Revisiting the past

Published July 24, 2021
The current state of Miri Qalat in Turbat, the headquarters of Kech district in Makran.
The current state of Miri Qalat in Turbat, the headquarters of Kech district in Makran.

I LANDED in Gwadar in the scorching heat of July. After checking in at a decent motel near the beach, I encountered a man in the courtyard the very next day.

Hailing from the neighbouring district of Turbat, he has come to Gwadar to sell colorful Narra (shalwar belt).

I offer him tea and water in order to strike a conversation about his hometown since I inte­nd to visit it. I was wearing sho­rts and a T-shirt. This prompted him to give me a piece of his mind. “Waja (sir), if you want to visit my hometown, you must wear Balo­chi Shalwar-Ka­m­eez. So I am giving you a Narra at a throwaway price.”

He is so modest and talkative that I am instantly persuaded to buy a Narra.

“It costs two hundred rupees only,” he says, handing one over to me. “Why is it so expensive?” I ask him. He flashes an awkward smile before quipping: “CPEC is in Gwadar.”

After a few days, I am in Turbat, the headquarters of Kech district, in Makran region.

Turbat is somewhat hotter than Gwadar, the temperature hovering around 40° Celsius.

I head to Miri Qalat, a historic site six kilometres to the north-west of Turbat and on the right bank of Kech Kaur (river). The river bisects Turbat town.

Miri Qalat is famed for hosting an ancient fortress of Punnu, a Hoath prince who lived in the 12th century.

According to folklore lent weight by Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poetry, Sassi was the daughter of a Brahmin Sindhi Hindu. She was thrown into the Indus river by her parents, stuffed inside a box.

The baby was saved by a washerman in Bhambore, a town in Sindh. He decided to raise her.

When Sassi grew up, a man by the name of Punnu, who hailed from Makran, fell in love with her, and eventually married her. The couple settled down in Bhambore.

As Punnu’s father, Mir Aali, was the ruler of Kech, he disapproved of the union. So he dispatched his other sons to bring back Punnu from Bhambore, but he refused to go back.

Punnu’s brothers now resorted to trickery — they made him take a drink laced with an intoxicant. The brothers carried a punch-drunk Punnu to Kech on the back of a camel.

Sassi was asleep at the time. When she woke up and learnt that Punnu, along with his brothers, were not to be found anywhere, shock overcame her.

But she pulled herself together and resolved to carry the fight to the other camp. She left on foot in search of Punnu.

Sassi trekked mile upon mile through a forbidding desert, undaunted by frightening beasts and reptiles.

Further trials and tribulations followed. After a few days, Sassi reached a dead end in the shape of a river.

A shepherd now tried to molest her. Sassi prayed to God for rescue. Her prayers were answered and the ground beneath her feet opened up. She disappeared into the hole in no time, not to be seen again. The miracle chastened the shepherd. He repented and sought God’s forgiveness.

Later he built a grave at the site and became its custodian. Punnu, who was by now a free man, set out in search of Sassi. After a desperate search, he fortuitously landed at the same place.

The shepherd told him about the miracle; Punnu prayed to God and, in an uncanny recurrence, disappeared into a hollow, reuniting with Sassi in another world.

Legend has it that their joint grave is in Lasbella district of Balochistan. A local by the name of Haji Muhammad is said to have constructed a mausoleum during the 1980s over the grave. The site attracts visitors to this day.

Excavation in Makran

Roland Besenval, a French archaeologist who led an expedition to Indus and Kech-Makran, carried out excavation in Makran division, particularly at Miri Qalat, for two decades.

“The present size of the ancient site is roughly 300 metres by 125m. It is the most historic place in Kech Valley,” according to Shabir Baloch, who teaches archaeology at the University of Balochistan.

Historians believe that Makran had been used in the distant past as a conduit for trade between Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) and the Indus Valley. There is evidence of ancient Sindh’s imprint on Makran Valley as well as of occupation of the Makran coast by Sindh.

Hameed Baloch writes in his book, Makran, that traces of pottery and ornaments found at Miri provided new insights into ancient Makran. This prompted researchers to undertake a fresh survey in 1994 and they concluded that Makran served as a bridge between ancient civilisations of South Asia and the Middle East.

While leaving the fort in Miri Qalat, an agonising thought overtook me: why do our archaeological places picture neglect and indifference.

A lament by Dr Shah Mohammad Marri, a Baloch historian, came to my mind. “It is a sad reality that we do not care at all about the loss of our history and heritage.”

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2021

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