Tales and Tails of Nehr-e-Khayyam - Episode 7

Episode 7 – ‘The inelastic demand of tomatoes and the delusional Karachi winter’

Locust - Picture by Saeed Jamal Tariq

Life continued as usual, tourists continued being rated based on their capitalism streak and their best touristy behaviour. Nehr-e-Khayyam developed a tomato forest in the wake of the tomato shortage in the city and started auctioning these under the branding, ‘organic nehr fresh tomatoes’. Whoever was fortunate enough to afford these could enjoy their curry with a taste of the canal … that some still shamelessly called naala (naughty, naughty)!

Karachi had turned cold or so some Karachiites thought … tax paying wishful thinkers.

There was a long queue with each tourist waiting to buy a serving of the day’s specialty – locust biryani which has been cooked post locust attack in the city. Rumour had it that the authorities had planned this attack so that they destroy all tomato fields while selling their tomatoes at ridiculously high prices. Such tactics were not new; they had also cordoned off Churna Island, disconnecting tourists from that spot so that they end up coming for scuba diving at Nehr-e-Khayyam instead.  Monopoly was charming indeed. 

Marsh harrier munching a locust - Picture by Waqar Mursalin

“Do you know how the world will end?” asked Doggo.

“Sometimes I feel that we are already living its end for it’s the after-end, just like the undead … we are perhaps living another chapter of the very depressing book, ‘The Brave New World’” said Kuttay, “My dear Doggo, it’s going to be in phases; there will be a machine apocalypse where machines will take over the world much like what’s already happening, then there is this issue of global warming that has taken Archimedes Principle a step further. Currently, we are going through what can be called the food apocalypse. Why on Earth should tomatoes be worth Rs. 320 and pine nuts worth over Rs. 8000?!”

“Ahh … reminds me of Time Trax I watched while growing up … Well, forget pine nuts! They are so overstated. I mean why create an inelastic demand for these nuts when you have walnuts or cashew nuts? It’s just a way of making theft worthwhile and going for those silly breaking news on every channel. Same will be the case with tomatoes soon …” Replied Doggo. “Did I tell you something? No I didn’t … I stole a NAALAITO from the forest!”

“You what?! Do you mean you stole a tomato from the naala?” exclaimed Kuttay in utter shock.

“YES!” giggled Doggo, “I hope I am not reduced to a mere news report of NAALA LEAKS mentioning, ‘Dog reprimanded for stealing tomatoes from Nehr-e-Khayyam.”

“You will have our species dragged underground!” exclaimed Kuttay, “These super-luxury tomatoes are monitored and tracked through an RFID chip and the naala authorities are already planning on patenting these! YOU ARE GONE! OH NO! YOU ARE GONE! WE ARE EXTINCT!”

With this, Kuttay burst into tears. Doggo continued grinning and couldn’t help his doggy demeanour and started licking his friend.

“Why are you so entitled and classist and prejudiced that you think that my brains are the size of a walnut and I cannot think for a moment before taking a decision? I stole the naalaito from a filthy rich tourist who has a rating of 4.8 … I had been following him since days and his rating on the nape had started glowing. The RFID whatever is disabled when these precious fruits are sold. I got in his way and looked at him with my sorry-for-nothing-puppy-eyes, that’s when he went in to get me stale bread and I stole the naaliato from his grocery bag pretending to be Adam Smith’s invisible hand,” explained Doggo.

“Here! I saved half for you … and your welcome,” continued he while pretending to be shivering in Karachi’s weather which according to some had become cold … cold to an extent that they had started wearing sweaters.

Kuttay landed a slap on Doggo’s head, “You’re welcome, not your welcome!”

“Stop living your name, you thankless animal, now you’ve also started nitpicking my Grammar in a manner of speech. GIVE ME BACK MY NAALAITO!,” demanded Doggo and snatched it away.

“Okay … sorry, please give. Pretty please,” said Kuttay while pretending to be begging which he wasn’t since he was among the pretentious, society elite that looked down upon pye-dogs, forgetting that they were one of them. The elite were just going through a shift from being part of the British colony to being set free, all the way towards now being part of the CPEC colony.

Doggo returned the completely licked, juicy naalaito to Kuttay, along with a hug for the fool that he was, not knowing that they were both being watched … big brethren were watching. The export of A-rated dogs to China had not ceased to exist, it was just a matter of time that they both became A-rated.

The Mesmerising Tharparkar District

Do you know what's it's like to be forgotten by friends in the middle of the desert, among people you don't know the language of? Well ... I know ... and when I say I know, I'm talking out of experience. Read on ...

Back in September, a group of us hobby wildlife photographers embarked upon a journey towards a majestic land, displaying a personality and unique cultural values of its own - the Tharparkar district.

The landscapes in Thar were breathtaking; the ebullience and contentment were quite palpable, for the recent monsoon spell did not only give a green cover to this place but also relieved the locals from the unforgiving drought of the preceding year. Hence the displacement as a result of the inevitable migration has been curtailed.

The rain finally allowed food to be grown as people; especially women were seen farming and managing flourishing farms by the sweat of their brow. Women working in the fields outnumbered men, in fact, we mostly saw men resting ... it was too humid you know. 

The livestock now has sufficient fodder and the end of 2019 seems to have done some justice already and there had been an unprecedented rise in domestic tourism as well, as witnessed during the long weekend that we spent there. Water still a scarce resource, has to be optimally managed as the ‘Thari women of steel’ walk endless distances in heat, carrying it in clay pots that they effortlessly balance on their heads. It really is an art and seems to be a mystery worth exploring.

The name of the Tharparkar district is derived from two words, ‘Thar’ and ‘Parkar’; the former means Thul used to describe sand ridges, while the latter means to cross over. Although used as two separate words, these were later merged to be called Tharparkar. Located in the Southeast part of Sindh, it houses 90% of people living in over 200 rural villages. Although some people speak Urdu and Sindhi, the language commonly spoken here is called Dhatki which is also known as the Thari language.

“We have received substantial rains after more than three years and you can see the happiness on people’s faces,” said Ramesh*, a village elder, “We have witnessed a very difficult period as cattle had been dying and people were forced to leave their homes because of the drought that prevailed. Nature has been very kind lately and we can now expect a decent crop yield, hopefully if it continues like this.”

The eco system seems to have taken hold of its equilibrium overall. It’s not just nature but the locals as well who dutifully take care of the wildlife surrounding them with peacocks being a significant part of their lives in the Tharparkar villages. It should come as no surprise that some villagers hand-feed these stunning creatures as given their bond, they are not afraid of their human counterparts of the majestic desert. 

Weehoo! Here I come!

These peacocks are seen freely roaming around or resting on the mud huts’ thatched rooftops. “We often feed these wild peacocks early morning when they come out in search of food and this has become a norm for us in these rural spots,” explained Vikram* in a matter-of-fact tone. While also explaining the role that education is playing in their lives, he proudly counted those in his family who are now engineers or those who have pursued medicine as a field. With schools set up by NGOs, the social uplift has been gradual but somehow result oriented.  Life in Thar is progressing although at a slow pace.
Chores for the natives commence even before the first streak of dawn as they head out with their cattle and later the women, adorning vibrant dresses carry water in clay pots and tend to the fields which are now green and lively. 

Our first day in Thar, specifically Islamkot was quite pleasant, given the light drizzle that refreshed all the greenery surrounding us. However, the next day was quite a test of our natural thermostats, it was indeed very challenging which made us realise how difficult life is in this heat which sores beyond average temperatures. The next day in Nagarparkar lead to historic places and a great cultural mix was witnessed.

It was too hot to have a proper meal and there was nothing better than to keep ourselves hydrated.

Green pastures of Nagarparkar
We wandered off to adjoining areas that's when our friend who was driving the car spotted a bird and stopped over ... we got out, took some shots, I continued snapping pictures, he sat in the car and started driving at slow speed, the speed increased - the car sped, I looked at the car in utmost shock and surprise until it disappeared leaving  behind it's trail like a soon-to-be-lost-memory. THEY LEFT ME! THEY FORGOT ME ... in Thar! And here I was thinking that the folks in the car may have spotted another bird some distance away and were making an angle to get the perfect picture. Yes, this is a terminology we use. 

Anyway, continuing in my 'whatever mode' I followed Mr. Jamal's (one of the two besties who forgot me) advice who told me that women here are more receptive to other women even if we do not belong here. Of course, while respecting the sanctity of their cultural boundaries we couldn't just pounce within their parda and start taking pictures! For obvious reasons, it was a big no, no for male photographers. Hence, I went down in the village and met children and a resident lady who allowed me to snap her pictures ... she posed for me. In the meanwhile, I asked the two children around to let my friends know that I am here if they come looking for me, though I doubt if these two understood my language properly.

This was the mini farm I wandered through

The entire supposed ordeal hardly took 10 minutes when my folks realised that I was in fact not sleeping in the back seat but physically absent, that's when they came back looking for me, asking others if they had seen me. I came out of the mini household farm and saw a car fly past which I waved at but to no avail. Obviously, if you forget me, I won't be standing there crying on the road, I would rather be photographing the place further which we had actually come for. I could almost imagine myself assimilating completely (though with glasses still on), elegantly dressed in a Thar style vibrant dress, wearing those white bangles up till my arms could allow and welcoming the same group when they returned perhaps a year later, had my status been 'lost and forgotten' that is ...


Bhodesar Mosque

Jain Temples (now deserted) and left in ruins

Jain Temples

Thar's locals' livestock is quite literally their life support which had been adversely impacted during the drought. Meanwhile, each animal also serves as the family’s companion, especially the children who have no other means for recreational activities; for them this is all they have besides some domesticated stray dogs that also serve as an imminent danger. Apparently, it's okay if people die in Sindh as long as someone is still alive and living in each household.

The next morning we left around 5 in the morning to capture the sunrise in Mithi that's when we saw glowing balls coming our way, on the road. Nusrat bhai who was driving the car slowed down a bit ... and there it was, an entire cattle!

Below is Mithi's sunrise.

Thar is also home to a lot of bird species including some scavenging birds, the vultures, most of whose population is found to be comparatively thriving here, recorded at 90% out of the entire Sindh province to be precise. Over the past few years, this species has faced habitat degradation as a result of vaccines being used on livestock in Sindh which are in effect toxic and hence fatal when they feed on animal carcasses. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) through the imposition of a ban on such drugs (diclofenac), has thus recommended the use of alternate drugs which are non-toxic, given their formulation and hopes this would as a result bring down the plummeting vulture population.

Egyptian Vulture

A sunbathing vulture and another simply observing
Spotted Owlet

Our friend, Zeenat


Tales and Tails of Nehr-e-Khayyam - Episode 6

‘Treasure discovered in the depths of 



(Naala of yesteryear … beautiful canal of Naya Pakistan)

In a parallel universe, life continued post ‘FLY APOCALYPSE’, the indifferent human species did not cease to exist, and immunity was CPEC-ed too; a fly was considered protein while people thought it unwise to consider cleanliness being half faith. Immunity was only partially affected, being derided by the fly attack. It was the filthiest of times, it was the most hygienic of times, it was the age of economic boom, it was the age of hyperinflation! It was the season of CPEC, it was the season of Naya Pakistan! It was now or never, it was now or be doomed forever! Well … Charles Dickens much, huh!
Moving on …

“I used to be scared of the monsters under my bed until I got to be acquainted with change,” sighed Kuttay, “for change is a transition from your comfort zone to oblivion to … and until you reach the next comfort zone, you have to keep digging your hole deeper and deeper ...”
“Oh my dear Kuttay! Have you been watching a lot of X-Files lately? You sound like the half demented Fox Mulder … you need a Dana Scully in your life to balance it out.” replied Doggo and started humming ‘take my breath away’ by Berlin.

“You seem to be consuming a great deal of intellectual content lately … is something wrong … or rather has something gone right with your very existence?” questioned Kuttay while lying on the ‘Ghabrana nahi hai’ jetty.

Humans with QR codes printed on their napes roamed around and scuba dived into the crystal clear waters of Nehr-e-Khayyam. Those with tourist rating of over 4 were given a free tour to the deepest level where stunning mermaids were found.

The government had taken an initiative to clean the canal which did not require cleaning since there was no need, especially because of the phenomenal civic sense prevailing in this society (well okay … LOL, whatever). However, rumour had it that there was pre-partition treasure recently being discovered at the mermaid level of Nehr-e-Khayyam. Despite the denial of the authorities, more and more tourists flocked towards the spot, anticipating a jackpot while leading to remarkable levels of revenue being collected. As a result, the government started contemplating returning the last few Dollars owed to the IMF.

Apparently, the federal government had installed heavy machinery, excavating coal that unsheathed invaluable diamonds, and centuries old gold and silver coins (if you do not believe the writer, come and see for yourself … there is clay and slimy coal residue resting along the banks of the canal … you all have this persistent habit of denying the reality, NO? National issue huh!). 

A weekend magazine called ‘Naala Leaks’ had published the picture of some of the treasure that was discovered, estimating its value at Rs. 50 million. Since then, the editor of the magazine had disappeared keeping the nation guessing regarding his whereabouts. 

Conspiracy theorists said that he had been exported to China along with the naala dogs (oops … the scenic tourist, clean canal spot in Clifton) while some mentioned that he was sucked in by a flying saucer and dropped in China, face down so that he could not stand out from … well again, same conclusion. Duh! 

“Look! A mermaid! The raison d'être of our local and foreign tourists.” giggled Doggo. 

“What’s so funny?” asked Kuttay. 

“This being-watched-world is funny while life in general is sad …” expressed Doggo, “we are merely catalysts for the change in its mood.”