Book of Days 2016
02 December 2015
Beginning eight years ago with Tales Less Told, Pakistan Petroleum Ltd again asked me to prepare a theme for their diary and table calendar for the year 2016. After some deliberation Saquib Hanif, the company’s Chief Public Relations Officer (who has since moved on to a higher position) and I decided to do something on crafts.
But we did not want to do what has already been flogged to death by the usual run of the mill diaries. We resolved to look at crafts that are on the verge of dying. Now, in the more than three decades of my life as a traveller, I had seen most of the crafts at some time or the other. In those years I had sometimes worried about the precarious condition of the practitioners of those fine crafts: nearly all of them complained their income was far from commensurate with the hard work and time they put into their creations. Many of them were not teaching their children their craft. Conversely, if they were, the children were not practicing it because it put bread on the table with some difficulty.
Over the years I had felt we would lose these crafts. And indeed we have lost many. Others continue to hang on by a mere thread. There is one, the lacquer work turnery of Dera Ismail Khan, that has picked up. According to Fahim Awan, the master craftsman, it was after I wrote a piece for Herald in 2003 that he started receiving buyers and his business picked up.
In the course of this work for next year’s diary, I learned that some of these crafts are dying because the ordinary city dweller has no idea what can be had. In our ignorance we prefer synthetic rubbish over the finest pieces of creation ranging from rugs to shawls, to shoes, to stoneware.
For next year’s publication, I picked twelve artisans and their craft that most Pakistanis would not even imagine exist. The work took me from Turbat to Badin to Chitral and to a remote corner of Baltistan. I visited Kashmore, Dera Ismail Khan and Thar and a few other places. On purpose I keep this secret for the time being so that you strive to get a copy of the diary. If not, follow the blog to read through the year what we are about to lose forever.
Once again, the work for the diary is an appeal to the institutions and the people of Pakistan to save what they can. But once again I fear my appeal will go unheard.
Related: Waters of Empire (2015), Discoveries of Empire (2014), Stones of Empire (2013), Wheels of Empire (2012), Roads Less Travelled (2011), Sights Less Seen (2010), Tales Less Told (2009)
Canal Rest Houses, When Sahibs were Sahibs
01 December 2015
In Victorian India when the canal engineer set out on tour, he travelled with a large entourage, his train of baggage animals carrying virtually his entire office and personal effects. His subordinates, the assistants and clerks, his personal attendant and much of the office paraphernalia travelled with him. Even if the sahib sped on ahead to inspect installations or address a convention of village elders, his convoy trundled along slowly on its way. While Tiffin was the mode for lunch, the convoy made the rest house in good time to prepare dinner and a warm bath.
|Rasul, an A Class rest house, was built in 1899. It sits at the site of a major headworks of the same name where the Lower Jhelum Canal merges from the river. The village of Rasul is also home to a technical school for aspiring canal engineers|
In those days of horseback travel and slow animal-drawn carts, these rest houses were placed strategically at every 25 to 30 kilometres, which was, more or less, a standard day’s journey. As a result, some of these old rest houses were located in the loneliest of places. A district officer in the Punjab, obviously gifted with a fine sense of humour, noted wryly: “Many of the rest houses being far away from human habitation would be more appropriate as hermitages.”Read more »
Open season in Punjab
30 November 2015
Indeed, in April 2013, this writer saw frequent groups of grey partridges feeding fearlessly by the side of the less frequented roads of the Soon Valley.Read more »
28 November 2015
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Fish in the water
27 November 2015
When Alexander’s General Krateros started off with the ten thousand-strong contingent of aging veterans back for Macedonia, he had parted from his commander at Patala (Hyderabad). Three hundred and fifty kilometres northwest of Patala and some two weeks after the contingent of aging veterans bid farewell to Alexander, to head for Macedonia in the year 325 BCE, blasé veterans from years of hard travelling and even harder fighting, would have looked up in awe. There, spread out in front, was a large irregular splash of green, offsetting the bleak ochre of the mountains in the background.
As they neared, birdsong bursting out of the thickets would have been more than welcoming. Nearer still, the tinkle of rushing waters would have soothed the tired marchers. But Krateros would not have tarried long here for he had the Moola Pass to negotiate to the Baloch uplands before he could reach Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar). Neither Krateros nor any of his veterans left behind a record of what they saw and how they felt upon reaching this lovely oasis. Nor, too, did they tell us what it was called. But one thing that cannot be denied is that this army would have passed through Chhattal Shah, for there was no other way of ascending the Moola if you came from the low country of Sindh.Read more »
26 November 2015
Kashmir via Shalimar Gardens.
At Derawar, I have been told of such a subterranean connection with the fort of Jaisalmer and Bahawalpur; at Rohtas, of a link with Rewat (outside Rawalpindi which, incidentally, is not a fort but a caravanserai) and also Kashmir. The so-called guides proclaim that the emperors not wishing the unwashed subject to take a gander at their womenfolk travelled secretly between all these places by the tunnels.Read more »
Trek to the Source of the Khenji River
25 November 2015
Two years ago my article on a journey to the Dog’s Grave, the second highest peak in the Khirthar Mountains, and my use of the words of H. T. Lambrick elicited a response from friend Raheal Siddiqui. He said the words I quoted, were used by Lambrick for another part of the Khirthar: the Khenji River and not the Sita that I had trekked along. Ever since he had wanted me to trek on the Khenji as well, but it was always one thing or the other that kept me until ten days ago.
In Larkana Raheal packed me off to the dusty little village of Warah where my fat, pot-bellied, bhung-drinking friend Wali Mohammed waited at the otaq of Tharo Khan Chandio, the local chief. A tea ceremony was followed by a visit to the local grocery with Tharo Khan’s driver fidgeting endlessly and reminding us how late it was getting and that we would not arrive at the village of Rahu jo Aitho before nightfall if we did not hurry. Yet we did not hurry. The tired Suzuki jeep rattled along raising a thick cloud of cloying dust on the bank of a saline drain. We passed the reedy shores of Daba Lake and then we were clattering over hard, stony ground. On the outskirts of the rare settlement ugly crop-eared brutes came out to bark our wheels out of their jurisdiction. They raced alongside, snarling menacingly and, seeing that our jeep so much the bigger than themselves, did not have the nerve to stand and fight turned back with some satisfaction.