Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Sindhian Horse

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Chandio shepherds leading their livestock through the bleak, sun-baked valleys of the Khirthar Mountains in Sindh sing the ballad of Sreman Chandio. Pained that his motherland had been ravaged by Zunnu Pathan no less than thirteen times, this great warrior resolved to settle this belittling once and for all. And so he prepared an army of a thousand Chandio warriors to destroy the Pathans in their very home of Kandahar. Such are the words that ring across the Khirthar valleys.

A thousand warriors and as many wooden boxes large enough to hold a warrior apiece, did Sreman make ready. Then with the boxes loaded two each to a camel, did the heroic Sreman set out for Kandahar in the guise of a musk dealer. In their boxes, the warriors were each equipped, besides their accoutrements of war, with a musk-scented kerchief as well. Across the great sandy plains sandwiched between the Sindhu and the brown wall of the Khirthars they travelled many days up into the mountains of Kakar country that give way to the dusty plains of Kandahar.

The sun was low in the west when they eventually fetched up at the gates of the city for Sreman had timed his arrival well: he knew customs officials would be worn-out with the long day behind them and the guards negligent. And so it was. When Sreman announced that he was just a musk dealer from Sindh, the officials looking forward to calling it off for the day carelessly ran a dagger into the thin gap between the slats of the crates. Inside, the Chandio warrior waited ready with his kerchief and quickly let the blade pass between its musk-scented folds. The rich fragrance on the blade assured the weary officials that Sreman was indeed what he said he was and his caravan of five hundred camels was cleared to pass within the gates.

In the dark of the night, when all, even the restless dogs of the city, had drifted into deep sleep, Sreman threw open the lids of the boxes concealing his armed warriors. As wraiths they silently drifted to spread through the city. Every single man that breathed in Kandahar that night was slaughtered. Even Zunnu, who slumbered in the security of a guarded palace, was not spared. And then, even before the women and children were woken by the singing birds of dawn, Sreman and his warriors were miles away on their way to the Khirthar Mountains with immense plunder and no loss to their side.

A look at the genealogical chart maintained by the Chandio family of Ghebi Dera (Larkana district) and a little simple arithmetic will place Sreman Chandio somewhere in the latter half of the 15th century. But Sindhi Sufi poetry and folklore only talk of Pathan raids beginning three hundred years later. For a moment, even the historian is thrown off guard and would be tempted to discredit the family tree and make Sreman a contemporary of Abdali from Kandahar. But then, there is no indication of a showdown between the Chandios and the Abdali host. And a fight, moreover, in which someone called Zunnu, took part.

Not only for the Sindhis but for most other people of what is now Pakistan, anyone who invaded this country from the north was a Pathan. Mahmud Ghaznavi, Shahabuddin Ghori (both Turks) and Chengez Khan or Babur (Mongols) are considered by people of little knowledge to be Pathans. So the only ‘Pathan’ with a name that gets close to the one in the ballad is Zunnun Beg Arghun, a direct descendent of Chengez Khan through his youngest son Tolui.

In the latter years of the 15th century (Sreman’s time), the Arghun was appointed governor of Kandahar by the Mongol overlord Sultan Hussain Mirza who ruled over eastern Afghanistan from his seat in Badakhshan. In 1480, Zunnun Beg extended his authority by taking Shalkot (Quetta) and Mastung and mounted raids on their dependencies. Although history does not record such an occasion, but it is right possible that in the course of these sallies he came against the outlying cities of Sindh. Perhaps the Chandios did try to resist him and perhaps the superior power of the Mongols had humbled them. But if such an event ever took place, it never found its way into any history.

What is recorded is that Zunnun Beg Arghun made the mistake of joining the rebellion of his master’s son. When the rebellion was quelled, the Arghun had passed out of favour of Sultan Hussain Mirza. Not long afterwards, the Uzbeks came down against the Arghun who found no recourse from any quarter. In the year 1507, in a battle near Herat, an Uzbek sword ended the story of the Arghun’s dramatic life.

Who knows if the Chandios, having suffered at his bloodthirsty hands, played with the notion of a stratagem against the Arghun as the ballad recounts? Who knows if Sreman, the Chandio leader, did indeed start to prepare his soldiers for it? Or perhaps none of this happened and the Chandios only continued to smart under the humiliation of the Arghun’s high-handedness. But even if Sreman did start to prepare for war, word arrived from across the wind-scoured landscape that Zunnun Beg had met his end. Thereafter it did not take long for the brave Sreman’s heroic plans to turn into legend where he actually put them into play. That is how legends are made.

In 1999, while doing a series of history and travel documentaries for PTV, I made one on this beautiful legend of the Sindhian (as against the Trojan) Horse as well. Only after it was broadcast and met with censure from a couple of Chandio ‘intellectuals’, did I realise that our so-called local historians are simply incapable of thinking logically.

The burden of the criticism lay on declaring Zunnu a Pathan and that he had nothing to do with the Arghun. Sreman, it was said, was a great warrior king (which he may well have been), and he destroyed the Pathans inside their own stronghold. So far as my critics were concerned, even if this had never happened, that was the glorious light they wanted to see their Sreman in.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 27 December 2016 at 03:27, Anonymous Polytropos said...

Comfort is not test of Truth. Truth is often far from being comfortable. Swami Vivekananda.


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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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