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An occasional oasis

November 10, 2013

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Water being filled in earthenware bowls at a sabeel.
Water being filled in earthenware bowls at a sabeel.

As they walk back home from school under the hot mid-day sun, groups of boys carrying heavy backpacks stop at the local sabeel, a drinking station which, in this case, is enclosed in a little little kiosk constructed by local communities mostly by wrapping a few yards of cloth around a bamboo framework to form a temporary enclosure.

The schoolboys have a choice between a cool glass of water or sharbat; and of course all of them want to quench their thirst with the sweet, scented drink. On another day they might find green sharbat, flavoured with cardamom or milk with pistachios and almonds.

While some provide this free service all year around, throughout Muharram cities towns and villages are dotted with sabeels which are especially set up along procession routes to provide relief to participants and the general public after they have walked long distances in the blazing sun. People from all faiths and walks of life stop by to quench their thirst.

Along with his friends, Sadequain sets up a sabeel outside the local mosque every Friday, for the benefit of those who come to offer Juma prayers. Sadequain’s father had been running it before him for two decades, and after his death Sadequain took over the responsibility. In Muharram, he organises the sabeel daily in the first 10 days, and then on the Chehlum and other important dates right up till the last chup tazia procession. The sabeel committee meets before and during Muharram to plan and organise their smooth operation. “This is my way of honouring and remembering Imam Hussain and my father and serving my people,” says Sadequain.

Sadequain receives donations in both cash and kind. Neighbours make little donations of cash or provide ice, chilled water bottles, sharbat, squashes, juices, milk, sugar, condensed milk, tukhme balanga and nuts. Sadequain has an agreement with a small corner shop to charge just the cost price which helps Sadequain with his budget buys, while the shopkeeper gets a regular customer and an opportunity to contribute to the sabeel.

Through the year, the sabeel caters to about four or five hundred people every Friday, but in Muharram the number swells to more than 2,000 people a day, running for approximately three hours of the duration of the majlis, and it costs around Rs2,500 per three-hour duration. When a procession passes through the area, the stall operates through the day; restocking is no problem as donations in cash and kind keep pouring in all day long.

If there is an excess of donations, Sadequain either politely returns them, or on insistence saves them for future use. After all, every drop counts. — Sajida Ali