Doodh Patti

Travel, Food and and Khaalis Doodh Patti Mind {and Lahore}

Marvi jo Khooh

Previously, one only chewed over and thought of such far away places, or read about Thar's unusual life, of people, who sang and danced with exciting rhythm and melody, radiant colours in dress, Manik Chowkri, a beautiful and intricate design on ajraks and chadars and colours of rolling miles of desert sand. The remote area on the Southern edge of Pakistan, which is devoid of the basic infrastructure necessary for life or development, is a tourists' attraction.

Antiquity is the first message. The scenery is attractive in its own way. Goths (villages) and hills quaintly intersect the desert soil, open all around. The roads, wherever they are, swings and curves up and down. The vehicles bump up and down the roads and sandy track, giving fleeting glimpses of a rougher, more elemental existence. Villages pass by, with trees surrounding them and beautiful birds swashbuckling on the branches, like crows on a rainy day. The vegetation is reduced to the undergrowth and thorny shrubs. Cows move silently, hordes and hordes of them, jingling cowbells around their necks, and doves flutter in front of the moving vehicles, which may be struggling in the fourth gears. Fine waves of sand with bright silvery particles sparkle in the sunlight.

Sea was here in the past but it has now moved further south. That is why one still finds salt lakes along the roads. People of the area get the salt for their consumption from these lakes. Small mounds of salt are seen on the banks of the lakes. At places, crushers are seen working refining the salt and processing it into a powder form in the old fashion way.
British functionary Parker did so well in south-east Sindh that the district of Thar was renamed Thar Parker. But the things have not changed much since then in Thar region. The refusal can be felt everywhere. Whatever development has occurred in the other parts of the country, has bypassed Thar? The round mud dwellings with thatched conical roofs look good in photographs but may not be as comfortable to live in. Thar is supposed to be one of the most densely populated deserts in the world. If nothing else, one should remember how certain parts of the Thar had become the scene of battle during the previous wars with India. Once again it has become a political battleground these days.

Major attraction and one of the claims of the Sindh folklore to fame is the village Bhalwa where my curious sense was at its peak. Marvi -- Sindhi heroin famous for her chastity and patriotism -– lived in village. Just on the periphery of the village is a shed where it appeared that a tea stall had been set up during Marvi's melo (festival of Marvi). A few steps away is the "Marvi jo Khooh" (the well of Marvi) from where she used to provide water to her goats and sheep and where Umar Soomra had caught a glimpse of Marvi and had become so head-over-heels that he held the girl against her wishes. Lost in the magnificent stronghold, Marvi's longing for her native terrain gave birth to one of the most moving folklore of Sindh. Her tale has been immortalized by great Sindhi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. It is an integral part of our oral and folk heritage. Most Sindhi girls know all about Marvi. Ironically, Marvi is credited only with a dilapidated and poorly written sign in Sindhi and English languages.

Marvi has been treated in a manner as any other national legendary character. There is nothing inspiring about the village these days. The physical venue -- old well -- had been plastered over and totally replaced by an unmarked cemented structure, an absolutely uninspiring job. At the moment, the well is dry and no Marvi can come there and have her pitcher filled. All that is seen left of Marvi is her undying desire and ache for what is no longer there.

A mela organized here in her name has become one of the biggest social and business events in the Thar area. Local cultural committee organises the annual mela of one of the celebrated figures of Thar, with traditional zeal and enthusiasm. But the committee has no resources. Thousands of Tharis participate in the two-day mela. Scores of camels and horses are brought to the mela from various villages to take part in races. Malakhro (wrestling) also is held on the occasion. The stalls under shamyanas or in huts made of straw are set to do the business. One resident of Bhalwa said, "We Tharis realize that a nation which loses its connection with history soon loses its identity. Hence, we gather here to pay glowing tributes to Marvi, the legendary woman." Sadiq Faqir, Karim Faqir, Ustad Hussain Faqir, Yousuf Faqir, and Jeendo Khaskheli among other vocalists of Thar mesmerize the fans of the mela with their folk songs.

Further on the way from district headquarters Mithi to Nagar Parkar, Virawah is another important historic town. It used to be a seaport in the past. Remains and relics are scattered in and around this sleepy little town. But one notices the town afterwards. It begins just like any other typical dust and flies town on the roadside anywhere in remote Sindh, and it ends just as abruptly too. Before one could decide if this is the best place to explore, one is almost out of the village. The abrupt change in the landscape tells that village is left behind. Climb the nearby Karunjhar Hill and you can see landscape intersected by conical huts. At night I saw a series of lights from the hillock. Haloes of iridescent lights glowed in conical huts all around. This would be the place to come and take a look on Diwali nights when Hindu living in the area lit earthen lamps to mark the festival of lights I thought.

A segment of a wall existing there in the form of mountain of debris and some engraved stones give an ancient look in town that I photographed though the veracity of the wall's association with the past is yet to be discovered. But the site does give evidence of its distant past.

How do you people survive?" asked one of my more urban companions. "The greatest contribution of us Tharis is that against all odds we have kept the place inhabited for Pakistan," the answers came from one of the locals.

If those who are at the helm of affairs in the government have taken for granted that Thar does not occupy a significant place in the geography (and history) of the country, then they should read the Sur Marvi of the Risalo of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. For the record sack!

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 8:00 AM,

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