wings on the move
Ansari Hotel near Regal Chowk, where traffic noise, old Punjabi songs and memories float... where people smile and these smiles are far from fake
By Ali Sultan
No sun shines here. The only light that comes through is from the single tube light that hangs above me, the other one is broken. There are flies everywhere, on the tables, on the walls, inside dishes, on haggard faces and sun burnt hands scribbling love letters and smitten with disease.
This diner is very small and claustrophobic, crammed up with people and old memories that wait for lunch and endless cups of strong tea. People that haunt this place are mostly workers, those who build houses and some who tear them down. Some are junkies that only come out at night high on crack or drunk on cheap liquor. Washed out writers, those salesmen who wear fancy ties and sell deodorants and those burqa clad women who avert looking at anyone or anything.
What you can hear is a mixture of traffic noise, old Punjabi songs, sudden explosions of animated laughter and muted conversations. What you can smell is sweat, spent tobacco and burnt tea.
The paint on the walls is white and fresh. Instead of chairs, there are benches which are small and worn out. The off-white paint is peeling off and they are extremely uncomfortable. The tables and the floor are made out of marble. The floor is covered with cigarette butts, tea stains and brownish liquid that looks like pan ki peek. The table is decorated with a plastic jug full of water and a glass that is chipped and looks as if it was washed in the last century.
An old beggar, who is wearing a shocking pink shalwar kameez, appears outside. His head is shaved; his long beard, unkempt and dirty. It is his eyes that are all wrong. The pupils are yellow and his irises don't seem to stop at any one place. He starts shouting, "Give me five thousand rupees! Give me ten thousand rupees! In God's name!" He then runs away.
The small dark man who is sitting on the next bench looks at me and smiles. "He went mad when he couldn't arrange ten thousand rupees for his daughter's dowry," he says. "The engagement was broken off, his daughter committed suicide by slitting her wrists and he went mad," he adds, sipping from his tea cup. Stories like these, one hears everyday in this place.
And there is Safu Chacha; the waiter who walks extremely slowly, the waiter who mumbles obscenities at everybody and everything, the waiter who serves all of us and who in spite of everything else has kindness in his eyes. He is old, probably in his late fifties. He has a full set of hair which is totally white. He is short with small, strong hands and his face is like looking at a Jackson Pollack painting, lines etched out vertically and horizontally all over his face. I order a burger and a soft drink, Safu Chacha asks me if I need anything else. I tell him that some special tea would be nice. He looks at me and smiles.
A young man behind me orders plain biryani and two cups of tea. Three men sitting across me are having an animated conversation about film actresses Meera and Reema and seem to agree that Meera might be more beautiful but Reema is more capable in the acting department.
Outside, two young boys start fighting. The taller boy hurls insults in Pashto, the other boy fires back with obscenities in Punjabi. No one takes much notice. Young boys fighting, is not uncommon here and after a few minutes, it subsides.
Waiting for the food and the ketchup (made sans tomatoes) that always accompanies it, one can see the furnace, and the hot vapours creating a mirage. How whenever a female arrives and starts going up the stairs to the family section, conversation stops, sentences hang in mid-air and eyes at the same pace as the legs, it seems like no one has ever seen a female before.
You notice people's hands here, how strong they look and wonder if they have a grip that does justice to their looks. Here eyes do not judge you. Here eyes reflect hope and a belief that tomorrow is another day.
Here people smile and these smiles are far from the fake smiles worn by most of the people in this cosmopolitan city. These smiles are very real, they convey acceptance and joy. In this tiny diner, in this revolving square where the floor looks like a chess board and the fans hang naked without their wings, it feels strange during this one hour. It feels like time has stopped and that life has become much simpler.
The waterfowl that pass through Pakistan face a multitude of threats...
By Muhammad Niaz
Pakistan has an ecological importance since it harbours significant biodiversity and receives seasonal migratory birds and animals across its geographical boundaries.
Waterfowl, including a large and diverse group of birds, ecologically prefer water bodies and marshy areas from where they can get food and the shelter they require to propagate. With the onset of cold winters, they begin to migrate to south in response to biological requirements in order to make use of seasonally available resources like food and to escape the unfavourable conditions of the cold season. Simply put, the change of season results in the shortage of food, causing birds to move to areas where there is plenty of food.
Before the birds begin to migrate they store fats in their bodies to help them during the long journeys. Waterfowl migrate in flocks flying at 30 to 50 miles per hour and use visual landmarks as well as key land features such as mountains, rivers, coasts etc to orientate their migration. They take the same route as the one they used during their last migration. They tend to change their migratory routes on account of biotic pressure in terms of hunting and pressure on their habitats.
Generally waterfowl begin to migrate to Pakistan from the Siberian regions via Afghanistan and then to India from September to April each year. During migration these birds fly from Siberia to Afghanistan, then to Pakistan via Karakoram across Indus and finally towards Baharatpure in India. This route is known as 'Indus flyway number four' or the 'green route'. It takes them about 15-20 days to make the journey, flying at an altitude of about 2000 metres over River Kabul and River Indus as the main migratory route, covering about 4500 kilometres.
These birds do not breed in the regions where they migrate to but in places where they have migrated from because of either unsuitable conditions or those niches being occupied by species better adapted to a more temperate environment.
The birds remain on their non- breeding (wintering) grounds until April. They start their return journey towards North in February that continues till the end of March or early April. By the time they reach, the conditions become favourable for the birds to breed. During their journey the birds make stopovers at various lakes and water bodies in Pakistan such as Nowshera, Tanda Dam in Kohat, Swat, Chitral, Punjab and at Haleeji, Keenjar and Lungsee in Sindh.
It is the responsibility of all countries to make all efforts to protect the migratory species when they enter the countries' boundaries during the cross-boundary migration, irrespective of the conservation policies of the countries. Migrants can only be effectively conserved if all the states work together for the conservation of the species (especially those that are endangered) through cooperation.
Before 1970, there were no rules for the protection of migratory birds. However, after the Ramsar Convention in Iran and Bonn Convention in Germany, laws to protect migratory birds were enacted. The Convention on Wetlands signed in Ramsar Iran in 1971 is an intergovernmental treaty that focuses on the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources such as fauna and flora, including migratory species and especially waterfowl, as a means to achieve sustainable development throughout the world.
The Convention on Migratory Species (also known as the Bonn Convention) adopted in 1979 is a global intergovernmental treaty which is concerned exclusively with the conservation of migratory species and the habitats on which they depend. The convention aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species (including waterfowl and other wetland species) and promotion of measures for their conservation including habitat conservation throughout their range.
The species that migrate to Pakistan include waterfowl, cranes, houbara bustard and falcons. In order to protect aquatic resources, besides the establishment of protected areas, wetlands have been declared as means of better conservation measures.in Pakistan. However, migratory birds face a multitude of threats during migration mainly due to man-made disturbances and habitat degradation including staging and wintering areas that are often subject to human alteration. Migratory birds may also fall victim to adverse natural phenomena, such as unfavourable climatic conditions, lack of food or water or predators. Moreover, thousands of guest migrants are trapped and shot every year.
Wetlands' resources are heavily exploited due to drainage, conversion or tourism. In order to honour the flight right of the birds, it is important that mass awareness for the sustainability of these resources be created and the multilateral environmental agreements be implemented to which Pakistan is a signatory through strict enforcement of these acts and rules. This will ensure conservation of migratory species and fulfillment of Pakistan's obligation in light of the guidelines of the conventions.