Nov 19, 2007

Bairagarh near Bhopal

Bairagarh was a locality near Bhopal, which is now part of Bhopal thanks to the ever expanding boundaries of the city. The locality is mostly dominated by the Sindhi community, who were settled there after they migrated to India from Sindh in Pakistan during the India Pakistan partition. The Sindhi community is known for their business acumen and over time, Bairagarh has developed as the wholesale market for Bhopal providing the supplies of cloth, electronics and consumables to the Bhopal market. Some people even claim that after the partition, Bairagarh has become the world capital of Sindh. The 3rd Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) Centre of Indian Army was setup in Bairagarh in 1962. The Corps is responsible for providing engineering support to the army equipment ranging from light vehicles to tanks, guns, missiles, radars, computers, helicopters, communication equipment, night vision devices, simulators and so on during war and peace. Recently the suburb was renamed Sant Hirdaram Nagar, after a Saint by the same name who spent part of his life at the place and expired recently. The organization titled Jeev Sewa Sansthan established by Sant Hirdaram is involved in many philanthropic activities

A little known fact about Bairagarh is that a very big prisoner of war camp was established at Bairagarh by the British during the Second World War. The details of those days is described as follows by Abida Sultan, daughter of Hamidullah Khan, the last Nawab of Bhopal Princely state
An interesting side effect of the (Second World) War was the location of an Italian prisoner of war camp in Bairagarh, a specially built camp a few miles out of Bhopal, overlooked by Noor-us-Sabah (the residence of Abida Sultan, presently turned to a heritage hotel). Twenty thousand Italian prisoners were confined at Bairagarh barracks and in the early days we doubled our security guard at Noor-us-Sabah in case escaped prisoners made for the nearest house they could see. After a few months, it was evident that the Italian PoWs were not inclined to attempt daring escapes and were content to while their time away peacefully in their barracks. In fact, so benign and friendly were the Italians that they soon began making a remarkable impact on Bhopal’s social life. There were a number of artists among the Italian prisoners of war who began painting exquisite portraits and landscapes of Bhopal. They formed a splendid orchestra that gave concerts and served as a live dance-band for my father’s dancing soirees. One of the PoWs was a delightful Signor Rizzo who was employed to become the boxing coach for my son and his two companions. The Italians enriched Bhopal life and some were even sad to leave their confinement at the end of the war.
An amusing post-script to the Italian connection with Bhopal occurred in 1950 when I was driving my station wagon across Europe to Pakistan. Stopping at a petrol station on the Italian Riviera, I was flagged down by an animated motorcyclist who had noticed the Bhopal number plates on my car. The stranger had been a prisoner of war in Bhopal and wanted to establish contact with someone from Bhopal. He reminisced with great affection about Bhopal and insisted that we be his guests in his Italian village house. I was moved by this encounter which demonstrated how the Italians had warmed to their enforced stay in Bhopal.
This attachment continues, aided by the modern technology. According to an old saying of Bhopal, who drinks the water of Bhopal lakes is bonded to Bhopal for life. In this case, however, the attachment continues even in the next generation.

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