By Shaheda Rizvi, Canada
Editor’s Note: Shaheda Rizvi lives in Montreal, Canada. This nostalgic article is about the time when she lived in Westridge, Rawalpindi way back in 1954-58.
The way of parting one’s hair, a glance that numbs, a torn shawl, colour of a shirt, heaviness of raindrops on a drought-ridden day, are all pieces of a puzzle, called soul-food. These pieces of folk-art now feed my soul and remind me of those rich human emotions and an equally rich landscape that was peculiar to my local culture and is also the fabric of my inner being. According to Joseph Campbell (American Mythologist) such peculiarities of life-customs, validate and maintain a certain moral system or a local social order—–also known as the sociological function of a living mythology.
The first time I looked at the face of Afghan girl Sharbat Gula on the cover of National Geographic (June 1985 issue), my thoughts raced back in time to our Gujjar’s daughter in Pindi. Was her name Yasmeen, I am not sure, but let it be so for this story. That’s exactly how she looked and that’s just how she stared back that one day of many days, when I looked for her after school and found her amongst the buffaloes. Her clothing: a tiny tear on that rich mustard or maroon “Chaddar”, finger nails dark and dirty from cleaning, mixing, and patting the “Buffallo-Waste”. Scent of freshly churned butter all around her being, with a milk pail in her hand, ready to deliver the freshest milk from one of the many Buffaloes that she lived amongst at House # 125 Westridge Road, Rawalpindi (the house allotted to my father by Railways).
We were friends, who knew very little of each other’s faith, beliefs, status in life, except that we enjoyed each other’s company and played a peculiar pebble-game. Our readiness at sensing each other’s feelings was a result of familiarity. And now this anger, none of which was caused by me.
Yasmeen’s father was a Gujjar. “Gujjar Ji” as we called him, had been living with his family of four, and about 8 or 9 buffaloes before we arrived at 125 Westridge Road. He occupied 4 servant quarters, tiny little shells for living, and in winters, moved the buffaloes into three quarters, while his own family squeezed into one unit until spring came. During spring he and his son would grow fodder for the cattle on about an acre or two of land in our compound.
“Gurjar or Gujjar is an ethnic group with populations in India and Pakistan. Small number of Gurjars are also found in northeastern Afghanistan. According to Naval Postgraduate School, “They roam with their herds, usually of cows, from the high Himalayas in India to the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan.” …..Their traditions are millennia old, and they have preserved them well in the face of great adversity…………… They are engaged in the production and distribution of milk and milk products.” Source– (Wikipedia)
As our Gujjar Ji’s tragedy unfolded, Yasmeen’s tongue-tied anguish began to make sense. Gujjar-Ji’s oldest son, hardly 16 or 17 had a part time job at a near-by water supply tank. While cleaning the mold and mild-dew from the edges, he slipped, fell and drowned in the water supply tank. That very minute, Yasmeen’s and Gujjar Ji’s world turned upside down.
If I could sing her praises, I’d do so today, but then, it was different. I could not see her side, could not understand her fierce anger, especially against me, one who wanted to engage in something as light as ‘hide-and-seek’, lighter than cleaning the buffaloes, wiping the food stalls, collecting more hay, cleaning the buffalo-waste and converting that into some material for fuel, preparing the stalls for next day’s milking, and more.
Life resumed at the water supply tank, a new employee was hired right away to carry on with cleaning the debris. But Yasmeen and I parted. Many thought that the Gujjar and his wife promised that they would never send any of their off-springs away into other professions. That pastoral life was their only calling.
For me, as life unfolds, I can see the unique gifts she left me with, even through those fierce yet sorrowful eyes. Her life was poetry in motion from sun rise to sunset. Daily delivery of fresh buffalo milk, without praise or blame, herding the buffaloes from and to the hay fields, and once a month a gift of hand-churned butter—Priceless, literally & metaphorically.
Editor’s Note: Did you find this article interesting? Feel free to share this Post on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media by using the buttons below.
If it is not inconvenient, please do write a brief comment at the end of this page under the heading “Leave a Reply here”.
You are welcome to contribute nostalgic articles about Rawalpindi by sending to: email@example.com