I met Rehmat Khan Buzdar in 2003. He was playing host on the trek to the peak of Bail Pathar (2,328 metres) in the Suleman Mountains of Dera Ghazi Khan district. Despite being forewarned of our vegetarianism, he had prepared lamb sajji for my friend Raheal and me. And he was duly indignant when Raheal produced a bag of fresh okra to be cooked for us.
After a wonderful starry night on the summit, as we walked down to his village, for the tenth time did Rehmat try to convince me that hospitality was not such a bad thing after all. And for the tenth time I returned that it was not such a hot idea to slaughter a sheep for vegetarians and that if he and his lot kept at killing their flocks the way they were doing it, their tribal name of Buzdar (‘buz’ for goat and ‘dar’ for owner or keeper) would soon be a misnomer. I said hospitality could just as easily be a nicely done dish of vegetables or lentils. But that, he argued, would not become Baloch hospitality. Then he told me the story.
There was once a Baloch of kind heart and generous spirit whose door was forever open to all comers. It was a rare mealtime that the man ate by himself; always there would be a passing traveller pausing to partake of whatever the man’s hearth could offer. But not so the man’s wife. A shrewish woman of niggardly disposition, she lamented the drain the hospitality caused on their larder and the trouble to her.
One day as she stood by her door she saw two men approach. Withdrawing, she informed her husband of what she looked upon as trouble. Later that evening when her man asked for the company to be fed, she refused. She gave him food just enough for one person saying he could either eat it himself or feed his visitors and the matter was left at that. The following morning as she looked out of the door she saw three persons walking down the path into the wilderness. Mystified, she asked her husband how food just about enough for one person could have sated him and his three guests.
There were not three guests but one, said the man. It was the guest’s naseeb she had seen as the second person the evening before. For no man, said the generous Baloch, comes to this world without his naseeb – his predestined lot. As he walks the long and lonely road upon the good earth, he is kept company by his naseeb. What he eats and drinks, what he earns or loses, his pleasure and grief, are all as they have been laid down for him in advance. Not a jot more nor less than his naseeb is what he will get. And so the visitor partook of whatever had been predestined as his naseeb. For him that day just half a meal was decreed.
What then of the third man that left in the morning with the guest and his naseeb, the woman asked.
“The ways of the Lord are strange, simple woman,” said the man. “A calamity waited in our humble home to strike when its time was come. The hospitality that you offered, albeit begrudgingly, has won us merit with the Almighty Lord. We are delivered of that mishap. The third person you saw leaving our home with the guest was misfortune.”
The story of the generous man and his stingy wife may just be a story and no more, said Rehmat Khan. But he believed it had a point. If it were not for hospitality, how could anyone survive long journeys in a land where no inns exist? When one fetes a traveller, it is not long after that one finds oneself on the lonely road in need of hospitality.
No number of sheep slaughtered to feed the traveller will ever lessen the herd, said Rehmat Khan Buzdar. And so, true to form, even before we were in his home, the smell of roasting meat hit our senses. And Raheal and I were out of our supply of okra and squash.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.
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