SWABI appears to be game yet again: one of the handsomest members of the four member committee constituted for the much talked-about talks with the Taliban hails from Swabi. The gentleman with a military background has for long been the subject of sensational political gossip and doesn’t sport a beard, which is saying much.
This single most interesting episode must put to rest all doubts as regards the district of Swabi being anything other than the most happening place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Doubtlessly, Swabi is the name of the possible. And one could say it with absolute surety that it is due solely to the inexhaustible fecundity of its land.
A visit to Swabi at anytime in the year would reveal the land sprouting greenery of various hues and smiling and vivacious as if by compulsion or simply out of habit.
The soil in Swabi to the east of Peshawar is so accustomed to springing surprises that it may behave one to indulging in exaggeration of any manner. Thus, for instance, if some bits of metals are sprinkled over its neatly furrowed fields, who knows the adventure may perhaps lead to some serendipitous outgrowth.
One could be allowed an allowance for conjecturing thus since cherishing hopes of their liking is not uncommon to the people of Swabi as one found out again just recently.
It is a well known fact that Swabi produces the world’s best quality of tobacco that earns the country a substantial amount of revenue besides being a source of livelihood for the local people.
But not many people know that some of the best and succulent oranges that they have been savouring for the last few years come from the rich orchards of Swabi.
A single tree in one such orchard produced 2,600 oranges last year and all of them unblemished. This happened under the parental care of a soft spoken and affable horticulturist Abdul Ahad whose fondness with the people around him has earned him the nickname of ‘Baba.’ His age, however, belies this title.
It is Abdul Ahad who has introduced oranges to the salubrious climate of Swabi with a kind of gusto hitherto unknown in the area as one discovered during a visit to his 15-something acres farm where harvest was in full swing in the last week of January.
A nameless German shepherd look-alike dog could be found during the day hours snoozing at the entrance to the sprawling farm.
During the time off for lunch where sumptuous traditional food was served from the House of Tamrez Khan, the dog suddenly came alive, barking vigorously for his piece of the cake. When Ahad was asked the dog’s name he politely excused himself saying he didn’t know except that people on the farm called it ‘doggy.’
Orange farming is a painstakingly labour intensive exercise as Abdul Ahad has found during his experiment. ‘It takes eight months for the fruit to ripen, but it pays back its reward in its juice and plenty of money,’ he says while voluntarily sharing his yearly figures of income from the farm with his trademark smile.
While passing through a makeshift tarpaulin laid camp where the contractor and his labourers were preparing their meal of thick stew of beef and potatoes and broad ‘chappatis,’ Ahad pointed out that the pruning and weeding process for the next season’s crop was simultaneously in process with the ongoing harvesting.
‘Peach farming is relatively easier and even more rewarding,’ the highly enterprising but reserved landlord offered while generously hinting that he would invite his present lot of guests when the harvest commences somewhere in May.
‘My peach farm is right there where Tamrez is taking you in a little while,’ he pointed out in the western direction while releasing his hand from the tangled hold of his traditional ‘chaddar.’
The peach farm is where a tomb has belatedly been built at the burial place of ‘Gajju Khan.’ The mud road to the tomb leads through vast expansive fields of prematurely blossomed mustard offering an eye-catching panoramic view of the idyllic countryside.
One odd old berry-tree provides temporary relief to the sun-stricken shabbily dressed farmers toiling in the fields. Small grey hillocks loom in the background.
The tomb of ‘Gajju Khan’ is Tamrez Khan’s labour of love. The Yousafzai’s, or at least those of one of the biggest Pashtun clans living in Swabi, believe that they are the descendants of ‘Gajju Khan.’ It was perhaps through word of mouth that the eternal resting place of the chief of Yousafzais was discovered and marked for the construction of a mausoleum befitting his august stature.
The tombstone shows his time in the world lasting from 1490 to1565, but that together with his struggles and alleged persecution at the hands of foes remain unverified or at least little probed through the dust of history.
The tomb is located in an extensive old cemetery. A thick boundary wall of grey stones has been built to guard the compound from further trespassing.
Quite a number of the tombstones provide names of the Afghan refugees who had a camp nearby and who seem to be occupying more space in death then they might ever have while they lived in this ephemeral world.
Gajju Khan’s grave inside a vault is even bigger in size and has been rebuilt and covered with neatly hewn and polished grey rectangular blocks of stones that Tamrez pointed out were transported from Bannu.
Beautiful Pashto ‘tappas’ have been written on the walls inside the tomb which looks to be attracting quite a large number of people seized by a feeling of curiosity.
Tamrez’s idea of ‘Gajju Khan’s’ tomb was translated into reality through the determined effort of the father of the last chief minister of the province.
The father’s name along with that of his son, who recently fell out due to a lingering family dispute, has been etched at the inauguration tablet.
Tamrez is tenaciously holding onto the wobbly ANP boat for years despite the fact that the ingrate leadership has continuously ignored him.
On that eventful day as if through a slip of tongue, he found himself into disclosing the total cost incurred on the project, and then finding himself in an awkward position defending that to the nonstop jokes of his visitors.
Back at the orange farm, a young man of medium height and fair complexion was found waiting for the visitors. He was introduced as someone with a master’s degree in International Relations.
When asked whether he intended joining the civil service he smiled diffidently, but those close to him interjected to say that he was being considered for assuming the mantle of spiritual leadership.
The visit came to an end on the disclosure of this saintly information as one was left wondering if the young man would one day be the interlocutor in talks with the newer generations of Taliban.