December Issue 2015
A Life of Gratitude
While travelling in Sindh in July, I made a stopover about 12 kilometers before the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif. I was intrigued by a somewhat elderly lady limping along the main highway and stopping to wave cheerfully at passing cars. I pulled over and she came to the car to greet me. She walked me to a small shrine painted bright green and decorated at the entrance with bells and invited me to step in and offer a prayer. Inside, was a grave inscribed with prayers and adorned with colourful flags and sparkling tinsel.
My guide Subhan Faqeer, who said she was very old but looked around 50, told me that the pir who was buried here often walks around his grave at night, sometimes as himself, sometimes in the form of a snake or a giant. Faqeer has spent her entire life as the sole caretaker of this small shrine. She sleeps on a lone charpai a few feet away from the shrine, right along the main highway. She wakes up early in the morning and her first task of the day is to sweep both the inside and outside of the shrine, dust the place and offer a prayer. After that, she spends the entire day attending to the devotees who visit the place. Her brothers and their families, who live nearby, send tea and meals which she readily serves to travellers and passers-by. She pays for the cost of this hospitality from the token amounts people give her when they visit the shrine.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I have been serving this pir and I shall do so till I die,” she says. “I never married because I knew this was my life’s calling. The pir has assigned me to care for travellers and I do so with great gratitude.”
Subhan Faqeer does not have her own home. All she owns is a few pairs of tattered clothes, but she has little interest in acquiring anything. When she was young, she developed a disability that prevents her from walking properly and standing up straight. She had hoped for some assistance from the government but that never came through.
“I would never change anything in my life,” she says. “This is my life and I am perfectly satisfied with it. My grandfather was the first caretaker of this shrine and our family has been doing this ever since.”
Subhan paid scant attention to her clothes which were worn out in several places. She repeatedly offered me tea, spoke of the pir’s many spiritual powers and said she was blessed to be chosen for this special role in life.
As I thanked her and moved on, I stopped at Hakran Jo Goth in Larkana district, where I came acrtoss Abdul Hameed. Born blind, Hameed, now 55, was repairing a pedestal fan. As he pulled a screw driver and plier from his pocket, I noticed that the shirt he wore was riddled with tiny holes. Hameed never went to school and used to rear goats as a small child.
“I learned how to repair fans just by trial and error,” he says. “Villagers here are kind and get their fans repaired by me so I can earn a few rupees. It’s enough for me and I am so grateful for that.”
Hameed, who is known as ‘hafiz’ in the village because of his amazing memory, also makes cages for partridges and rears birds, which he then sells to earn a living. Married, with one daughter, he walks around the village carrying out his daily chores on his own, without any assistance. Every evening, accompanied by a couple of friends, he walks two kilometers to the nearby town and enjoys a cup of tea at the local tea shop and partakes of the local gossip. Hameed has never approached the local landlord to ask for assistance and said he prefers the dignity of poverty.
I asked Hameed if he had any complaints with his life. His response: “In life, everyone goes through pains and difficulties. What would I gain by complaining? I am a contented soul. I am happy with the potatoes I eat; I don’t think about eating meat or fish. Yes, occasionally I do complain to God for not giving me eyesight, but then I say, you chose not to give it, that’s okay too.”
My last stop was further
east in Khairpur where I met Eidan Kanhar, a 65-year-old man born without arms in a village called Hasu Khan Kanhar. He related the story of how he couldn’t walk till the age of eight and how his mother would bury his legs in the soil and feed him milk, butter and buttermilk and tell him that one day he would surely walk. Then one afternoon, while lying helplessly on a charpai, he decided that he would muster all the world’s courage and walk to his parents standing nearby. And he did. So triumphant did he feel that he immediately enrolled in school and studied all the way up to class 10, impressing his teachers with his neat writing done using his foot.
His father left him 10 acres of land and after finishing school he began working the land. Instead of asking others for help or just planting cash crops the way most farmers do, Kanhar planted date palms, mango trees, spinach, tomatoes and all kinds of flowers. He did the digging and planting with his feet. He reared rabbits, chickens and pigeons. And he opened a provisions store in his village. Surprisingly, he does everything from carrying heavy loads to threading needles and swimming. He is married and has three sons and a daughter.
“I never had a tough time and I never took charity,” he said. “So many agents came to me, offering to introduce me to politicians who would give me hundreds of thousands of rupees. But my parents taught me two invaluable lessons: never lose hope and never beg. That’s why I’m so happy and have no complaints.”
One can’t help but be moved by the stories of these three individuals who live spartan lives, cope with their disabilities in a dignified manner and, even then, thank God for all his blessings.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s December 2015 issue.
The writer is a journalist and founder of the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust.