Mir Chakar Khan Rind, the heroic Baloch leader of the 16th century, is among my favourite stars. For the Baloch he is a demigod, almost to be worshipped. If it were within my province, I would follow him from his exploits upon arriving in Makran, across the vast and wonderful land of Balochistan, to his final resting place in Satghara near Okara.
But that cannot be done, at least not in the current setting with the Baloch out for the blood of any Punjabi. My Baloch friends tell me that the man behind the gun that kills me will not be bothered that I am struggling to glorify that great ancestor they all worship. (Paradoxically, some of my pieces on Baloch heroism are preserved on websites banned in Pakistan).
In 1994, I got to travel to a place called Tadri Tal in the outback of Kohlu district. It is a place so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes: The hills, low, broken, folded and contorted without any vegetation to speak of, are coloured as if from the palette of a master. They come in dark chocolate browns, mauves, pastel pinks and creamy yellows; they seem little like barren rocks, more like huge dollops of icing from a giant’s cake.
Here the rivers, mere cracks in the arid rocky ground, sometimes flowed in tiny streams. Mostly they were simply dry channels waiting for the rare fall of rain to slake them. The sky was blue and the air was frequently broken by the call of the three or four species of hawks and eagles we saw either quartering the ground from high above, or roosting on the crags.
The month was June, that year when I travelled with friends to visit Mir Hazaar Khan Mari (not the politician of the same name). Of middling stature, fair of skin with a snow-white beard and deep, penetrating brown eyes, Mir sahib was a very good-looking man. He wore a dress as white as his whiskers and the traditional Baloch turban to match. From the hilltop village with its couple of dozen huts and tents, he ruled over his little world.
Over one of the several meals we ate under his roof, I asked if it was possible to reach Sibi from his village by camel. It was, he said, and it would take three days en route. I was tempted. Though he had a camel for my disposal, my kindly host did not permit me to undertake the journey. In the tortured, broken contours of the Bambor Ghar hills, where water was hard to come by, the heat of June could be a killer, especially for a city boy, he said.
Then Mir Hazaar Khan told us the legend. On this ancient byway, there is a tangi, a narrow gorge with a shallow stream at the bottom, named after the Chakar-e-Azam, the great Rind. In the narrow, twisting confines of Chakar Tangi there is somewhere a shelf some ways above the floor of the gorge and difficult to reach. Upon it, unseen by anyone since his time, rest the armour and weapons that Mir Chakar Khan used in battle.
The Baloch — and it must be a Baloch — who finds that gear, said Mir Hazaar Khan, and uses it will be magically endowed with the strength and prowess of the legendary Baloch hero. Such a man will then lead the Baloch nation to the glory they have long since forfeited and so yearn for.
If the simple journey had tempted me, I was now completely sold. But Mir sahib would have none of that. He would not permit me to travel in the heat of June. Now, I am no Baloch, nor indeed do I have any desire or even the faculties of a leader, my interest was purely academic.
I was and still am attracted to this story because of its similarity with that episode in the life of Alexander the Macedonian. He acquired the armour of Achilles from the ruins of Troy, and it is believed that it was this that saved his life after he received an arrow wound in Multan. If that armour was enchanted, could the one belonging to Mir Chakar Khan, the great Rind chieftain, have similar powers?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2011.
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