later retired at the rank of Subedar and is very fondly remembered as Baba-e-Baloch Regiment (father of Baloch Regiment) in Pakistan Army.
On October 31, 1914, at Hollebeke, Belgium, SepoyKhudadad Khan from 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis, was in the machine-gun section of his battalion and was working one of the two guns. The British officer in charge of the detachment had been wounded and the other gun was put out of action by a shell. SepoyKhudadad Khan, although wounded himself, continued working his gun after all the other five men of the detachment had been killed. He was left by the enemy for dead. He later managed to crawl out and rejoin his unit. For his heroic deeds, he was awarded Britain’s highest medal for valour, the Victoria Cross (VC). At 26, Khudadad, who later rose to the rank of Subedar, became the first native-born Indian to win the medal.
Road to Mandi Bahauddin
A search on internet and some digging in at Wikipedia put me across two vital pieces of information; Subedar Khudadad Khan had died in 1971 and was buried in Chak No. 25 Mandi Bahauddin and that his VC was at display in a suburban village of Chakwal. Almost instantly a road map of visiting Mandi Bahauddin was at hand and once it comes to drives, Ladla and Kboom are taken for granted companions. On Independence Day (Aug 14th) we fondly dressed up our ride (a vintage Honda City) with a national flag and set course for the city of our dream. Chak No. 25 is a small village situated on Mandi Bahauddin – Sargodha Road and after some navigation undos and redos we reached there by noon. Greeted by a family loyal at the village residence, we were led to the graveyard to pay homage to Subedar Khudadad Khan, VC. There was this pile of dust in one of the graveyards of rural Punjab that singled itself out as a landmark in Chak No. 25 bearing the undying references to our identity and legacy. We spent the afternoon in the haveli of Khudadad Khan. The traditional style bethak (sitting room) bore on its walls the family pictures and an elegant sketched portrait of Khudadad Khan. Choudhary Abdul Ghafoor, grandson of Subedar Khudadad Khan was kind enough to invite us to his house in Mandi Bahauddin city where we spent a memorable evening. We talked about Khudadad Khan, the Victoria Cross won by him and the later years of the soldier’s life spent at Mandi Bahauddin. We were told how Khudadad Khan had lived in post independence days chersihing a life status he earned through the award of VC. We also came to know that the VC was lying at the ancestral house in Dab Village, Chakwal and we parted with the promise to visit the place to see the VC at display.
The Quest Resumed – Milestone Chakwal
Days had passed and the memoirs of the visit at Mandi Bahauddin had faded. It was an afternoon not different from the routine afternoons I spend in travel that on Motorway M2 near Chakwal Interchange, a signboard forced me to abruptly halt and have a closer look. It announced in bold letters “Dab, village of Subedar Khudadad Khan, Victoria Cross.” The very next Sunday and I found myself exploring the Chakwal suburbs looking for village named Dab. In the ancestoral house of the family built by Khudada Khan in 1938 (as endorsed on a plaque at the face of the house), my host was his great grandson Mr Ali Nawaz. Though visiting without any prior appointment (lack of courtsey at my end), Ali Nawaz was traditionally hospitable in recieving me. He was kind enough to show me around their ancestoral home in details and afforded me the opprotunity to take snaps. We chatted for a while, roamed the streets of Dab and talked about Khudadad Khan. That afternoon I left with some good memories and an everlasting imprint of the Khudadad Khan family’s hospitality on my heart. It’s unfortunate that I missed the opprotunity of taking a look at the first VC won in India as the medal had moved to Mandi Bahauddin.