Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The spirit dwells

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“My papers are ready,” said Nawaz Ali Khoso without a shade of misgiving. “I will be recalled any day now.” The simple delivery I first heard from my friend in 1999 was full of the joy of a life well and usefully lived. I heard it again every time I met him thereafter.
Now when I next go to Nagarparker, Nawaz Ali Khoso will no longer be there to talk of the old days. I will have to go to his grave to have my last words with him.I met this wonderful teller of the most esoteric and interesting tales back in August 1998.

Nagarparker, Nawaz Ali’s home, resounded with the calls of peacocks as thick dark storm clouds raced overhead leaving a cool dampness and a welcome chill in the air — a chill even in August. I went seeking him because my friend Raheal Siddiqui had told me of him.

Of medium height, with a craggy face and upturned moustaches; as he emerged from his home, he walked tall despite his nearly seventy years of age. I said I wanted to hear tales of Nagarparker of old. Nawaz Ali ducked back in to get his walking stick before taking me by the hand and leading me into the heart of the old bazaar of Nagar, as this magical, mystical desert town dwarfed by the Karoonjhar Hills is known to its children.

Back in the 1940s Nawaz Ali had served in the local customs service. His beat ranged from Chachro to well beyond Nagar in undivided India and he worked it on horseback — finished goods from Kutch and Kathiawar or from Shikarpur going this way that had to be taxed, he had told me. It was his work to see that none went through without paying dues.

I do not recall if he ever told me how he built up his vast and utterly amazing repertoire of tales, but there was nothing that Nawaz Ali did not know about his desert. When he told the tale of Roopa Kohli, the brave general who defeated a Raj army in 1859, the pride came through clear as day. And when the escapades of Lieutenant George Tyrwhitt were narrated none of the feeling was lost.
Nawaz Ali Khoso owned everything that had ever transpired in his native Thar for he was the truest son of the desert I have ever met.

We walked and we walked around the little town of Nagar, Nawaz Ali’s ferrule-tipped walking stick making a steady tap-tap-tap on the flagstones of the old streets. From Tyrwhitt, he segued to Marvi and Amar, the prince of Umarkot. I could almost feel the waver of emotion in his voice even as my own eyes misted at his heartfelt rendering of the tale told a thousand times.

We sat on the steps of the ruinous and abandoned Jain temple at the top of the street and Nawaz Ali recalled for me the glory days of Nagar in pre-partition India. It was not a little village marooned on the edge of a country; then it was a thriving trading centre on the old route between upper Sindh and Kutch.

This bazaar where we saw only padlocked stores with caved in roofs was where the goldsmiths kept shop. They were all Hindus who were forced to migrate about the time of the 1971 conflict.
“The rich Hindus of Nagar who gave colour to my desert town are now all gone; only the poor remain,” said Nawaz Ali. If on all my outings I missed the annual festival of Shivratri at the Sardhara temple in a quiet glen of the Karoonjhar, I know of it almost first-hand from my friend’s description. I don’t seem to have missed the minutest detail of the celebration without ever having been to the temple.

I was always struck by Nawaz Ali’s complete lack of religious bias. On more occasions than this, Nawaz Ali, himself a practicing Muslim, had shown himself to be a man without religious prejudice. That was the essence of his Baloch culture.

As he told me the story of George Tyrwhitt he encouraged me to climb the Karoonjhar peak known to this day as ‘Turwutt jo Thullo’ — Pedestal of Tyrwhitt. Though I would have liked nothing better than to walk with Nawaz Ali in the red ravines of this breathtakingly beautiful hill range, he declined. He was too old for the short trek, he said but he sent his son as my guide.

On another outing, Nawaz Ali and I walked away from the village and there in a Karoonjhar ravine, by a thorny flowering bush we sat. As the song of white-cheeked bulbuls leapt out of the thickets, this good man told me that the name Karoonjhar signified Black Sprinkling.

The hills are fine quality granite of pink colouring with a dash of black. I was surprised why this simple yet evocative title and its meaning had missed Sindhi intellectuals because as far as I know, it has never been sung.

Borrowing my notebook, he drew a rough sketch of the hills to give me a detailed description Karoonjhar hydrology. He knew the number of waterways carrying down rainwater from the weathered granite summits to the parched dunes around town. He knew of the basins within and outside the folds of the Karoonjhar and was aware that the large basin deep in the hills would be good to charge the aquifer.

Nawaz Ali also suggested that there were at least three sites suitable for dams to store the runoff. All this could only have come from either an educated hydrologist or someone who had walked every inch of the hills to see and understand the drainage.

Now my friend Dr Khatau Mal sends word from Mithi in the desert that the raconteur of Nagarparker is no more with us. An era has ended in Nagar — nay, in the entire desert from Nagar to the northernmost reach of its sand dunes in Sanghar district. Now no one will sing Roopa Kohli and Marvi of the desert to raise goose bumps and mist the eyes of the listener. My dear and revered friend, Nawaz Ali Khoso who had so long known that his papers were ready, has finally been called up.

May his spirit dwell forever in the lovely red ravines of the Karoonjhar that he so loved.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 11:27,


At 27 October 2013 at 23:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RIP to a true legend.

At 28 October 2013 at 05:43, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

What a character sir and equally befitting tribute. I join to say, "May his spirit dwell forever in the lovely red ravines of the Karoonjhar that he so loved."

At 28 October 2013 at 15:45, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Wonderful man and a great friend. So much at peace with himself and with the world around him.

At 28 October 2013 at 23:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RIP this good man.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

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