Holding on to the tradition of setting up sabeels

Published August 30, 2020
Children seen distributing water at a sabeel at Soldier Bazaar during Muharram. — Online/File
Children seen distributing water at a sabeel at Soldier Bazaar during Muharram. — Online/File

KARACHI: Most of sabeels set up by neighbourhood boys in the back lanes of the Cantonment Railway Station around this time each year are nowhere to be found though there is a lone one still there outside the gates of a tall apartment building as you turn towards Adam Road. But it, too, wears a deserted, abandoned look on Saturday, the ninth of Muharram.

Where are the children with the buckets of milk sherbet, the coolers full of red sherbet and lime and orange squash? “The rain drove them away,” says an old man, mockingly, when asked if he was from the area and if he knew why the children were not minding their little decorated stall of free beverages.

Just then as if on queue, you spot one little boy picking up loose tiles from a footpath. He brings them to the sabeel and places them near a pile of bricks. “We couldn’t collect the kind of money in the form of chanda which we usually did each year this time around but we are determined,” young Amjad tells Dawn. “I am going to secure our sabeel with these bricks and tiles that I am collecting. God willing, we will be here with our coolers and buckets full of cool sherbet and squash,” Amjad smiles reassuringly.

And what about their meagre collection? Was it going to be enough? “No Baji, it is not enough but me and my friends who have set up this sabeel have some eidi and pocket money stored away. It was enough to buy sherbet and squash. And seeing, our resolve, the milk our parents have promised to pay for,” he shares.

The young fellow tells how they had brought all their decorations from the wholesale paper market on Hassan Ali Effendi Road around Aug 14. “We had built our sabeel structure and were going to decorate it when there was heavy rain on Tuesday. Then we attempted again on Wednesday, which was better weather-wise. But whatever work we did was ruined on Thursday. So we have decided that not to waste time with the dedications anymore. We will just start serving from wherever we have built already,” he adds, glancing at his watch then he waves a hurried goodbye before going inside the building.

The old man who had spoken to me earlier then approaches me again. “These kids are real devils when asking for chanda for their sabeels. They are so persistent. But this time most of the people they approached, including myself, told them to forget about it because of the rain,” he smiles. “Still, they are not backing off. They still intend to go ahead with their annual activities here,” he shrugs.

A fruit vendor along the corner of the road says that he has been selling fruit here for several years now and he has always seen the children of the buildings there set up sabeels. “The strange and important thing to know is that these children don’t belong to a particular sect. In fact most of them are Sunni,” he says.

He adds: “Many people who associate sabeels and distribution of free beverages and haleem along with other food items such as pulao or biryani in the form of niaz at this time and during Ashura believe that it is all being done by Shias. But in actuality the Ahl-i-Tashee are too busy with majalis and other religious rituals to care about food. The distribution is mostly done by Sunnis,” he explains.

“If only everyone knew this fact. The distance between both sects would lessen to a great extent,” he concludes.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2020

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