Monday, January 19, 2009


 The Tale of a Mound in Harrapa

by Umair Ghani

   One of world’s most renowned archeologists, Sir John Marshall reacted with sudden surprise when he saw the famous Indus Bronze Statuette of a slender limbed “Dancing Girl” in Mohenjo-daro:

“When I first saw them I found it difficult to believe that they were prehistoric; they seemed to completely upset all established ideas about early art and culture. Modeling such as this was unknown in the ancient world up to Hellenistic age of Greece, and I thought, therefore, that some mistake must surely have been made, that these figures had found their way into levels some 3000 years older than those to which they properly belonged...”

   Similar thoughts permeated my being in front of a huge mound in Wahniwal, as I witnessed unearthing of a small piece of pottery with a beautifully drawn figure of subcontinent’s most cherished fowl: a peacock. Sheer awe besieged me. I heard Zubair Ghouri’s victorious yell. I watched his dance of euphoria and triumph in a state of ecstatic delirium. “What a way to end a day!” he cried out loud and ancient winds carried his words to me years across the dust covered mound.
   I felt that eternal satisfaction surge through my whole being which comes while witnessing an accomplishment. I was part of this discovery.  I was member of a team which had found this beautiful piece of terracotta pottery that remained buried for several thousand years in oblivion. I touched and felt the rough clay figurines which carried primeval tales of the earliest settlers on these soils.
   I and Zubair Ghouri had only arrived at Qutabpur a day before. Spurred by excitement to visit ancient Harappan sites by the side of the dry course of river Ravi and Beas, Ghouri had consented to take me along on one of his very personal explorations of Indus Valley sites. Ghouri, the author of a significant book in Urdu titled Ravi Kinary Ki Harappai Bastiyan [Harappan Settlements on the Banks of River Ravi], loves to talk about his earlier discoveries in Balochistan, Sindh and now in Punjab. Since this was our maiden venture, he was hesitant to deliver scholarly opinions in response to my incessant queries. “I am still in the dark. The evidence is insufficient. It will be too early to establish any authentic opinion on the basis of excavations at Harappa and Moenjodaro only,” he said; as we eagerly started eating Halwa in guest room of Qutabpur railway station, which Ahmed Bukhsh, the station master offered us as a token of gratitude for Ghouri Sahib’s gracious presence.
   Tea tasted even better. I sipped it down my cold stomach in big swallows. Wintry winds howled outside cutting through the silence of the dark wintry night. Charpoys felt cozy and I dozed off amid dreams of ancient voices and figures dancing all around me.  
   Fog and cold descended stealthily on the mound near Qutabpur cemetery. Probably to guard hush of the ages that laid buried there. ‘Twenty Minutes, Umair sahib,” said Ghaouri as he began to reveal secrets of the dead, “You’ll find surprises awaiting you, but we need to be at Wahniwal before noon!” I looked around with shy curiosity of a bewildered child. Suddenly aware of my presence amid silence and secrets of an epoch now lost forever, shrouded in a deep and mysterious hush, waited me to approach and break the silence. With cautious steps of a dazed explorer, I moved above the mound. Shreds of pottery crunched and creaked under my heavy boots.  Ghouri was busy looking for objects of his particular interest.
    Occasionally he would pick up some portion of ancient pottery and after a close observation would place it into plastic bags [which he carried in abundance] with great care. “What is this,” I pointed to a tiny round piece which apparently looked like fragment of plaster of Paris. “Steatite Bead!” said Ghouri, “also called burial beads and sometimes termed as ankle beads. You’ll find them at almost every mound we visit.” With quivering hands I touched that object from antiquity and watchfully placed it in a synthetic bag which Ghouri Sahib had offered with great bounty. I spotted a piece of stone, sharpened at one edge like a blade, probably used as a knife. And then through Ghouri’s guidance learned my first on field lessons in anthropology.
   Looking down consistently, with observant eyes proved to be a tedious task, but the fear to miss something significant was more tiring. My gaze remained glued to the ground and I did reap rewards for that. Ghouri Sahib occasionally glanced back and encouraged me with satisfactory nods.
   We arrived at Fojianwala a little later. This mound had a considerable spread. Pottery shred scattered on the surface and I found myself bamboozled in the age old kid’s game of Yasu, Panju, Lal, Kabutar, Doli…a kid’s game but a riddle of never ending times. What I found there, too was a riddle of never ending time.

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