Thursday, 1 March 2018

QK archives: Pirpai: Chota Vilayat

Chota Vilayat
Maryam Babar
July 4 2004
Yesterday I visited the past.
It was during one of my regular visits to the various rural areas of the Frontier. Our still un-named province. As I prefer to go to these places without too much prior briefing, I was not quite sure as to exactly where we were going. I just knew that, for once, it would be a shorter trip. Imagine my surprise when I saw the car turning on to the Pirpai road. They had brought me home.
I spent the day interviewing the people I had come to meet without revealing my familiarity with the place. In all honesty, not much seemed familiar. The lanes were rutted and dusty. The houses, mainly of mud construction, were huddled together with filthy open drains and rotting garbage piled on either side. The place stank of raw sewerage. The poverty was appalling and it was difficult to believe that I was in Chota Vilayat.
As the day was ending I gently asked the young man I was talking to if he had ever heard of a man called Papare Kaka.
He looked up in surprise "How do you know of him?" he asked.
"You know he is dead?" I told him that Papare had been one of our old zamindars who I remembered. Then he asked me if I knew of his own uncle, Hasmat Ali Khan. Though I had never met him I was familiar with the name and asked if he wasn’t the man who had been Col. Mir Haider’s bodyguard. This opened up a floodgate.
He talked about the legendry colonel, who was the first Indian to be directly commissioned into the British India Army, and regaled our group with stories of him. How he had bought the Peshawar zoo during the Second World War and moved it to Pirpai. Of how he had brought the first bus stop to the village, insisted also upon having a small railway station built, and donated land for the first school. Even the irrigation canal which has turned the surrounding fields into viable agricultural land had been brought by the colonel’s nephews. He talked of the garden parties in the Baghcha when the ladies of the Raj would come in large floppy hats and gloves. Of the days when governors general and prime ministers drove in and out of Pirpai. Of the hunts and the shoots and the weekend parties. Of days of past glory.
Listening to him talk nostalgically of those days I asked him when he had been born. It was in 1972, well after the death of Col. Mir Haider! But, the legend had lived on and he had been brought up on stories, heard in his father’s hujra, of the days when Chota Vilayat had flourished.
I asked him to guide the driver to our ancestral graves in the Baghcha. He gave me an embarrassed look and told me that the Baghcha no longer existed. It has been chopped up into small plots and the graves are now an island in the middle of a completely built up area. Stoically, I ignored the desecration of this once lovely place and stood at the locked gate of the mini graveyard. I was secretly grateful that no one could find the key. The knee-high grass looked as though many a happy snake might be living there in undisturbed solitude.
As I raised my hands to pray for the eternal rest of these, my children’s ancestors, I felt guilty. I have to accept responsibility for this neglect. Not just for the uncared-for graves but a collective responsibility for the neglect of this village.
Those who lie buried there had done so much for this place but look at it now. I felt anger that this village which has produced Sandhurst Sword of Honour graduates, governors, ambassadors, generals, chief engineers, ministers, journalists, professors, doctors and lawyers galore should have been so neglected. This is another sad story of the urbanisation of our society. Success entices the Pathan away from his roots and into the already over populated city and his original home is always forgotten. The village is now only a place to which we take back our dead. The processions of cars that used to come for garden parties and weddings now come only for funerals.
Depressed at what I had seen I sat silent on the way home. But, then, I thought of something that still makes Pirpai different.
Everyone I had met that day had been educated. Even the women were all literate. Every household I visited had not thought it exceptional to say that all their children were away at school.
The people I had interviewed had talked easily and openly. When asked it they would object to their stories being published and maybe even televised they had shrugged and said that theirs was not such a conservative culture. No one seemed worried about censure from the village Mulla.
They talked about their experiences and asked us to help them start some sort of an income-generation programme for the womenfolk. The young said that earlier every Pirpai male had studied and gone on to some sort of government or semi-government job. But now their education did not equip them for such jobs and opportunities were few. They had to try and start some independent enterprise to survive. They showed an incredible will to better themselves and the work ethic was strong.
And so I acknowledged the true legacy of our Pirpai elders: Education. Independence. A progressive attitude to the hardships of life and genuine pride. Character. I recalled the bitter tone in which the man had bemoaned the fact that such a large and important family had not left any waris to keep the village alive. But, I knew he was wrong. He, and others like him, are the true warisaan of the family that used to live in the old fort. They will build the roads and bus stations and canals of the future and make Chota Vilayat proud of its name, again. It is their turn.
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