Imdad Ali Chandio of Shahdadkot in Sindh is cast in the mould of the classic teller of tales; that breed of men and women who kept local histories alive through word of mouth. Once, long before the arrival of television and video, countless others like him told the stories and sang the ballads that recalled the valour of generals, the magnificence of kings and the ardour of lovers. But no more on hot summer evenings with the powdery dust shackled by a sprinkling of water, do men sit under the spreading shisham or banyan tree and feel the surge of adrenaline to the verses of battle songs of old. No more, too, do they tell tales around the brazier in the otaq or the dera as the mist descends bringing with it the cold, and feel thankful for the smoke that brings tears to the eyes to hide those that come at a remembrance of past glory.
The story of the battle between the Rinds and a Chandio-Magsi alliance fought sometime in the mid 1820s never made it to the history books. It is nonetheless a part of the annals of Upper Sindh
– a part that is all but lost. That I came to know of it was for Imdad Chandio, the keeper of a dying tradition. And I tell it the way he would.
The battle, it is said, was fought in the chieftainship of Nawab Wali Mohammed Chandio a.k.a. Lukh Pal (Sustainer of a Hundred Thousand Souls), so known for his legendary munificence. They say that no cooking fire, other than the one in his kitchen, was ever burnt in village Ghaibi Dero where he lived and that even travellers merely passing through were put up and fed. Now, the Magsis of the neighbouring district of Gandava had a blood feud with the powerful tribe of Rind who were close allies of the ruling Talpur family. The Magsis, it is related, petitioned Nawab Wali Mohammed for assistance against the Rinds who were advancing against Gandava under the brilliant general Sher Mohammed. As it is, this was an extraordinary situation for the Chandios and Magsis had long been sworn enemies. So legendary is this animosity that even today a quarrelling pair are said to be fighting as though they were Chandio
Sardar Ahmed Khan Magsi took the line of the cause of good neighbourliness: that it would serve the Chandios and Magsis well to stand united against the outside threat of the Rinds. But the Chandios having always regarded the Rinds as the senior brother were averse to this confrontation. Rather than rush headlong into this struggle, Wali Mohammed therefore decided to first try negotiating a peace. The meeting, it is related, took place on the far side of the Indus, somewhere in the vicinity of modern Khairpur. But Sher Mohammed Rind hadn’t set out of the fort of Hyderabad for a picnic: his mind was set on battle and no amount of pleading against the spilling of Baloch blood could convince him to turn back. Despondent, Wali Mohammed turned westward from his mission of diplomacy to advise the Magsis to prepare for battle.
Prepare they did and the first action between the Rinds and Magsis was fought near the village of Garhi Khero (District Jacobabad
). The Rinds suffered a setback and the Magsis withdrew to their capital of Jhal, consolidated their defenses and sent a message to Wali Mohammed that the time had come for the Chandios to show where they stood. And so a thirteen hundred strong Chandio lashkar under the valiant Tillu Khan advanced to bolster the defenses of Jhal. With this army rode such men of note as Wali Mohammed himself and the general Tau Khan.
Having taken over the nearby springs to ensure a steady supply of water, the confederates sent out spies to ascertain the situation of the enemy. It was heard that Sher Mohammed had given out battle orders, and so when the sun rose on the new day the armies faced each other outside the walls of Jhal. Behind a line of kneeling men armed with muzzle-loaders, stood two lines of archers followed by the main bulk of the confederate army comprising of mounted swordsmen. Single combat gave way to a firing of the muzzle-loaders followed by a hail of arrows. Then, with the battle cry rising as a single roar, the swordsmen rushed forward; swords glinting in the early morning sun, beards parted by the wind and the elaborate white Baloch turbans playing behind them.
The din of onset was deafening. Great clouds of dust rose into the sky softening the glare of the wintry sun as men converged in mortal combat and tempered steel fell across tempered steel. Amid the whinnying of horses and the cries of the wounded and the dying the metallic smell of blood rose, and it was difficult to tell which side would carry the day. Then the Rinds began to flag and not long afterwards the shout went up that Sher Mohammed Rind had ignominiously fled from the battlefield. But he had not; in the confusion and the roiling clouds of dust he had only been missed.
‘Who says Sher Mohammed has fled?’ he cried. ‘As long as I stand here and fight, O sons of the great Rind, keep your ground!’ Having said that he dismounted, took off his cummerbund and fettered his legs, so that even if panic rode high and he was tempted to flee, he would be unable to do so. That day the confederates fought well, and as the sun westered, numbers of the Rinds were seen leaving the battlefield. But not so Sher Mohammed. He held his ground until tiring from thirst and his numerous wounds he went down, sword in hand, on the field outside Jhal. Thereafter the rout was total.
With the common enemy defeated the Chandios and Magsis reverted to their old animosity, so the story goes. The heroism of that winter morning on the field outside Jhal however is even today preserved in the ballad of Tillu Khan that Chandio shepherds sing as they lead their herds through the arid valleys of the Khirthar Mountains
. Though some of it may be romantic exaggeration, there is a core of truth in the story.
Charles Masson, explorer extraordinary and deserter from the army of the East India Company made several journeys through this country in the 1830s. His real name is a matter of conjecture for he needed to conceal his identity on account of his desertion, but Masson left behind a priceless four-volume account entitled Narrative of Various Journeys. Towards the end of 1831 he passed through Jhal, the seat of the Magsi chief, where he met with Ahmed Khan Magsi, the man who features in the tale of the battle. Later, in the context of Ghaibi Dero, he mentions Wali Mohammed Chandio as a brave and able general. In an earlier battle, Masson writes, Wali Mohammed had defeated and killed the father of Ahmed Khan which was perhaps the reason for the abiding ill will between the Magsis and Chandios. But when the Rinds came down against the Magsis, Ahmed Khan rode to the house of Wali Mohammed at Ghaibi Dero to tell him that he had absolved the latter of his father’s blood and that he needed his assistance. ‘Wali Mahomed hastened with his troops, and checked the Rinds in their career of devastation,’ writes Masson.
And so the memory of the battle lives on in the ballad recalling the grit of Tillu Khan, and men like Imdad Ali tell the story to emphasise the eminence of the Chandio tribe. And for those who care to read, the corroboration lies in Masson’s Narrative, first published over a century and a half ago.
Excerpt from Prisoner on a Bus: Travels Through Pakistan
Labels: History, Prisoner on a Bus: Travels Through Pakistan, Sindh, Telling a Story
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,
At November 18, 2013 at 5:52 PM,
Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...
Hope u r recording these ballads?
At November 19, 2013 at 10:59 AM,
Salman Rashid said...
I have no recording. But I can assure you, these ballads will not die in a hurry. The good people of the Khirthar sing them and keep them alive.
At January 29, 2016 at 3:13 PM,
Mudasir Magsi said...
wow Great History
The Battel Were Started From 18s I Thought That Would Be 19s
At January 30, 2016 at 7:09 AM,
Salman Rashid said...
Mudasir Magsi, the battle dates back to the 1820s.
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