At a 30-minute drive from Jhudo city, district Mirpurkhas, a brick road leads from Ghug Mori village to the nearby village of Ghulam Hyder Laghari, named after a 78-year-old, middle-class landlord. He owns 80 acres of land here, but his land holding is not what he is known for.
Laghari, who is not a conventional landlord, is renowned for his hospitality, which is not simply confined to humans. He has been hosting birds and animals as well as people on his lands for decades and has turned his village into a place where birds, animals and humans can enjoy each other’s existence.
An autaq or a guest house is a cultural symbol of Sindh and this is where guests are entertained and lodged if need be. Usually, it is owned by a landlord or a religious leader and a village may have more than one guest house. Apart from folklore, worldly matters, Sufi music, folk music, classical poetry, riddles and politics are discussed here, and village disputes are settled in an autaq. Villagers gather here for Eid, wedding and other celebratations.
Laghari’s autaq is known as the Faqeerana Kakh, which means a place for Sufis in Sindhi language. It is decorated with colourful flowers, grass, plants and trees, and is always abuzz with guests.
In the heart of Sindh lives a landlord for whom caring for and serving people, birds and animals is not just a priority, it is his life’s philosophy
At the Faqeerana Kakh, food is served round the clock to friends who are regular guests as well as to random visitors. In Gugh Mori, this tradition of a food service for guests and the needy was started by Laghari’s mother Shama. “My mother provided food to labourers, beggars, the poor and everyone who visited our home,” says Laghari. “She was so devoted to the guest house that she would wait for guests to arrive every day and a time came when she began to sleep in the kitchen instead of her bedroom. People attending Sufi nights would feel hungry late at night and my mother would produce meals for them. As a child, I would serve food to them.”
Even today, beggars, travellers and labourers from other villages looking for work arrive at Laghari’s guest house and are served with chicken, rice, lentils and vegetables. The poor and rich are equally treated and everyone gets to eat the same kind of food without any religious disparity.
“Once I was waiting for guests at the Faqeerana Kakh but no guests were there,” Laghari recalls. “I feel that when guests don’t arrive, it is a bad omen. It was late at night when I went home from my autaq but I was not feeling well. Restless, I came back to the guest house and then I saw that some relatives had arrived. I instantly felt better and then we all had dinner together.”
Laghari spent his childhood in Hyderabad city. He was an urbanised young man, but when his father wanted him to return to his village, he came back to Gugh Mori and started working on his autaq. Previously, the outdoor part was just overgrown bushes, but Laghari decided to add the garden element to his autaq making it a place for both humans and animals. He has owls, parrots, pigeons, squirrels, chameleons, goats, cows, buffaloes and doves that appear when he calls them. The animals and birds respond to him and feel no hesitation in coming close to him. He has devoted four acres of his land especially for birds and animals.
“I have been fond of flowers and birds since my childhood,” says Laghari. “Once I met my father’s friend, who was a landlord, at Tando Muhammad Khan. At his home, I saw that flowers and greenery created a beautiful and tranquil ambience. I got some flower seeds from my father’s friend and, when I came back to my village, I decided to grow plants and flowers at my guest house.
Laghari does not allow anyone to hunt birds and animals on his land. There are no fines or set rules and regulations but people abide by his verbal orders. No peasant is allowed to put up a scarecrow in the fields to disperse the birds either. Thousands of birds arrive regularly on his land and adjacent lands. They eat the crop as well as the insects that harm the wheat, rice and barley crops.
“I believe birds and animals have an equal right to live and eat,” he says. “It doesn’t make any difference to me how much crop the birds eat. In our adjacent areas, some landlords allow hunting of birds and also put up scarecrows to get a good harvest. But I am ready to challenge them that I am getting a better crop than other landowners. I have told my peasants that if there are any losses incurred because of birds, I will pay the penalty from my own pocket,” he adds.
Even today, beggars, travellers and labourers from other villages looking for work on land arrive at Laghari’s guest house and chicken, rice, lentils and vegetables are served to them. The poor and rich are equally treated and everyone gets to eat the same kind of food without any religious disparity.
Laghari wakes up at 4 am to offer his prayers and enjoy the morning tranquility and peace. He has also taken responsibility for the food and pocket money of the children of adjacent villages who are getting a primary education at his village. Every child gets five rupees pocket money every day and is provided food during recess.
“These children belong to poor families and their parents cannot afford to feed and clothe them,” says Laghari. “My family also pays for their clothing.”
“Faqeerana Kakh is just like my second home,” says Muhib Bheel, a frequent visitor to Ghulam Hyder Laghari’s autaq. “I come here every month. I believe this is one of the most unique guest houses in Sindh, where humans and other creatures are living together in a natural environment. Laghari is our asset and his deeds reflect that humans need a closer bond with nature.”
“I want to see our forthcoming generation adopt the culture of hospitality,” says Laghari. “I believe living in a natural environment brings out the human in me. I don’t understand why man has tried to destroy nature for his petty interests. We cannot defeat nature, and we must learn to exist with it in harmony.”
Laghari has been celebrating 12th Rabi-ul-Awal for years at his guest house, where he invites Hindus, Muslims and his peasants for milads. People recite naats and sing Sufi music until the early hours on the holy night.
“I think people rarely care about nature and God’s creatures,” says Mir Altaf Hussain Talpur, an environmental activist from Hyderabad. “I have visited his [Laghari’s] autaq just once but I could see that Laghari is a nature lover and a peaceful man. In Sindh, where people are increasingly neglecting nature, people such as Laghari are playing a positive role, by looking after birds and animals.”
The Faqeerana Kakh is no less than a natural museum. People arrive here from all over Sindh and stay there to listen to the melodious sounds of birds, Sufi music and classical poetry. It is a place where anyone can grow plants and trees but cannot so much as pick a leaf from a plant.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.’ Ghulam Hyder Laghari has certainly adopted the pace of nature.
The writer is a Sindhi fiction writer, blogger and journalist
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 10th, 2021