An evening with the Hindu Marwari of Cholistan


Feroza. — PHOTO/Aiza Hussain/Kabir Foundation/The Pak Voice

Seldom does one receive love akin to the kind bestowed upon us at Basti Aman Garh.

Basti Aman Garh — serene, simple and cosy — lies tucked away on the outskirts of Rahim Yar Khan, smack in the middle of the Cholistan Desert, or Rohi. Since long, it has been home to the Marwari tribe. Tonight, it was ours too.

The Marwari comprise both Muslims and Hindus, and the latter can be subdivided into the Balachs and Mangis. During Partition, thousands of Marwari fled to India, but the Hindu residents of Basti Aman Garh were promised security by their Muslim counterparts.

This strip of the Cholistan had been their home for centuries and there was no reason for them to leave, the Muslim Marwari stated. The Hindu Marwari chose to stay — fortunately for us, for we got to encounter a people as humble as they.

Prior to arriving at Basti Aman Garh, we made a pit stop at a Marwari village in Feroza. One member of the village, Goband, had joined us on the main highway to guide the way, and before we knew it, we had arrived at a beautiful mud house settlement.

We were greeted by the young and old, grinning ear to ear. The children flocking around us, eager to interact, and the women smiling shyly from the living quarters a little ahead.

They had emptied a room for us, where charpoys adorned with colourful hand-knitted ralli (geendi in Siraiki) lay. This handiwork was done by the women of the village.

Bottomless chai, made from fresh buffalo milk, ensued the heartfelt welcome. Despite their modest livelihood, they had procured five kilograms of milk for us, along with thaals filled to the brim with biscuits.

Their demeanour made it clear that they did not want us to leave, but Goband was receiving calls upon calls from our hosts to hurry up, as they had made extensive preparations for us ahead. We bid our farewells and set out for our next stop.

After travelling for about 30-40 minutes, we stopped in what seemed to be literally the middle of nowhere. As we stepped out on the road, the vast Cholistan engulfed us. For as far as we could see, we were the only humans around.

Dherminder Kumar Balach and Jagdeep Mangi welcomed us here. They had arranged for a daig of biryani — fused with special spices — with freshly-cut carrots and a container full of raita. Firsts, seconds, and even thirds, we devoured our lunch.

Meanwhile, Dherminder and Jagdeep gathered thorny wood from around, made a pile and set it ablaze. And so, in the middle of Cholistan, a group of 24 people sat cross-legged around a bonfire.

Cholistan might seem inhospitable and even overwhelming given the dearth of greenery and water. During the summer, we were told, no one ventured out during daytime. Journeys would always be made at night because the heat was simply unbearable otherwise.

The sand looked pristine, almost untouched, but it had witnessed a confluence of cultures, a turning of rivers — specifically the Hakra — and carried with it a long and profound history.

Dawn for more

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