Marvi Jo Melo

The annual Marvi Jo Melo was inaugurated yesterday at Marvi Jo Khooh near Bhalwa village in Tharparkar, Sindh. This mela, a two-day affair, is arguably the biggest social and business event in the Thar area in which thousands of Tharis from various villages participate by putting up stalls under straw huts and shamianas to trade their arts and crafts and bringing their camels and horses to take part in the animal racing events. Other attractions of the mela include malakhra (wrestling competition), adabi conferences and musical programs in which various artists play or sing traditional folk songs.

The annual mela is a mark of tribute to one of the most well-known legendary heroines of Sindh, Marvi, famous for her purity and patriotism. The legend goes thus:

In the period of the Soomra rule there lived in Thar a poor shepherd named Palni, who had a beautiful daughter named Marvi. As Marvi grew older the fame of her beauty spread far and wide and reached the ears of Umer, the King of Umerkot and ruler of the Soomras. Off Umer went in search of her, disguised as a traveller and vowing to himself that he would find and make the beautiful girl his queen. On the fateful day they met, Marvi was filling water alone from a well. Looking at such beauty Umer was mermerized and knew this was her. He knelt down pretending to be a thirsty traveller asking for water, and as Marvi complied he swept her off her feet and forcefully on to his horse and made for Umerkot.

In Umerkot he tried to woo her but Marvi, who was engaged to her cousin Khet, held steadfast in her resistance and resolve to go back to her land and people. He tried to win her, proposed, begged, pleaded, offered her jewels and riches, confined her and eventually tortured and intimidated her, but Marvi did not relent. She shunned his advances, rejected his jewels, refused his velvet offerings and scorned his love – for she declared her love and longing for her land, her beloved and her people above everything else. As a fine translation goes,

My soul is sewn finely with my people
I miss the earth, the grass, the trees of my land
My heart dwells there though my flesh may be here
My breath is in the hut although my body to mansions bound

Seeing such sincerity and purity, Umer was heart-broken and finally sent for her people to come and collect her. Once back, Marvi walked on burning coal to prove her chastity and innocence, and lived happily ever after. This remarkable tale of Marvi’s longing for her barren but beloved land has been immortalized in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

Coming back to the mela, the well where Marvi used to fetch water and was kidnapped from is today called Marvi Jo Khooh (the well of Marvi), though today the well, as most of Thar, has no water. The annual mela is the only time that the vast and desolated desert is in the news, in remembrance and celebration of the Thari Marvi’s legendary patriotism.

In the words of Asif Farrukhi, all that is left of Marvi today is eternal thirst and longing for what is no longer there.

Cross-posted to Sindhiyat

May 3, 2008 at 11:12 am 1 comment

Heritage Spotlight: Hindu Gymkhana

The Seth Ramgopal Goverthandas Mohatta Hindu Gymkhana was built in the year 1925, to be used as a club by the elite and upper class Hindu community that formed the backbone of commercial acitivity in Karachi at the time. It spans an area of 47,000 sq yards and was designed by a Muslim architect, Agha Muhammad Hussain, who boldly used a Mughal-Hindu mix of architectural design, arguably the first of its kind in a city that was dominated by European-style architectural buildings. With its thick walls, carved cupolas and other features the building reflects in miniature the magnificence of a grand Rajasthani palace.

After partition in 1947, the premises were used by the Federal Public Service Commission until the capital shifted to Islamabad some years later. As has been the case with a large number of such historical sites, the Hindu Gymkhana subsequently fell victim to neglect by the authorities and suffered severe physical deterioration and degradation. In 1984 the site shot into limelight when the government of the time decided to demolish the building, but the efforts and intervention of various local and foreign bodies saved it from extinction.

In 1994 the building was declared a cultural heritage site to be protected under the Cultural Heritage Protection Act. In or around the same period a scheme was approved, first to convert the premises to establish Sindh College of Arts, later revised and decided to turn the Gymkhana into a cultural heritage complex by the name of Kak Mahal Cultural Complex, with an approved cost of Rs 38 million.

(more…)

May 1, 2008 at 6:24 am 3 comments

A New Kind of Terror

While a lot is being written on the recent Karachi violence and riots and the burning alive of 7 people in Tahir Plaza close to the city courts which housed several private lawyers’ offices, the manner in which this incident took place is very disturbing. Few newspapers have given enough details and eye-witness accounts except to state that it seemed to be planned in advance.

There are varying reports but apparently, and as reported in Dawn, on April9 scores of young men on motorcycles arrived at Tahir Plaza and started roughing up the people in a small eating place on the ground floor of the Plaza to create panic. Then they went up the building and started locking the offices on the various floors from outside. The important thing to note is that they had brought with them large number of China-made padlocks to lock the doors and grilles on the floors, which means that the attack must have been planned well in advance. They were also carrying sacks containing a large quantity of highly-inflammable powder, which was thrown into the rooms and offices through the windows after smashing their glass once all the doors/exits were sealed. A burning match tossed into the room right after was enough to ignite a full-blown fire and ensure no one could get out alive. After having thoroughly gutted the building the armed men resorted to firing in the air to create more panic and made their escape.

Seven innocent people, including a woman, were burnt beyond recognition in the ensuing fire.

Till now we have heard of mob attacks, armed youth, targetted killings, torching, arson and sabotage, but this seems to be yet a new kind of terror that Karachi’ites will be facing from now on.

May God help us.

April 12, 2008 at 9:44 am 2 comments

The Year of the Boot?

These were scenes straight out of some 1990s Bollywood movie in which towards the end of the show the junta (public) comes out on the streets to take matters into its own hands and beats the hell out of the bad guys. Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, ex Chief Minister of Sindh under Musharraf rule, was a very frightened man on Monday, trying to run for his life and escape from the clutches – and shoes – of the mob that was trying to get their hands on him outside the Sindh Assembly in Karachi.

The scene in which somebody succeeds in hitting him hard on his face with a shoe has been shown countless times by all TV channels. This was after he had taken oath as MPA inside the assembly hall where someone else also threw a shoe at him (and missed) from the visitors’ gallery.

Later when someone interviewed a couple of women MPAs, instead of condemning the incident they started lamenting that they had not managed to get their own hands (read shoes) on him!

To give the devil his due, Arbab Rahim during his tenure as Chief Minister had been very vocal about his hatred for and criticism of Benazir Bhutto, had accused her of corruption and even went as far as to say that from a religious point of view the “leadership of a woman – and therefore BB – is a curse!” All this obviously seems not to have gone down well with the public.

Then the mob-and-shoe nightmare continued yesterday, this time in Lahore, with Sher Afgan Niazi being the target when he was visiting his lawyer’s office – in this case the mob supposedly comprised of lawyers from the ongoing lawyers’ movement. Niazi, also an ex-minister of the Kings party, had been a very vocal critic of the movement aimed at restoring the judges suspended by Musharraf in Nov 2007. 

He was confined in his lawyer’s office for a good many hours before Aitzaz Ahsan, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a leading figure of the movement reached the spot to assist in getting him out to safety. Niazi managed to make it, however not before being severely punched, manhandled and “shoe-d” by the crowd on his way into the ambulance that had come to his rescue.

(more…)

April 9, 2008 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

Anwar Solangi – State of the Pakistani Artist

Anwar SolangiWell-known TV and Radio artiste Anwar Solangi, known popularly as Makno Khan after one of the characters he portrayed in Urdu serial Deewarain, passed away yesterday in Civil Hospital Karachi after a prolonged illness at the age of 64. Despite having worked in over 500 TV plays, 1200 radio programs and over a dozen Sindhi films, Anwar Solangi enjoyed neither the fame nor fortune that actors with such a portfolio are able to achieve in other countries. On the contrary, Solangi lived almost hand to mouth in a rented house, supported by small payments made to him whenever he could find some work.

Being very bitter about the system and the lack of acknowledgement for artists in the country, Solangi once admitted that he would never have ventured into acting had he known beforehand how artists are treated in Pakistan. In an interview in 2002 he had said, ” I run from pillar to post each month when my telephone connection is terminated for non-payment of bill. With 5000 or so rupees of cash per episode, I have to keep focusing on how to keep my bills cleared and my stomach full. I live from episode to episode for a livelihood in the most basic sense.”

Once, having received an award for best actor of Sindhi dramas, he had said, “An award is the biggest form of appreciation for an actor and all I received with this award was a total of 4500 rupees with 500 deducted as tax. The award is sitting in my drawing room. I can’t eat it. Don’t artistes have a right to a normal life? I have given this field my best. My youth, my energy, my devotion. And what have I received in return? Regrets, bitterness and poverty.”

Solangi’s example speaks volumes of the state of performing arts and artists in the country. Despite the mushrooming of TV channels in the country, many artists are not able to make ends meet. Some private channels do pay well, however by far the majority of channels, including PTV and especially regional or non-Urdu language channels simply are either unwilling or unable to compensate actors in line with their talent, time and efforts. Most artists therefore either act as a part-time profession or as a hobby – it is becoming rarer and rarer to find full-time actors.

If cricketers can be paid millions of additional rupees and other ‘gifts’ for winning matches, surely our actors and artists can also be paid in line with their talents. It is high time that the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism, under whose jurisdiction this falls, revisits and regulates the dismal wage, employment and royalties structure of TV and Radio actors in Pakistan.

Anwar Solangi will probably not be the last artist to die in poverty and bitterness, but may his death mark the beginning of change.

March 28, 2008 at 7:21 am 2 comments


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