I spent more than four months in my native village Karam Khan Nizamani, near Hala in the Matiari district due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Many other people, living in major cities of the country have also come to their native villages, considering living in a village is safe environmentally, compared to congested urban society during these pandemic days. The most interesting thing was that I encountered the new generation, emerging after my leaving the village a couple of decades ago. During my stay in the village, I showed interest in meeting with artists including famous wedding song singers, most have abandoned their traditional art of singing. Many singers have gone forever to eternal abodes.
I still recall the melodious voice echoing in my ears, inspiring many people on happy occasions like marriages. Now there is a new breed of lady wedding song singers, who only encourage participating women to perform and dance with them on the tune of dholak or playing audio players.
Traditional artisans, like potters, blacksmiths, carpenters, barbers, cobblers and Manganhar (entertainers), the most integral part of the farmers’ rural life, have also gone. The artisans have a traditional role in providing ancillary services needed for agricultural production during the entire year while farmers stay engaged in cultivation practices. These artisans either have shifted to urban settlements or running their small shops, fighting for their survival.
It was amazing to see my old friend Deepo Menghwar, once a senior cobbler, the most peaceful soul return from the Mirpurkhas city neighbourhood to see his family a few days back. We sat together for some time to recall the beautiful moments we spent together while living in our village. When he left the place after a brief chat I saw tears in his eyes, which proved his emotional attachment to the people of the village.
Farmers are categorized as landlords, landless, tenants and sharecroppers who have lived peacefully throughout generations to strengthen cooperation, helping each other in difficult times.
Increasing commercialization at all levels has contributed to tearing apart the social fabric, which earlier was a recognition of the village unit.
When I left this village for Karachi in search of a job during the 1980s, there were scattered places for people to play traditional sports like kabaddi to entertain themselves during the cool evenings and full moon nights. Travelling to other neighbouring villages for playing kabaddi, and participating in tournaments with specific teams was quite an inspiring moment, I really missed it. When I asked Khamoo Sheedi, one of the senior sportsmen of the time, he said “There is no place left near our village for youth to continue these healthy activities”.
Entire youth have nothing but smart mobile phone sets in their hands for entertaining themselves, aimlessly.
The most scenic and attractive place in the village was a lake, spreading over around 60 acres or more area, where we enjoyed swimming with friends during childhood and spending leisure time over there.
A large number of women used to come from different directions for washing clothes at the banks of the lake. Minor children would play in the water the whole time in front of their mothers and grandmothers. For the women, perhaps it was an appropriate place for meeting with each other.
I remember that late Mama Wasayo Sheedi, while recalling his past blissful days, once told me about the most precious fish species inhabiting the lake, which would attract the political elite of the area to stay over there under the tent camps, encouraging youth to catch a fish. Renowned singers of the time would perform before a selected audience to fascinate classical music lovers.
Now the lake has become a cesspool, receiving waste from different directions through drains, like other cities and towns of the province. You may shed tears over the loss of the environment, wildlife and natural resources, which have impacted badly on village life.
During my stay in the village recently, I preferred to spend some moments at the bank of the lake (now cesspool) daily, which has vegetation plants growing under the gutter. Perhaps it was a suitable place for watching birds, landing at the tall vegetation plants, where they might have nested inside there.
The other things I missed were groves all around, where we used to wander in search of beehives and always returned with the useful healthy product of honey for domestic use. These groves had been natural habitats of many wildlife species, like the ever-increasing hare population, flocks of partridge, jackals, wild boars, reptiles and other species. For political elites, hunting wild boars and killing partridges by involving local youth was a popular pastime.
Depleting exotic trees from crop fields is another phenomenon you may witness because of the new pattern of agricultural development. Besides this, unaware people prefer to cut Neem trees from their sprawling courtyards, which could have provided access to singing birds to come and weave nests there. Now there is no place for singing birds to come where you can enjoy natural sounds.
I recall how herdsmen were taking their herds to sit under thick trees standing in the plain area during scorching summer days for a rest and having lunch together. The shepherds had the skills to play self-made musical instruments to enjoy themselves. Now there is no grazing field all around because of cultivation. They only take their herds in different directions wandering at empty tracks just for pastime, nothing else.
Now I have returned to my home in a newly developing semi-urban locality, which sooner or later will become the part of main Hyderabad city, the second largest city of Sindh province. It was nostalgia and emotional attachment to my village, which might have gripped me. But there is a reality to measure the difference between life in villages and cities in terms of opportunities to ease life.
You may have an opportunity in towns and cities for better education, different skilled jobs, and labour or you may launch small-scale businesses for survival. The poor village farmers are yet to understand the value of their votes. They just give votes to entertain their landlords at the cost of their own protection, but nothing else. All political parties who have been seeking votes have done nothing for the welfare of their voters or the development of their constituencies.