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One evening a few months ago, Ghulam Ali Bloch, a retired bureaucrat turned progressive farmer, who has his roots in remote village Jalla Balla in the suburbs of Sargodha, was finishing up a contract negotiation for buying a piece of land for opening an Ostrich Farm when he realised that a crucial piece of information required to close the deal is missing. He needed to know who had the right to haqq-e shufah (pre-emption). He could only obtain the facts from the central registry of the revenue department.

In order to verify the legal status of a property, including business homes and personal estates, one has to go to the patwari, garedawar, tehsildar and it entails a lengthy and laborious procedure. Historically, getting the required information takes a very long time. But thanks to an old man Mir Thana Khan, a minstrel in the village Jalla Balla, the information was available in his private but very authentic record.

As per his own account the ancestors of Mir Thana came to the village when a Jaskani Bloch tribe migrated from Balochistan in the fifteenth century and inhabited Jalla Balla in the central Punjab. The forefathers of Mir Thana were given the responsibility of keeping an account of lineage in the tribe. How did they keep the record in thosedays? One wonders. During my visit to the village, I along with my friend Ghulam Ali Bloch had an opportunity to meet the frail man whonow walks with the help of a stick and is famous as Baba Thana.

Thana had learnt reading, writing and counting during his four years of schooling. At the ripe age, Thana took over his ancestral job once his father was unable to do the legwork. Knowing my interest he started to reminisce the past, "My father used to remember things like the entire sajra-e-nasab (family tree) by heart. But I started writing them in a register. Than collects information about births, marriages and deaths in the sleepy village of about 400 households and enters them in his record family wise. "Collecting this information is easy because I am invariably present on any event of the village," he explained.

"All my life I have lived in this village," he continued narrating, "I take care of every one and do what ever I can and people of the village look after my family and me. Life in villages in not complicated; no hurry, no fast lane. I help my neighbours and my neighbours help me is the philosophy there. There are no marriage halls or other renting places. Community centres known as Deras are utilised for different functions and congregations. At the time of marriage (or death) the guest of one family are looked after by every one in the village. Hospitality is like one of the religious duty and a cultural landmark, as villagers strongly believe that a guest comes with the blessing of Allah Almighty.

Talking about his chosen pursuit Baba Thana said, "I live on trust. Village folks share their personal secrets with me and even consult me like a family member while deciding the marriages of their children. I have always kept my ears to the ground. I register every bit of information but divulge only what is necessary and when asked. For me each member of the community in Jalla Balla and their relations living elsewhere are equally honourable and they all care for me. I know all those who have relations in our village."

"I still accompany the barats (marriage processions) and before that carry the messages to and fro. But I think have to give up this duty because I am getting old. I am also losing my eyesight and cannot see at night. I have no issue who can carry on what I have been doing for all my like. But I also see things are changing very fast. May be newer generation will need services like mine," thinks Mir Thana.

Interdependence and new demographic trends are gradually changing the outlook of life in villages. Commenting on the current demographic bias Thana Khan said sentimentally, "Anybody who goes to the city does not come back. Gradually they sever their roots with the village." Urbanisation is mainly responsible for the shift, which is changing faces of villages as well as cities. People desert villages in search of largely non-existent jobs in the metropolitan areas, crowding the already congested cities and making urban life more chaotic. This tendency needs to be checked for sustainable living in the future.

Thana Khan has an ascribed status that is very familiar in the simple village society. Talking to such a person is very enlightening and revealing. In general for villagers city life still holds a mystery. While travelling back to the city through endless expanses of waving crops of different shades of colour out of which Jalla Balla surfaces like an islet in an ocean of green, my own memories of once being a village boy came flashing back. How much has changed. But I know I have to return to my own village where I spent my childhood and the next time the stay will be longer. I will live without assessable roads or other civic amenities of this modern age like telephone or the Internet. But I will be close to my roots.


posted by S A J Shirazi @ Wednesday, April 29, 2015,


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