SAHIWAL: During excavations, archaeologists have found mud artefacts and toys dating back to the Harappa and Mohenjodaro civilisations. But hardly any child from the new generation knows about these toys as children now play with mechanical plastic ones.
At least 10 years ago, children in the city played with mud toys that were locally made. They bought them from a woman who regularly visited the area carrying a wooden basket on her head. She personally knew each child and his/her mother and the area they lived in.
It was a unique consumer-client relation. Now mud-toy sellers (mostly women) are barely seen. The reason is they have lost their buyers, who long ago abandoned playing with traditional toys and switched to mechanical alternatives.
Haleema Bibi, 56, learned mud-toy making from her parents at an early age. Her parents migrated from Ludhiana, India, to Bangla Gogera, Okara, during partition.
Haleema has been making and selling mud toys for 45 years. She is living in a makeshift tent near Bhutto Nagar along with other gypsies.
Haleema says she can make 20 kinds of mud toys. The total process takes three to four days to make one toy and each is sold between Rs2 and Rs5. She says earlier she used to get free mud from any landlord’s fields but now she has to buy it.
“No landlord allows me to take mud for free,” she said.
Haleema has to buy a trolley full of mud monthly from Rati Tibi for Rs1,000.
She says with remorse that no one in the city buys her toys now as children do not like to play with them and their mothers also bar them from buying and playing with these toys.
“I have to travel to surrounding villages to sell my basket toys,” she says. “I walk all day and visit at least one to two villages daily,” she adds. She says she earns Rs200-Rs300 a day by selling one full basket.
Haleema has six daughters and a son. She says all of them know this art as she got them trained in it.
“But they will probably not continue this traditional skill as there are no buyers,” she says sadly. She also says she wishes this skill is kept alive and children play with traditional mud toys.
Haleema’s magical hands shape a small ball of mud into 20 animals and birds in only seconds. She also makes various kitchen items. She then leaves them for drying, bakes in a fire place set up besides her tent and in the end colours them all.
She says the government must protect traditional skills. She suggests modern developers to reserve space for people like her who have a skill and want to stick to traditional art.
Her husband, Ali Akbar, says he left his forefather’s profession five years back. “My wife doesn’t want to leave it because she loves mud toys and children who play with them.”
Haleema demands Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif make arrangements at the Youth Festival where traditional toymakers are invited to display this thousand-year-old skill.