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The life of a shepherd


 Jan Khaskheli
Friday, May 11, 2012


 For years, the 73-year-old shepherd Haji Mohammad Palari has kept a staff with him. Made of pure cow leather and “expensive steel”, he would not sell it for any amount of money, and says it’ss his life-long friend.

 Born to a herder in a remote village of Budho Palari (Jamshoro district), he believes that a staff and a flute are two most treasured assets of a caretaker. A staff has multiple uses, he said. Previously, it was used as a weapon for defence as wild animals including wolves, boars, jackals and massive reptiles roamed about freely.

 Looking back nostalgically to his youth, he said, “After long days of hardwork, we would travel four to five kilometres to catch the last show in a cinema in Hyderabad.” As a tradition, he said, during the first shower of monsoon, shepherd families took their herds to their native villages, and spent six months there, cultivating family lands and grazing the animals.

 He said he could still vividly remember emotional faces, neighbours who had spent good times together, going in different directions, bidding each other farewell, and unsure if their paths would converge again.

 “We still have a community graveyard in that village, and travel frequently to visit it. After staying away for six months, we would usually come back with herds and grains in stock to last another six months.”

 “Red cows, or Maliri, as they were more commonly known, were the most famous among the herder families. They were kept by the hundreds.”Every family kept camels and bull carts for their seasonal migration. “But now, the construction of a bypass near Hyderabad has made life and travel much easier.”

 Unlettered, and a father of five sons, he could recall names of 57 villages which had now been merged into urban centres, like Hyderabad city.Gone are the days when wild animals would take refuge in the fields and bushes when the monsoon rains flooded the forests. “But today, neither the forests exist, nor the animals.”

 When asked about the quality of underground water, he said it has never been fit for domestic use. “Even 50 years ago, my mother and other local women used to carry earthen jars and traveled three kilometres twice every day to fetch water from the River Indus.”

 He said long ago, rains brought blessings for herders and farmers, but that is not the case anymore. “After the floods of 2010, people have panicked, and hundreds of families have shifted to mountainous areas for safety.”

 About the infamous cattle thieves, he said, “We have skilled foot-tracers which makes it difficult for anyone to steal or hide animals.”He said herders used to put particular burn marks on their animals, so they could be easily recognised if lost.


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