“Rawalpindi: Gujjar’s Daughter”

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.
Afghan girl Sharbat Gula, National Geographic June 1985

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.

Buffaloes photo 1

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)

Buffaloes photo 2

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.

Buffaloes photo 3

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.

Related Pages:
Nostalgic Articles about Rawalpindi 
Photos of Rawalpindi 
Rawalpindi Memorabilia
Nostalgic Memories of Rawalpindi

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  1. Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, USA says:

    Dear Ms Rizvi,

    YOU must contribute frequently. Being a Pindite living in North America, it touches a string in my soul.

    I look forward to reading your next post.

    • Dear Faisal Niaz Tirmizi,

      Thank you for your gracious comment. I can certainly relate to your “Pindite” sentiments. Yes, Pindi-customs, Pindi-life, Pindi-times are deep in my soul too. And, yes, I’d love to read some of your stories.

  2. Ajay Malhotra, India says:

    Dear Shaheda Rizvi,
    This was one of the best articles I have read in this website. I am from Delhi, India and my fore fathers were from Bhera. I have a desire to visit Pakistan and see the place where my fore fathers lived.
    My grandmother told me that they were very frequent visitors to Pindi, Sargoda & Lahore. If I got a chance I will visit these places.
    Let’s hope for the best till then I will learn more from your articles.
    God bless you!!

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Ajay Malhotra,

      Thank you for your much too generous comment, but I am delighted to note that this website has brought back tales told by your sweet grandmother. Delhi is not too far from Lahore and Pindi. If you get a chance, please visit your ancestral lands, it might be a soul-stirring event. Pindi’s soil has a strange and wondrous connection to my soul for I don’t know how else to explain this bond.

      My thoughts and prayers for you too.

  3. Col (R) Absar Ahmad Minhas says:

    A very simple short story so absorbingly narrated that I could not resist making concerted efforts to locate Yasmeen (The Gujjar’s daughter) amongst the Buffaloes in the attached pictures. Thanks!

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Col Absar Ahmad Minhas,

      I apologize for the late response. I was watching Rafique Khan Saheb’s comments and replies, and so missed your comment. Thank you so much for your simple and sublime words that tell me that I have in some way atoned Yasmeen’s unexpressed sorrows.

  4. Shaheda, this is but one of the many stories that we read about in newspapers or watch on TV. The honesty and sincerity with which you have expressed your feelings is what touches the heart. God bless you. I am so proud of you dear friend!

  5. Albert Dean, Mississauga, Canada says:

    An eloquent, pensive, masterpiece by Madam Rizvi. The statement “Her life was poetry in motion from sunrise to sunset” clarifies it all. Madam Rizvi has the magnificent ability to focus on things of value and then brilliantly express those valuable things in words. I am sure that the Gujjar’s daughter, working so hard under such difficult conditions, in order to provide folks with essential dairy products, well deserves such a beautiful and poetic tribute.

    • Maj Gen (Retd) Ovais Mushtaq says:

      Albert’s appreciation has triggered more memories of the childhood times when there was so much poetry (even though, personally, I am not a man of the arts ! !). I remember the beggar who would make his rounds exactly between 4 and 4-15 PM daily, whatever the weather. His appearance and his gait resembled Mahatma Gandhi. As he trudged along, his hands on the shoulder of a child he had with him with a long bamboo rod in one hand that he tuck-tucked as he walked, he had a characteristic sing song plea: “Ai eiman wallo…. Iss ghareeb ki madad karro…. Jo iss ghareeb ki madad karay ga, Allah uss ki madad karray ga” (Translation: Oh Ye Faithful, Help this poor person… Whoever helps this poor one, God will help him)! He would say it so poetically that his appeal would resound from afar and one would see kids lining up to drop a coin or two… or maybe only to see him… as he reached their houses! And when you would pay your due homage to him, he would blink through his thick glasses and flood you with a deluge of blessings and you would return home satisfied that no evil could harm you as you had been blessed for the day by the Baba !

      And then there was that grindstone man who would carry his grindstone and its associated paraphernalia on a bike and announce his arrival every month with a characteristic “Sail Vatta Raha looo!’ The music of which still rings in my ears. When you hurried to get a scissors or a knife sharpened, he would elaborately set up shop and use a foot pedal to rotate his grinding wheel and sharpen the blunt implements as the sparks stunned the kids who would gather in attendance…. !

      Such was the simplicity of life …. and the poetry that still rings and reminds you of those magic times that are (so surprisingly) more than five long decades old!

      Recollections in life are truly fun!

      • Shaheda Rizvi says:

        Thank you for your beautiful reflections of the grindstone man and the sweet beggar. Very beautifully rendered. Tiny details become larger than life in such stories, for example: “he would elaborately set up shop and use a foot pedal to rotate his grinding wheel and sharpen the blunt implements as the sparks stunned the kids who would gather in attendance” — Brought to mind another grindstone man who visited us, and it was he who wore THICK glasses as the sparks flew…Glasses were to protect his eyes from the sparks. He was thin as a rail from riding his bike and carrying his portable bench and mechanical tools.

        • Maj Gen (Retd) Ovais Mushtaq says:

          Thank you, Ma’am! Col Rashid desired that I convert this script into an article. I have tried to oblige him: lets see if grades it as “pass” or “fail”!

  6. Brig (R) Aslam Khan, 33 PMA says:

    Ms Rizvi,
    A touching sketch; dexterously presented. Enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

    As for the last bit in your response dated March 20th to Brig Zafar, I dare say it is your personal development the sharpened inner spirit that propels one to reminicensce the past. Please keep obliging the readers with your scripts. God bless you. Ameen.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Brig Aslam Khan,

      Thank you for your kind words. My prayers for you too, and God bless you, Ameen.

  7. Sajid Baig says:

    Madam Rizvi,
    Such an eloquent narrative. I am a Pindiite living in Pardes, reading it again and again. Keep it up.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Sajid Baig,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment. Where is this Pardes? Encouraged by such sweet comments, I shall search my memory for more.

  8. Maj Gen (Retd) Ovais Mushtaq says:

    Thanks for reviving up fond memories of the yester years. I too am a Pindi-ite and still have interests in Westridge where my brother lives. The Railways houses are the same palatial estates that they were except that the structures are now quite dilapidated and reflect the apathy of Pakistan Railways as it fights to survive from day to day. (Next time I cross that side, I will try and locate No 125!)
    I too have many fond memories of my Station School and then that short stint in Gordon College which pumped me into the Army! Maybe I will scrounge some time to write another nostalgic tale some day.

    Thanks and may we have some more of this flavour!

    • Dear Gen Ovais,
      House # 125 Westridge was located by Brig (R) Tariq Saeed who lives in Westridge. He also took some snaps of the house. Please click the following link to read Shaheda Rizvi’s article about House # 125, Westridge:-
      “Rawalpindi – Sorrows of a Pastry Man”

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Maj Gen Ovais Mushtaq,

      Thank you ever so much for your thoughtful comments on Westridge houses. As Col. Cheema points out that Brig. Tariq Saeed provided me with the pictures of 125 Westridge Road, which I incorporated in a few of my stories. I’d love to read your Pindi stories.

      • Maj Gen (R) Ovais Mushtaq says:

        Thank you for your reply, Madam. Col Cheema sent me a link to your earlier passage in which you had posted pics of 125 Westridge Road which I enjoyed reading.
        I will try and find some time to offer some more nostalgic memories of my childhood in Pindi. Lets see when that happens!!!

  9. Lt Col Masood Alam(retd) says:

    Dear Madam,
    Your write up is very heart-touching one. In our daily life such events keep happening all around. People see and pass by without giving even a little thought. But to go into the depth and feel the actual pain is only for those who have a tender heart and have the ability to go into the depth of even a small routine affair which to others is a very normal thing. Of course, the ability of narrating and writing is another added advantage. Madam, you have the both God gifted qualities.
    Thanks for sharing this story. We look forward for more write ups from you. Regards.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Lt Col Masood Alam,

      Thank you so much. You’ve touched a core-chord here, that is to be awake and sense the pain of another. It has taken a long road to arrive here, and I hope one day I am able to write the song behind some stories. I am grateful for all that you’ve said.

  10. Rafique Ahmed Khan, Dubai says:

    Dear Madam,
    A fantastic factual story written so beautifully that its worth reading it again and again.

  11. Brig (R) Tariq Saeed says:

    Most touching story of a family whose whole life revolved around those 3-4 individuals and few buffalloes. In such state of livings, minus any one crumbles the whole system. Thank you Mam for sharing the story.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Brig Tariq Saeed,

      Thank you so much for your comments. Please know that you have a big part in this story. The Gujjar story, in particular, incubated after your trip to 125 Westridge and your write up along with pictures.

  12. Everyone has fantastic stories to tell; it’s only a few that venture in the field. A nice composition close to everyone’s heart and observation.

  13. Azam Gill, France says:

    Thank you, Madam Shaheda Rizvi, for inviting us into your salon of deep, personal memories. Another allegory, woven with literary control, skill and craftspersonship, that deserves to be expanded into at least a short fiction piece, if not a stand-alone novel.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Azam Gill,

      Again, thank you so much with palms pressed, for your elegant words of praise. Your ideas and suggestions seem to be taking root somewhere in my psyche. Once I submitted my story to Dawn (Pindi section?) and they wrote back that they’d definitely publish were it a pure fiction. I wrote back that it’s all true, and never heard back from them, and that was also the end of my writing career. Now, reading other stories on this website, I am encouraged to share mine. So many thanks!!

  14. Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, USA says:

    The writer has a knack for story telling. Always enjoyed reading her prose. Amazing expression.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Faisal Niaz Tirmizi,

      Thank you so much for your charming words. Your appreciation fuels my writing, honestly.

  15. Beautiful sketching of Yasmeen, the Gujjar girl, her routine, squeezing to one room of her family in winter to give space to their buffaloes. Pathetic tragedy of drowning of her young brother was the climax.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Yashpal Sethi,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. Tragic events make their way silently into one’s psyche, I think. As events unfold here on organic and non-organic food, what to eat and not to eat, my mind goes back to Pindi for many of life’s simple pleasures and of course the unquestioned delivery of organic food.

  16. Lt Col (R) Zafar Mustafa says:

    A moving story very well written. Large number of Gujjars live in areas north of Srinagar in held Kashmir and quite a few have settled in AJ&K where they spend summers at heights above 7000 feet near the Line of Control (LOC) and move to the plains in winters along with their cattle. Young Gujjar girls are tall, well-built and amazingly beautiful. A sprinkling of classical Gujjars are permanently settled in some cities of Punjab also.

    • shaheda rizvi says:

      Dear Lt Col Zafar Mustafa,

      Many many thanks for your kind words of appreciation, ad the info you provided on Gujjars and their settlements around AJ&K. Yes indeed, Gujjar women are tall and beautiful. Strange and wondrous that the physical and historical changes around them have not made much of an impact. In a way it’s a blessing, unadulterated milk, less cruelty to the animals.

  17. Maj Gen (R) Parvez Akmal says:

    A beautifully worded real short story; it reflects on your pain for this down trodden working class in our society. Keep sharing more of such gems Mam. Profound regards and prayers.

    • Shaheda Rrizvi says:

      Dear Maj Gen Parvez Akmal,

      So many thanks for your kind and insightful words. Besides feeling the pain of those who served without asking much in return, and one’s own unexpressed gratitude, what I find absolutely wondrous are these simple folks for whom time has stood still.
      Many regards and prayers to you too.

  18. Words woven into a fine tapestry. Human feelings, as they are, do touch the heart. Madam, you are indeed blessed with a good memory to remember all the fine details.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Brig Zafar Iqbal Chaudhry,
      Thank you so much for your kind and generous words. Actually, memory is a funny thing, it becomes sharper with age as one begins to recall the kindness of those who served, and our reaction THEN and NOW…What has changed, I often wonder. Is it my personal development or is it that life now is so much harsher. Maybe both.

  19. Madam, a good article as usual. Keep sharing more for the Rawalpindi Blog especially created for Pindiites.

    • Shaheda Rizvi says:

      Dear Editor,

      A million thanks for all your efforts in publishing this story, clarifying points that needed clarification. I am very grateful.

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