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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

The Slow Death of Rural Life in Pakistan: Traditions at the Brink of Extinction

As the world moves towards fast-paced urbanization providing a glittering and lavish image, something behind the big curtain has been dying a slow death. For something new to be born you must pay a price, the price that we are paying is losing a world for a new one which most of us never wanted in the first place.

Mitti ke ghar (Mud Houses)

Whenever I visit my village or any village in the southern part of Punjab, I notice something being replaced or missing whether it’s an object or a tradition, leaving behind a tiny void. It wasn’t long before these tiny voids and black holes started becoming bigger and bigger, I couldn’t ignore them anymore. One of those many things are the disappearing mud houses that are being swept away from the picture. Mud houses used to be a symbol of identity for villages but are being replaced by depressing boxes of concrete leaving no difference between city and country life. One of the prime reasons for this is that people see these houses as a symbol of wealth and well-doing. One more reason to hate Capitalism, I guess? But the increase in global warming and recurring climate changes has also played a key role in the urbanization of villages and small towns. Especially after last year’s disastrous floods, they prefer “pakkay makaan” (houses of concrete) rather than mud houses.

In conversation with someone, I got to know how women used to renovate and adorn their houses every year. She told me they used to let water enter Talaans “ponds” through tube wells and then let their buffaloes and cows play in it and take mud showers until the water turned into keechar “a thick slimy muddy liquid” which they used to re-coat the walls of the houses with after that they used to paint colorful flower designs all the while singing songs and laughing together. Some who did not have the luxury to buy proper stencils for the decorations would use their fingers and clenched fists to make designs on the walls.

After a pause, she said: “naa ab mitti ke ghar reh gaye hain aur na wo riwaayetein…” “Neither do the mud houses remain now nor those traditions…”

There is a certain kind of sadness and heartache that comes when you stare at these urbanized villages. It seems like a whole other world compared to the one you grew up in. Seems a person does live more than once…

Chooragarni (Gypsy bangle-sellers)

Once a year or six months in the desolate and scorching summer afternoons or in the foggy winter mornings, there used to echo the hokay “calls” of the chooragarnis “women who sell bangles”

“wanggan charha lo chooriyan!” “chooriyan charha lo ni maaiyo”

bringing the streets to life. Sitting under the big tree in the village chowk or in the courtyard of a specific house they used to untangle their magic potlis stored in baskets of straw which they used to carry on their heads making the eyes of the village women get bigger with astonishment, the clinking sounds of the bangles making their hearts race wildly. An uproar of laughter and excitement would rise as the chooragarni’s spilled gossip about the neighboring villages, telling stories of faraway lands they’d been to while covering every girl’s wrist in beautiful colors. In the evening or the following morning, they’d be gone. Sadly, one unfortunate day when no one was noticing they left and disappeared forever.

Tongas and Collective visits to the bazaar

In the words of another acquaintance from my maternal village, she recalls that there used to be a certain day when groups of women decided to go to the bazaar. Back in the old days, they had to travel long distances in Tongas for visiting the bazaar. Along with one male family member, they used to set off one hour before dawn on foot to reach the place from where they could hire a tonga and get everything they needed that day whether It was clothes, getting their dupattas colored or simply having a glass of “rabri doodh” or “falooda”. On their way back, she told me with a beaming smile on her lips, sometimes it would get dark, and night fell so the jugnoos “fireflies” hovering over wheat fields used to light their path as there was no electricity in many parts of southern Punjab at that time. With the arrival of modern vehicles, tongas disappeared too and thus broke another string…

The Storytelling (An ode to hookahs and tandoors)

Before the draping of cell phones and other technology covered the village people, their source of entertainment used to be that one imaginative person who knew all the qissay (tales) and mahiye (a genre of Punjabi folk songs) by heart. All the men used to gather around him and escape away to the lands of Laila majnoon, Sohni Mahiwal, Heer Ranjha, and Sassi Punnoo. Especially in winter evenings, free from work, they would light up a fire covered in their shawls, with piyala’s of hot chai in their hands, listening attentively they’d follow the storyteller on unfamiliar roads while blowing smoke from their hookahs. With the passage of time, hookahs which have a long history of their own have also started to disappear as the coming generation is not fond of them.

On the other hand, tandoors (A cylindrical clay oven in which food is cooked over coal) have also played a huge part in connecting the village women together forming a strong chain of closeness and intimacy between them that was an integral part of their social lives. In the evenings, all the women would gather around the tandoor to bake rotis, share gossip, laugh together, and share heartfelt conversations. It was an object around which women relaxed and felt safe, but it has also been replaced by modern cooking appliances. There also used to be a dai in villages who would bake people’s rotis for them and roast peanuts and corn in return for a bag of wheat or money.

The laughter used to keep the villages alive but now it has been limited to concrete walls leading to the slow death of rural life which only a few people have been noticing.

The Mochis (The shoe-menders/ Cobblers)

Another person whose absence I noticed on a random visit to my village was the mochi of our village. He used to sit under a big drooping tree and from morning till evening all he did was mend people’s shoes. He used to come on the weekends, and everyone would rush up with all the shoes that needed mending towards him. He would be sitting all alone with his tools behind his ears, surrounded by tiny castles of shoes like a lone God. Just a few years ago, they cut the tree because it was getting difficult for vehicles to pass from under it due to its long and wild branches, and the mochi stopped coming too. The world kept moving and nobody noticed. I had been seeing him since I was four. The last time I saw him his hair had turned white.

These are just a few of the many traditions and people that seem to have been lost or have started to vanish in people’s quest for a better, peaceful, and more progressive world… what they didn’t notice is the world they lost somewhere in between. So, here’s an ode to a world I can trade a hundred skies to go back to…

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Jun 27, 2023

Feeling nostalgic.


Jun 27, 2023

This article is simply stunning!

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