Comprising six villages at a small distance from each other, Kani is situated some 27 kilometres north-west of Dalbandin — the administrative headquarters of Balochistan’s Chagai district — itself about 340 kilometers west of Quetta. Near one of the villages, old and senile Abdur Rehman lives alone in a dilapidated hut.
Abdur Rehman, who is in his late 70s, calls me ‘Haji’ and I have become friends with him over the last several months. When I first met him, I thought Abdur Rehman’s goats live with him but, during my recent visit to the place on a cloudy day at the end of February, I discovered that it is Abdur Rehman who lives with the goats. His hut is actually the goat-house.
My friendship with Abdur Rehman is based on a lie. Although both of us belong to the same tribe, I pretend to be a Jamaldini Baloch to him, from the neighbouring Nushki district. I also told him I work with an NGO. I have had to lie because Abdur Rehman hates his fellow tribesmen. He has his own reasons. Thus he lives alone with his goats, far away from his family.
Earlier, in the dusty town of Dalbandin, I meet Khalil, Abdur Rehman’s 25-year-old nephew. Khalil is on his monthly mission to deliver a ration of supplies to his paternal uncle and I will take a ride with him on his motorbike to see Abdur Rehman. Khalil sports a goatee and is wearing a black shalwar kameez. He has recently joined the Levies force. He puts a bit of Bannu snuff into his mouth, under his upper lip that seems to protrude. Because of his goatee, one of his friends calls him ‘koh-i-buzz’ or village goat.
There is a myth in Balochistan that if a man does not marry, his death will be considered haraam. Khalil has grown up with this myth and believes it. Since a very young age, he has been worried about his paternal uncle, who still remains unmarried. The reason behind Abdur Rehman’s bachelorhood, Khalil tells me, is that his uncle was unlucky in love. Twice.
A lonely man grows old in isolation from family and village life in Balochistan, plagued with heartbreak rather than in fear of the global outbreak
During his early years, Abdur Rehman had worked as a labourer in the Iranian port towns of Chahbahar and Bandar Abbas. After accumulating some money, Abdur Rehman had returned to his hometown, where he caught sight of a girl named Jomaiti, and promptly fell in love with her. Khalil tells me that his late father, Hobiyar Khan — Abdur Rehman’s younger brother — was sent to ask for Jomaiti’s hand in marriage to Abdur Rehman, but was refused. Jomaiti was later married off to someone else. That was the first blow for Abdur Rehman.
After a few years, however, Jomaiti became widowed. Again, Abdur Rehman sent a proposal. Once again, her family refused to wed her to Abdur Rehman. This time, according to the story passed down to Khalil, Abdur Rehman climbed to the top of one of the mountains of Baso karez, situated in the upper land of Kani where Jomaiti lived, and wept the whole night. He also vowed never to marry.
Jomaiti is, of course, now old as well, but news has come that her second husband died a few months ago. So I am travelling with Khalil to meet Abdur Rehman with the news that she is again widowed.
When we get to his place, Abdur Rehman is sitting outside his thatched hut on a tattered carpet. The real colour of his drab clothes is indistinguishable because of constant wear. One can only say with any certainty that his socks are green. Khalil tells him the news about Jomaiti and then asks him, in jest, whether he should use this opportunity to make his death halal. Abdur Rehman remains silent for some time. But then says, “It is too late now.”
By Khalil’s account, Abdur Rehman’s siblings, most of whom are dead now, wanted him to marry other girls from the town, but he kept on rejecting the girls. Sometimes he would say the girl was too dark-skinned, sometimes that she had too long a nose and so on. His siblings understood that he was simply making excuses, because he only wanted to be with Jomaiti. “Meanwhile, he could afford to be arrogant as well,” Khalil tells me, “because he had goats and sheep in the hundreds. So, he had money, too.”
The western part of Balochistan, where Chagai district is situated, is prone to drought. There is often no rain, and drought persists for years. Over the decades, the number of Abdur Rehman’s herd has dwindled to less than a dozen. He himself has become too weak and old to cook for himself. This is why these days he is supplied his nighttime meal from the nearby village. Up until a few years ago, a young boy named Sami used to bring the meal to him. Unfortunately, the boy was killed by lightning about one kilometre from his hut. Abdur Rehman often visits the place where Sami died.
In the evening, I accompany Abdur Rehman to collect dried wood, as he wants to make tea for us. I have pretended to know nothing about his life and past, so I ask him innocently about his wife and children, and whether they live in the Kani village. A smile appears on his dried lips while picking up wood, and he asks me, “Had I been married and had children, would my condition have been pitiable like this?” I ask him why he is still unmarried. He remains silent for a while but, when he speaks, he changes the topic to his goats. Khalil joins us after a while, cursing Jomaiti deliberately, to get a rise out of Abdur Rehman. “May God destroy her for making the life of my beloved uncle a hell!” he says. After a brief silence, Abdur Rehman responds quietly: “Why do you say something like that?” He doesn’t utter a single word about her again.
Abdur Rehman has lived alone in the hut for decades, which is why he has started believing in strange things. He believes he has jinns under his control and treasures hidden away in the remote parts of Kani. We sit with him in his hut while he makes us black tea in the most blackened kettle I have ever seen. We hear the sound of a motorbike from somewhere outside and Abdur Rehman asks Khalil to go out and check, convinced someone has come to steal one of his treasures.
Abdur Rehman believes no one cares for him and everyone in Kani is out to steal from him. “All the people, especially the youngsters, come to my hut to steal my sugar, tea and biscuits,” he says to me. “My siblings also do not take care of me, including my nephews.” I point out that Khalil brings him rations monthly. “He has, too, never taken care of me,” he responds dismissively. Khalil only laughs and says nothing to him.
At some point, Sami’s younger brother brings across dinner from the village on his motorbike. Abdur Rehman tastes it and gets angry at the boy for deliberately bringing him a spicy meal, convinced that it is meant to kill him. The boy smiles and says nothing and goes back to the village.
Although Khalil and I had planned to spend the night with Abdur Rehman in his hut, our host is not happy to hear that. This is a goat-house and, one by one, his goats enter the hut at night. Abdur Rehman starts yawning, and he asks us to leave. Upon his insistence, we set out for the village, leaving Abdur Rehman alone with his goats.
Just like I met him last, this time, too, Abdur Rehman foretells his death before I leave. “One day, I will be dead, surrounded only by my goats.”
The writer is a member of staff
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 26th, 2020