Mohammad Ramzan, a 60-year-old traditional goatskin water carrier, also known as mashki, fills a water trough for pigeons along a road in Karachi on a hot day during Ramazan.—Reuters
Mohammad Ramzan, a 60-year-old traditional goatskin water carrier, also known as mashki, fills a water trough for pigeons along a road in Karachi on a hot day during Ramazan.—Reuters

KARACHI: Mohammad Ramzan pumps water into a large goat skin bag before carrying it down an alley and up several flights of stairs to deliver to a resident in the city.

For more than four decades Ramzan has been a “mashki”, or water bearer, an age-old profession now in decline as water companies and tankers increasingly supply residents.

But his services are at least in high demand during the holy month of Ramazan.

“In Ramazan, the poor mashkis have a very tough time delivering water to us inside buildings that are four or five storeys high,” said resident Mohammad Imran, as Ramzan, 60, arrived with his load.

“The tanker people often do not even answer our calls; they also charge too much. We are really grateful to these mashkis.”

Karachi needs about 1,200 million gallons per day of water to meet the demand of its estimated population of 20 million people. But officials say its two main water sources only provide the city with about 580 million gallons per day.

Some of the water is lost due to dilapidated infrastructure and water theft, while experts say climate change and dams built upstream by India also reduce water supplies.

Ramzan stops to catch his breath as he climbs the narrow stairwell, carrying his leather mashk which can normally hold up to 35 litres of water.

“During Ramazan, it becomes difficult for people to collect water from water points, so I bring water for them in the hope that Allah will bless me for it ... I also earn my living this way.”

Water bearers have existed in South Asia for centuries, providing water to travellers and warriors during battles in ancient times.

But Ramzan worries that the days of the mashki are numbered.

“Tankers are delivering water everywhere; mineral water companies are supplying water from house to house,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2021

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