pure magic of malhars
By Beena Sarwar
Out on a fishing boat under a clear blue early morning sky to go dolphin watching, the violence, squabbles and tensions that mark daily life fade into irrelevance — including the recent tensions arising from the Indian Premier League’s refusal to bid for Pakistani cricketers.
We cruise the sparkling azure waters of the Arabian Sea parallel to the lengthy sand spit (imaginatively called ‘Sandspit’) along the Karachi coast. About five kilometres out to sea, we can still clearly see the recreational ‘huts’ that dot Sandspit beach. As we pass another fishing boat, the crews exchange greetings — just as highway truckers and bus drivers do.
An hour later, our first sight of dolphins in the wild is pure magic. They rise out of the water, their fluid movements making them at one with the ocean. True harmony. The magic continues as they dance around our boat, maybe five or six of them. They emerge sometimes on this side and sometimes on that, keeping their distance for the most part but turning up for a few thrilling moments just five metres away. A baby dolphin cavorts with its mother. Bettina, an anthropologist from Kenya who teaches at UC Davis, sees a dolphin with a white spot on its fin.
The WWF flyer handed out on the boat lists five species of these intelligent, playful mammals as being found off the Karachi coast — all called ‘malhar’ by the local fishermen (I wonder if their Indian counterparts have a similar word). In an exciting new discovery, two days after our trip, the Cetacean Conservation Pakistan (CCP) on Jan 26 found a ‘new’ species in these waters — a dead female Risso’s dolphin on the beach at Jiwani, Makran Coast.
The Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris) and Common Dolphin (delphinus delphis) that we saw are not quite endangered species but are conservation dependent.
"How do you know where the dolphins will be?" we ask Babar Hussain, the World Wildlife Fund official who accompanied us, as we headed back once the dolphins disappeared from sight.
"We monitor and survey them every day, working with the local community," he explains. "We identify at which spot they are likely to appear, and at what time. We know that they come here to feed for this one hour, around 9.00 am every day. You just saw the last of them now (around 10.30 am) — they will migrate, and you will not see them until evening. They’ll feed here again next morning, then go away again." They repeat this pattern only during the winter months, after which they disappear from these waters.
Babar asks the crew, local fishermen, to take us to a fishing spot further out into the ocean, from where Sandspit is just a thin brown line on the horizon. The fishermen show us the markings they use, bobbing on the water, that identify the spot where they left their nets the previous night. One fisherman reaches down from the side of the boat and grabs a slippery silver fish, limp from struggling in the net. He shows it off proudly then flings it into a corner. That’s dinner, say the fishermen, grinning.
WWF embarked on this tourist project quite recently, working with the local community and enabling the fishermen to earn some extra income. You need to book the tour well in advance — a week or ten days — because the boat is used regularly for fishing. Once it is out in the open sea on an extended fishing trip — a week to two weeks — it can’t be brought back for a three-four hour dolphin watching tour organised for city folk.
Fishermen going on these extended fishing trips risk not returning. The danger is less from storms, more from the Indian maritime security forces — a risk that Indian fishermen face from Pakistan’s maritime security forces.
Going crabbing in Karachi harbour (not that there are crabs there anymore to catch), one sees a mass of confiscated Indian fishing boats lies rotting on one side. Lakhs of rupees worth of engines, equipment, nets, and catch unaccounted for, quietly sold. It’s probably the same story on the Indian side of the border.
Each boat confiscated represents a crew of a dozen or so men and boys, some barely into their teens. They left their families to go and earn this precarious living, ending up being treated "literally like prisoners of war" as Mohammad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum puts it. They are locked up sometimes for years, with no consular or legal access. Occasionally, a fisherman dies in ‘enemy’ custody.
I am not particularly bothered about the IPL not bidding for Pakistani cricketers (they make enough money as it is). What concerns me is what the rejection says about the mentality involved — the need to put each other down, puerile tit-for-tat actions (you don’t take our cricketers, we won’t send our kabbadi team), and the continuous assertion of ‘we are better than you’. Until that changes, arrested fishermen and visa violators, and all their family members, will continue to suffer.
Meanwhile, at least the malhar roams free and majestic, oblivious both to man-made borders and tensions and to the ongoing efforts of citizens on both sides to overcome those tensions — including their aman ki asha (dreams of peace).
This is a slightly revised version of the column Personal Political published in monthly Hardnews India, February 2010.
Photo by Maha Sarwar Shahid.
Dolphin-watching tours mean some extra income for the fishermen.
The city epitomises clutter and more clutter
By S A J Shirazi
Pass the River Chanab and one starts thinking of romantic folklore Sohni Mahinwal, the last and decisive battle fought between British and Sikh forces, the saints who left their marks in this part of the world, micro encephalic children called Daulay Shah kay Choohay (rats of Shah Daula) or world class industries that are Gujrat’s claims to fame.
History has it that Gujrat was founded by Bacchan Pal who migrated from the Ganga valley and settled in Jhelum and Chenab corridor in 460 BC. Later, Raja Bahadar Sen’s wife Rani Gujjran rebuilt the old city and gave it the name of Gujjar Nagar. However, General Cunningham I was of the opinion that Ali Khan, who was the chief of the Gujjar clan, rebuilt Gujjar Nagar which was later destroyed by Shankar Verma between 888 and 901 AD. Mehmood Ghaznavi during his sixth attempt also invaded and destroyed the city.
Gujrat was again rebuilt by Bhalole Lodhi in 1453 AD. During Mughal era, King Akbar laid the foundation for Gujrat city in 1580 and appointed Dasnat Roy and Wazir Khan Mughal to supervise the construction work.
Another historian Ganesh Das Wadera in his book Chahar Bagh Punjab says that Gujrat was founded in 1589 and Nadir Shah destroyed the city in 1738. Ahmed Shah Durrani subdued Gujrat in 1741 and appointed Muqarrab Khan as its governor. After that Kaka Singh, Charhat Singh and Gujjar Singh ruled Gujrat from 1765 to 1787. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab, captured Gujrat in 1810 and carried out some renovation in the city in 1835.
Now what remain of the glorious past are dilapidated relics of the Gujrat Fort and various other buildings — like the public bath, Akbari Hamam, constructed near the fort and are reflective of neglect on part of the Archaeology Department and the city government.
Gujrat is changing slowly. Two things are clear: Gujrat has matured as an industrial city — exports of wood and leather products are showing an increase; and with the establishment of a public sector University of Gujrat in 2004, the only one between Lahore and Rawalpindi, the city is attracting large numbers of students from all over Pakistan. The unprecedented growth of the student body in the university shows that such an institute was much-needed in the industrial triangle of Gujranwala, Gujrat and Sialkot.
Legend has it that saint Hafiz Muhammad Hayat came to Wazirabad from Delhi during the Mughal rule. Here, he met another saint Hazrat Baqi Shah, who asked him to cross the river Chanab and settle near the fort of Raja Kaladhvi. The mound on which he settled belonged to the Raja and was surrounded by a dense forest. The Mughal administrators of that time granted him several acres of land which the saint donated for the cause of education and prayed that this place became a seat of learning one day.
The main campus of the university has been constructed on the very land donated by Hafiz Muhammad Hayat more than three centuries ago.
Another landmark of Gujrat is the Service Chowk. Now, I have known this chowk all my adult life. The chowk has developed into a shopping centre for people from nearby villages. Transport to different villages in suburbs of Gujrat passes from here. Almost all the shops play loud music. People from surrounding districts stop here to shave, bathe in one of the garam hamams and move on — some to the district courts to attend to their business.
On the section between the Service Chowk and the university via the district courts, a commuter has to muscle the way through waves of tongas, rickshaws and animal-drawn carts. A little beyond this clutter, and Punjab transforms into low hills known as Pabbi — for Gujrat is the last fertile district in the area.
But the single-carriage metallic Jalalpur Jattan road is unique. Plied mainly by overloaded old buses, tractors, animal carts and milkmen on motorbikes — and endless fields of crop, tiny villages and deras… the scene is a typically rural.
When you travel on one rural road in Punjab, you have travelled on all, except the Jalalpur Jattan road. Since the construction of the university, the road has witnessed excessive construction and growing traffic. Perhaps the university needs an independent access route.
Emerging cultural hub: University’s FM broadcasters
Ruins: The Gujrat Fort.