Monday, November 3, 2008


The Spirit Lives On...

by Nayyar Hashmey

Festivals are a part of human psyche; men in Punjab are no exception to this spirit in the people of all regions, all countries. A change in weather, some saint’s birthday, a harvest or just a show of composure, the folk’s will to rejoice, the people in Punjab find a way to celebrate.

Such festivals popularly called mela’s in Punjab are a common sight especially in our rural areas. As the summer ends, the hot and sultry months of June and July are over, a wave of celebrations hits almost every rural district which demonstrates expression of peoples’ enjoyment in an ambience of festivities all over Punjab.

A mela is an enchantingly picturesque event. A bustling market springs up where articles of food and products of local handicrafts, toys, glass bangles, and an assortment of all kinds of items for domestic use are on display. There are circuses, beating of drums; people in catatonic trances, bagpiping, dancing, fun and frolic, all add further color to such celebrations.

I had heard a lot about one such mela from my photographer friend Nadeem Khawar who said this mela at Kanjwani encapsulated complete exuberance to capture the soul of Punjab at a single event.

To attend the event, I left Lahore on 27th August this year. After a 2 hours drive, I was in Faisalabad, the city of textiles. While driving on my way to cousin’s house, I glanced at the colonial style of the city landscape. Even after 61 years of independence, Faisalabad still has the same British pattern of colonial architecture.

Faisalabad: The Clock Tower, City's Historic Landmark
It was quite a warm day, yet the arrival in Faisalabad where I had spent some beautiful years of my life, was quite a happy home coming – after so many years. The time I reached Peoples Colony, a fresh breeze started blowing and a cool sensation could be felt all over. After an hour’s stay at my cousin’s, we together drove in a jeep to Chak # 479 GB, my cousin’s native village from where Kanjwani is about 6 minutes drive.
Next morning we were there – at the mela – where at the edge of the town in Chak # 456 the celebrations were in full swing.

From what I saw at the mela, people here love to rear horses. I met a young tent pegger Pir Imran Shah who loves to be called by his nick Shala. When asked what purpose of these horses he had other than putting them into tent pegging, he said, all the horses (he owns 5 in total), two are the dancing horses and three run solely in tent pegging races. All the five horses he has are meant only for equestrian sports and that he has no other use for them. I asked Shala wasn’t this rather extravagant to rear and feed these horses all the year and then test their strength only at few occasions. “Shounq da mull koi naeen Sir Ji” said Shala, meaning thereby you can’t attach price tags to one’s passion and so is the case with his leisurely pursuits (horsely pursuits I thought).

I was talking to Shala when a call for competitors of tent pegging started coming out of a loud speaker. A galloper started running at a speed of 25-30 KM an hour to hit the striking line; each one had to aim and pierce his lance into the peg (made of date wood). The standard measurement of the peg is still set on the thumb rule or to say it more aptly on finger rule. i.e. the first tier of competition involves piercing and pulling the peg of a breadth of four manly fingers (approx. 3.75”) After the winners in the first round have been decided, the peg size is reduced to about 2” width. For those who qualify the second round, the peg is finally reduced to about 1” size.

While tent peggers in the race were aiming at the pegs at a very fast pace, there were others who were just trotting on their horses, each team had its own color. Some had yellow turbans, yellow cushions under the saddle. There were others with blue turbans and blue cushioned horses. This show of pageantry at the ground was marvelous. A striking feature of the tent peggers were their dress. Each team member was attired in fully starched shalwar qameez. Some had a bosky shirt, and white latha shalwar. I asked a young tent pegger in his twens, Qaiser Pervaiz on this typical gear of the tent peggers of Kanjwani and he said the area is mostly inhabited by the Baloch farmers and landowners and these colors for shalwar qameez of white starched latha or a bosky shirt, were a dress in which Baloch feel more pride, more composure and honor.
Here amidst the vast expanse of cane fields and fruit orchards, while I was busy talking to Qaiser, under a gentle August sun the spirit of Punjab is soaring. It finds an exemplary illustration in the will of the rustic village dwellers of Punjab as they indulge in all sorts of sporting activities at Kanjwani, a small mandi town; about 13 km form Samundari in Faisalabad District. Starting with different bouts for testing of individual strength, skill and will to win against one another, often only for a kilogram of desi ghee, they also partake in different team events as well.

Right here in Kanjwani, games are at their peak turning up some likely and some unlikely heroes. Out here David Beckham does not count. He is welcome of course, but can he race a bullock cart, or pierce the peg with his lance? That’s what makes this mela, which is held each year, unforgettable. The festival comprising 20 – 25 events is a wonderful mix of accepted sporting disciplines and other uncommon pursuits. Quite simply, it is a carnival. Alongside a kabaddi match, a snake and mongoose play a more serious sort of catch. In one corner are the grunting heavies testing their strength and stamina in a wrestling bout; adjacent to them is a horse dance and if you don't like that, there are the folk dancers, the monkey man, the cock fights and all of it, of course, to the accompaniment of some typically rip-roaring commentary in Punjabi.

Whereas generally rural sports add galore to mela’s in Punjab, here in Chak # 456 urban games are as much a part of this village festival as are the traditional bouts like wrestling, kabaddi, horse dancing, tent pegging and a very special feature is “Kanjwani at night”. Here at this night show, the young eunuchs dressed in dandy girlish attire dance in different rhythms.

A very spcial feaature of Kanjwani are its unique bull races, and the people in Samundari – Tandlian wala Tehsils of Faisalabad Distt., have chalked out a variety in this rustic sporting event. One is the simple and straight racing where all bulls run to hit the finishing line. The other is the bullock cart race where the jockey’s job is to race the bullock and a small chariot shaped cart across 300 metres in the field. Then a special race called “Kirla Patti” where all participating bulls with their jockeys compete running in a circle.

Yet another feature is the trading market for horses and bulls. Not surprisingly, sometimes this becomes a serious matter. Honor aside, a bullock with an impressive track record can fetch as much as Rs. 1 lakh. Anyhow, the Sahiwal breed of bullocks is singled out as having the best racing stock. Reared on a diet of grams, desi ghee and mustard oil seeds, they are treated, explains one farmer “as our sons”. Yet these games are not restricted in outlook and are not merely a mela of traditional pursuits. They are, as they always have been, a breeding ground for Pakistan’s sporting sons of tomorrow. An endeavor goes on to find contestants where specific skill is mandatory, but where an ordinary farmer from any village can contest on equal terms.

Through the years, mela has always struck a responsive chord, there have been, however, some moments of despair as well for in last three years, the shadow of petty politics was inescapable, as the organizer Pir Abdul Rahman Shah of Kanjwani happens to be a sympathizer of the party that is currently in power, but before elections, under the previous quasi military set up, the party in power did not allow the organizer to hold these events as they thought it would boost the image of their political opponents in the public. A very sad aspect of our politics as holding of a rural mela also becomes a political tool to pattern the local politics in favor of one party or the other. But the spirit of these games is hard to kill. The Baloch, Syed and Jat clans inhabiting these villages still ensure that event is held according to a regular schedule as it has always been. And somewhere along some dusty village road in Punjab, a young man is trying to run his horse or the bull to be a winner. The urban tournament or competition is not his dream. He is thinking of Kanjwani 2009, of people screaming encouragement to him, of the time when he will become a local hero, a “Kanjwani Champion”..

Photo Credits: Photo # 1 on forehead of this page: by Umair Ghani, Photo # 2 Courtesy: Google Images and Photo # 3 to 7 have been shot on location by Nadeem Khawar

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