Thar is one of the most underdeveloped areas in the country, with the lowest Human Development Index. But its rich local culture and traditions are endearing.
The area is known for its quaint landscape, meticulous handicrafts, folklore and poetry, which are passed on from one generation to another. Thar's folk music includes songs and poetry about day-to-day life, and sometimes even revolves around the love between a happy couple. Geech (marriage songs) are frequently sung. Occasionally, geech goes beyond the ordinary.
A song for Benazir
One such example is the geech written for former assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto, which was sung by an anonymous poet, and since then has become extremely popular among village women in Thar.
The song titled “Benazir geech” is now sung enthusiastically by women in a local language called ‘Dhatki’ at marriage ceremonies and on other happy occasions.
Benazir Rani, Haqoomat Rani,
Benazir queen, the queen of power
In the song, the poor and uneducated women of Thar have presented Benazir as a queen and a role model for other women. She is also the only leader to have become a part of folklore in the recent history of Sindh.
When you examine the history of Sindhi folk music and geechs, you will find thousands of songs that are sung on numerous occasions. But you won’t find the name of a single poet in history books — they are all unknown. This is the peculiarity of Sindhi folk songs.
Notwithstanding, I was eager to know who sung the geech for Benazir, but my efforts were futile. All the village women singing the song were completely oblivious of its origin.
“Who wrote this song?” I asked Mina Meghwar who, with her group, had just finished singing the Benazir geech at a wedding.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I have learnt it by heart recently. I find it very beautiful so I decided to sing it today.”
Like folktales, geechs have also been passed down through generations. But it is unclear as to how they originated because there is no written record for these songs in history.
I asked Mina what attracted her towards the song.
“It’s definitely Benazir,” she said. "She was a brave woman."
She told me that singing the 'Benazir geech' was a token of their love for the former premier. Her death had created a big void, and it was only fitting that they paid tributes to her through songs.
Also read: The Benazir murder mystery
Handicraft designs in Benazir's memory
Thari women's tribute for Benazir does not end at the song. The village women have also created a new design of handmade embroidery in the memory of the former PM. The design boasts of small roses with beads and vibrantly coloured silk and cotton threads.
It did not take long for this design to become popular among women after its inception. These days, many to-be brides pick out dresses with 'Benazir designs' for their ceremonies. Surprisingly enough, the brainchild of 'Benazir designs' is also anonymous.
It takes almost a month for a female artisan to complete handiwork on one dress. But in return, she gets only Rs500 to Rs800 — a very small amount given the amount of labour that goes into the design.
“Those who live in rural areas do not have enough opportunities to showcase their love for their heroes and heroines. Women get even fewer chances because they are barred from leaving their homes.
That is why they enlist the help of poetry and songs to express their feelings. They don't care for their name to be revealed," says well-known Sindhi poet Ali Aakash.
Mina and her team are certain that 'Benazir geech' and 'Benazir designs' will remain popular among people. But at the same time, they are not oblivious to the fact that so many different kinds of handicrafts have become virtually extinct with the passage of time.
They underscore that both the geech and designs should be documented and preserved so that it can be passed down from one generation to another.