In the spring of Taliban violence, three women decided to rediscover Pakistan and what their country meant to them.
Sorry, couldn’t resist the cliched opening.
Three weeks ago, two friends and I set off for interior Sindh, our first stop of a weeklong tour of Sindh and Punjab. Now, if you followed me and my friend Rahma on Twitter, you’d know by know where we went and what we saw, so I’ll spare you the typical travelogue and just point you in the direction of my Flickr account for pictures.
The points I do want to make are several observations we made during the trip. Firstly, Larkana, despite being the seat of power for the Bhuttos, and even now one can see dusty old plaques with Benazir and Nusrat Bhutto’s names, inaugurating some hospital or the other, is one of the poorest we visited, with little infrastructure. It was actually a bit of a shock, driving down from Khairpur (which is now one of my favourite cities in Pakistan) and entering Larkana. Khairpur, an old princely state previously run by the Mirs of Talpurs has well-maintained roads, hospitals, schools, a thriving market and even a community center established inside a 200-year-old building run by the wonderful people at Indus Resource Center.
Larkana, on the other hand, has a huge drain running through the city, where buffaloes take a bath and beggars pee simultaneously. The sheer scale of poverty that we saw in Larkana was not mirrored in any of the other cities we visited in Sindh, which include Khairpur and Sukkur. The road that leads to Moenjodaro from Larkana may have given me irreversible spinal cord damage I fear, because we were driving on what looked like (and felt like) miles of rocks. It was as if development had purposely been stopped here, in order to keep the citizens deprived of basic facilities, like education and better healthcare and instead feed them on a steady diet of political slogans. My word of advice to the Bhutto clan, if they could spare some time from attending Sundance and writing books, perhaps they could at least develop the infrastructure and provide the basic necessities of life for the constituency they all claim to represent. And while I’m futilely making wishes, maybe someone could implement land reforms in Sindh?
Secondly, when one does compare former princely states like Khairpur and Bahawalpur (which I’ll post about later) with other cities in both provinces, it’s fairly obvious that the nawabs developed their places of residence far more than political leaders. Perhaps it’s because the nawabs liked where they lived (and Swiss bank accounts weren’t all the rage back then) and they made an effort to establish a semblance of infrastructure in the cities. In comparison to the politicians that ruled over the areas later, the nawabs seemed to be far better. However, it was quite shocking to learn that Khairpur is home to a huge Sipah e Sahaba complex, where SSP leader Allama Sher Hyderi was killed last year, that works openly in the area, one saw SSP flags and graffiti in the city at certain points. Surely, the administration isn’t unaware of the fact that the SSP is a banned organization.
Then there was the tragedy that was Garhi Khuda Buksh. While one may not agree with the Bhutto family’s policies and statements, one is still saddened by their deaths – no one deserves to die in the ways that they did – one at the noose, one poisoned, one shot, one whose cause of death is still unclear (lever or gunshot, will we ever know?). But what truly was tragic was the tomb at Garhi Khuda Buksh, which stood out for miles like an eyesore. While tons of money has been spent making it look like a drag queen version of the Taj Mahal (I say, who uses white marble when you have wonderful examples of Sindhi tiles used in shrines and tombs all over the province?!), it was the interior that left a permanently bad taste in one’s mouth. An obscure member of the PPP US branch had sponsored various panaflex banners (yes, I’m not joking) with his face and message on the death of Benazir Bhutto. Billboards outside the tomb professed love for Bilawal Bhutto via their organization, the oddly titled Bilawal Bhutto Lovers Organization, while another said USA was the reason behind their death. Murtaza and Shahnawaz’s tombs were crooked. I kid you not; the boundaries raised for their grave were actually askew and made out of bricks. One understands and agrees that graves are just a marker and its dust to dust, etc, etc, but if you’re going to have them buried in a tomb, at least give them a fitting grave. And then there was the morbid caretaker, who probably sees dead PPP politicians everywhere.
Me: “Whose grave is that?”
Caretaker: “Sherry Rehman.”
Caretaker: “Oh, I mean Shireen Bhutto, Zulfiqar’s first wife.”
Fourth, Sindh is truly underrated as a province. One has to experience first hand the desolation of the Khudabad Jamia Mosque in Dadu, the architecture of Moenjodaro, the serenity of Sufi poet Sachal Sarmast’s shrine, and see the sun setting amidst the date tree plantations in Khairpur to understand how beautiful Sindh is. While i wouldn’t recommend going there in the scorching summer heat, January-March as a great time to visit the province.
And last, but not the least, if you’ve been happy for a long time, go take a look at the River Indus in Sindh, or what little is left of it and welcome a state of depression unlike none other. You’ll never waste water again.
To be continued.