Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Baloch way of life

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As Baloch herdsmen lead their sheep and goats across the wild and desolate gorges in search of forage forever scarce, they sing the vars (ballads) of their heroes. One that resounds across the Suleman crags is the story of Kaura Khan of the tribe Qaisrani. Not only is it sung in verse, it is narrated in prose as well — all of its several versions that vary but slightly.

Kaura Khan, so the story goes, was the brave Baloch of great physical strength and towering stature who inherited this land from a line of illustrious forefathers. Misfortune brought upon his soaring spirit the overlordship of the Sikhs and the British in turn. But he resisted them, each in their own time, with all his might. But where the Sikhs failed the British forced their writ.

This was a law alien to the Baloch way of life. Proud and wilful, they took it upon themselves to resist the new masters of their country. And so the first angrez ever to venture into this land of turbulent tribes in order to establish his government's decree was told by Kaura Khan that the new law would be unacceptable to him and his people. An altercation ensued in which the white officer, a man called Giri, threatened the bold Kaura Khan. That was too much. The man was bound hand and foot and taken into the hills.

For a full one month did Kaura Khan keep the abducted Giri in distant, unreachable valleys while his colleagues tried every which way to secure his release. Giri was liberated eventually, but only after British authorities submitted to the will of Kaura Khan and agreed that in his domain only his word will go. The Lord's will was done, so the ballad ends, for only He is the Bestower of esteem or disgrace.

In prose they tell a slightly different tale. Giri arrived in Tibbi Qaisrani to investigate a charge of murder against Jehangir, Kaura Khan's son. A Syed had been shot and killed. Kaura Khan's family maintained it was an accidental death when Jehangir was out hunting. But enemies of the family reported it to the British as pre-meditated cold-blooded murder. In the course of his investigations, Giri accused Jehangir of mendacity. Kaura Khan, the hot-blooded Baloch, lost his cool and an argument followed. Giri was trussed up and spirited off into the hills.

To cut a long story short, after much coming and going the dispute was resolved. Giri was recovered unharmed and, so the story goes, Kaura Khan Qaisrani restored to his fief. Indeed, so overcome were the British by his sway over his tribe they granted him the authority to try minor cases warranting punishment up to five years imprisonment.

And so the ballads in all their versions celebrate the soaring spirit of Kaura Khan, his prudence and his impartiality alike for the rich and the poor. They honour his courage to stand up to the tyrannical British when they called his son a liar. They sing of how he slapped Giri and sent him reeling. They celebrate the way the officer's entourage was overawed by his guts for slapping an angrez official so well protected by an armed escort. In these stories Kaura Khan is the archetypal hero for his clan.

Such then is the tradition transmitted by word of mouth. The other version is preserved in writing by the men of the Raj who came out here in the service of the crown. In written record the year is 1867 and Giri becomes Lieutenant Grey, the officiating Deputy Commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan district. Tibbi Qaisrani, now a part of Dera Ghazi Khan district was then part of the former district and the DC had indeed come out to investigate a murder case against Kaura Khan's son. It is interesting that British record does not acknowledge Kaura Khan as the rightful chief of the Qaisranis.

It was back in 1862 when chief Mitha Khan died leaving behind Fazal Ali Khan, a minor child. Kaura Khan, the mukaddam or administrator of Tibbi Qaisrani, at hand to take advantage usurped the child's authority. And so it was that five years later, his son shot and killed the man, purportedly while hunting — an event that brought the dutiful Grey to Tibbi in the debilitating heat of July. Thornton's biography of that best of frontier officers, Robert Sandeman, gives a short account of the proceedings of that long ago summer.

Having come down the river by boat, Grey missed the main channel of the river — not difficult to imagine when the Sindhu was indeed mighty and many-channelled in high summer of those pre-dam days. Consequently, Grey found himself and his two or three orderlies alone in a silent and humid by-channel of the great river. He waited for the rest of his party to show up, but realising it would be futile, decided to act on his own. Together with his orderlies he marched into Tibbi, confronted Kaura Khan and his son, read out the charges and placed them both under arrest.

The entire tuman turned up and, as the captives were being marched to the river, rallied behind Kaura Khan. Grey and his men were seized; the convoy about-faced and headed for the hills. Thornton goes on to tell us that the captive was released after a detention of 'a few hours'. But that he was 'marched into the hills' — a good day's journey on horseback, belies the claim of a brief custody of some hours. Sandeman's biographer apparently glossed over the hideous fact of Grey being abducted and held for some few days at least. Or could it be that it was Sandeman who in his own report summarily, for the sake of British morale, curtailed Grey's period of detention?

Logically, it would be somewhere between the few hours of British records and the full month-long detention of the ballads that Grey would actually have suffered. But be that as it may, the man was eventually released unharmed and as British forces descended upon him, Kaura Khan made off into the hills to hide among his clansmen. Sandeman had a good deal of influence with the border tribes and this he employed usefully to have the fugitive Kaura Khan hunted down.

With nowhere left to run among his own, Kaura Khan fled west to take refuge with the Pushtuns of neighbouring Musakhel. In a classic example of treachery, Painda Khan, the chief of the Misrikhel Pushtuns, seized Kaura Khan and made him over to the authorities. The man was tried and imprisoned. Upon release Kaura Khan was restored to his administrative position at Tibbi.

As folk stories go, that of Kaura Khan is a very ordinary one. It can scarcely turn the eye misty or raise goose bumps. With or without the meat of poetic embellishment on the bare bones of historical fact, it is clearly a story of resistance; one among a great anthology of this theme sprinkled across the land.

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Finds of Empire

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 29 July 2014 at 10:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

please write some more about the trees of lahore.

At 31 July 2014 at 16:06, Blogger Rehan Afzal said...

So grateful for this story.....

At 31 July 2014 at 16:57, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Rehan.

At 31 July 2014 at 19:42, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

Great article sir. Keep them coming. And Eid Mubarak to you.

At 31 July 2014 at 19:47, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Nayyar. And I wish you a very happy Eid too.

At 2 August 2014 at 00:26, Blogger Memoona Saqlain Rizvi said...

So this ballad is after all based on a true event. Kaura Khan is impressive n his bravery much needed even today.

At 3 August 2014 at 14:05, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Most ballads, no matter how ancient, like those of Pooran Bhagat and his half brother Raja Rasalu, do indeed contain a kernel of historical truth.


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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

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