Friday, August 29, 2008

Gorakh Hills

I read with mixed feelings the front page news in Dawn on Gorakh Hills - Sassui Palijo has finally succeeded in reviving the Gorakh Hill development project and the Assembly has passed the Development Bill for the hill station.

Gorakh Hills is the highest point (about 6000 feet) of the Kirthar mountain range in Sindh, not very far from Dadu and along the border with Balochistan. The place gives some very breathtaking views of Sindh and Balochistan and climate-wise is very pleasant, with maximum temperature reaching 25C in summer time.

This location was identified in 1860 for conversion into a hill resort similar to Ziarat and Muree however despite a few attempts during the last few decades no development work has carried out.

Sindh has huge potential for tourism development, with a large number of historical sites and locations that need urgent attention and care, as well as places like Gorakh hills which have the potential to be developed into pleasant retreats. Let's hope this project gets the attention it deserves - but at the same time let's also hope that the project does not end up getting hijacked by the ever-hungry land mafia, as seems to be the case with Chaukhandi tombs detailed in the post below.

Note: ATP carried a very good article on Gorakh Hills (click here) along with more photos. The photo here is also courtesy ATP site.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

CHAWKANDI TOMBS: Site Threatened by Proposed Industrial Development

Guest Post by: Sameeta Ahmad, Founder Culture Concerns Group

A recent allotment of 68 acres of land adjacent to the Chawkundi Tombs in Karachi for industrial use threatens the 16th-century historic burial site physically, visually and in terms of allowing future public use - this is an amenity plot converted to a commercial plot to make this sale by the Sindh government to a private owner possible.

The ‘Chawkandi tombs’ site, a sixteenth-century burial ground at Karachi, is an officially “protected site” with the federal level of the Government of Pakistan’s Department of Archeology. It is a cluster of sandstone tombs, graves and pavilion tombs with exquisite carving of geometric arabesques and stylized motifs resembling that of the Samma Cluster at the Makli necropolis. Adjacent to it, a 68 acre plot of land has in 2006 been allotted to a private firm for industrial use by the Land Utilisation Department of the Sindh Government. The land is part of an amenity plot that has now been sold for commercial use, and since it lies between the burial site and the National Highway, construction on it will block the direct view of the site from the road, damage the sandstone with industrial emissions, and makes impossible the future use of this land for public use related to the heritage. The Antiquities Act that protects sites and monuments of historic significance in Pakistan only requires that a buffer area of 200 feet from any such site be left clear of any development, and officials claim that this rule will be followed there. The Department of Archeology states that it has not been officially consulted or informed of this major decision regarding the fate of this major heritage site in Karachi.

With industrial use, the resultant carbon emissions will directly harm the porous sandstone as will the pollution from the increase in vehicular traffic. Since there is no solid boundary wall to the ground, and its layout makes it hard to construct one, increased human traffic is also expected to create more intervention and vandalism at this exposed site. Already, there has been pilferage and new graves are constantly constructed there right next to the historic structures.

The concrete boundary wall of the newly privatized plot is currently being built along the highway edge and is already beginning to block the view of the site from the highway. The back wall of the plot has not been marked yet but the legal requirement of leaving 200 feet clear could technically be accommodated. However, the burial site boundary, running parallel to the highway, which is marked by openly spaced concrete posts, is not uniformly distanced from the actual tombs inside it, which it is supposed to protect. While at the entrance gate of the site the distance between the tombs and their marked boundary is roughly 160 feet, this reduces to only 24 feet at the other end of its length. Thus the technical clause of clearing 200 feet will be meaningless in this case if it is not protecting the actual historic material, nor creating the visual and environmental buffer space needed.

The federal Department of Archeology states that it will be requesting the Sindh government to cancel the plot allotment and hand it over to it through the agency of the federal government. It says that it had earlier submitted a conservation master plan for the Chawkandi site in 2006, which is to be reviewed by the Federal Secretary of Culture soon. However, the plan requests only 8 acres of adjacent land to be handed over to it for protection and conservation, though the department does recommend keeping land between the site and the highway free from development. Public uses are also suggested by the local communities there, which urge authorities to follow a 1994 proposal for creating a public services complex on the same plot. At the moment the plot is only being used informally as a stop for trucks and trailers and can be easily and immediately cleared by the government. But authorities have instead ordered the police to provide protection to the new private owners.


  • “Land near heritage site given to industry”, Hasan Mansoor, Dawn, Feb. 27, 2007.
  • Lari, Y., “Excursions & Trips - Chaukandi”, Karachi: Illustrated Travel Guide, Heritage Foundation, Karachi: 2002.
  • Personal Communication. Qasim Ali Qasim, Director, Department of Archeology (Southern Circle- Sindh and Balochistan), Government of Pakistan. March 1 2007.

*Cross-posted from
Culture Concerns Special Interest Group. The author, Ms Sameeta Ahmad is an architect and planner who teaches at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Justice Rana Bhagwandas at SANA Convention, July 5th, 2008, Dallas, Texas

Biography of Justice Bhagwandas from Wikipedia:

Honourable Mr. Justice (R) Rana Bhagwandas (b. December 20, 1942), a highly respected name of the Pakistani judiciary was a senior judge and former acting chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He remained the acting CJP during the 2007 judicial crisis in Pakistan and also briefly became the acting Chief Justice of Pakistan when the incumbent Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry went on foreign tours in 2005 and 2006[1], and thus became the first Hindu and the second non-Muslim to serve as chief of the highest court in Pakistan. [Continue Reading]

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Highlights from SANA Conference in Dallas, Texas

Courtesy: Ayaz Gul Soomro of KTN NEWS, Los Angeles Bureau

Highlights from the Annual SANA Banquet:

Courtesy: Ghorakh Hill, SANALand Blog

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Josh FM 99 Sindhi FM Radio Station

Josh FM 99 is Pakistan's Premier Sindhi FM Radio. It covers areas between DHA/Clifton Karachi and farthest borders of Thatta district. With 20 million potential listeners it is the newest and the fastest growing Radio Station in the region.

Josh FM 99 is the only Sindhi talk Radio Station (4 million exclusive audience) in Karachi and Thatta but also plays hit Indian and Pakistani songs in all languages.

Josh FM 99 has not only been envisioned, created and built by students but is also operated by students. The presence of young and energetic management is a guarantee to its listeners, that the hottest play list will be aired at all times. Josh FM 99 has a strong belief in the motto 'More Music Less Talk.'

Join this young team of Josh FM 99, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Visit the Josh FM 99 Facebook Page
Visit Josh FM 99 Home Page

Saturday, July 5, 2008

SANA. 24th Convention: July 5th -Continued...

Currently blogging live from conference floor. July 5, 2008, Dallas, Texas:

In my previous post I failed to mention Ahsan Iqbal, MNA Government of Pakistan (PML-N) as

Ahsan Iqbal spoke immediately following Justice Bhagwan Das' keynote, video to be posted shortly.

Ahsan Iqbal spoke candidly. He affirmed his party, the PML-Ns commitment to the coalition government. He also said that, if PML-N had the votes in the National Assembly it would have moved towards impeachment of President Musharraf. However he went on to stress the need for the coalitions cooperation, citing numerous conversations Sharif has had with Zardari.

Assemblyman Iqbal after asked about the National Language bill, said if presented to the house they'll most definitely move to approve it. The assembly requires a 2/3 majority to pass the bill.

Also, Ahsan Iqbal was asked about his opinion regarding the Kalabagh dam. Upon the audiences insistence, he said "if Sindh doesn't want Kalabagh dam, then we won't build it." This response got a standing ovation.

Ahsan sahib also commented about the PPP meetings with MQM. He said that PML-N signed the same resolution as other parties that there will be no dealings with MQM until the May 12th issues are resolved.

Click for Video of Ahsan Iqbal's Q&A Session

Click for Justice Rana Bhagwandas' Q&A Session

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

SANA 24th Annual Convention, Dallas, June 3rd - 6th, 2008

On July 4th, 2008 over a 450 Sindhis from all across North America, and Pakistan gathered at the Westin City Center in Dallas, Texas for SANA (Sindhi Association of North Americas annual convention - http://sanalist.org.

The event spotlights were the recently disposed judge, Justice Bhagwansas, Ghazala Rahman Rafiq, Safdar Sarki, Nusrat Lashari, and several others from the Sindhi intellectual and activist sphere.

Sindhi is an ancient culture that dates back to the Indus Valley civilization. Its langauge is the only structured regional language of Pakistan.

During the first day, July 4th sessions the following motions were called to action:

* Call for the uncoditional restoration of pre PCO judges.

* Motion to give Sindhi, along with other regional languages status of national languages in Pakistan.

* Appeal to the Federal Government in Islamabad to honour the 1940 Pakistan resolution that allows for provincial autonomy.

* Call for the impeachment of President General (rtd) Pervez Musharraf on grounds of violating the constitution of Pakistan

Following the days session, conference attendees flocked to a energic Sindhi music night.

More updates to follow, along with Bagwandas' keynote address.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Online Sindhi English Dictionary

The South Asia Language Resource Center at the University of Chicago have funded a project allowing for a Sindhi English Dictionary on the web. The site also has an online Sindhi script keyboard so people can type in words in Sindhi to look up the relevant English translation.

I found it a bit difficult to look up words by typing in, but thankfully all the Sindhi letters are on the website so one can just click on a particular alphabet and see all the words starting with it on a separate page. There's also a 'word of the day' feature like other online dictionaries.

The project was developed in collaboration between the Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP) at the National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences in Lahore and Dr Jennifer Cole at the Univeristy of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Good stuff and definitely worth a look.

Monday, June 9, 2008

University of Karachi Resolved to promote Sindhi Culture and Language

KARACHI, June 8: Several provincial ministers and members of the Sindh Assembly at the Kahani Conference held at the University of Karachi resolved to promote Sindhi literature and culture as part of the government’s policy of raising the standard of education and literacy rate in the country.

Speaking at the conference, organized by KU’s Sindhi Department in collaboration with the Anis Ansari Academy on Saturday on the campus, Sindh Minister for Culture Ms Sassui Palijo, who was chief guest along with Minister for Works and Services Manzoor Hussain Wassan, said that the government was paying utmost attention to the education sector. She observed that youngsters of our society were quite able and talented.

Ms Palijo announced a sum of Rs1 million for the “Sindhi Chair” at the university.
[Continue Reading...]

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fahim Allan Fakir in concert

Son of the world renowned charismatic singer and musician, Allan Fakir, Fahim Allan Fakir was trained from an early age in the Sufi tradition still prevalent at the Shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.

Fahim will be performing at Alliance Francaise with traditional Sindhi instrumentalists and is geared to mesmerize you with his soulful voice.

Date : Saturday, June 7, 2008
Time : 9:00pm - 11:00pm
Venue : Alliance Française de Karachi
Block 8, Kehkashan Clifton
Karachi, Pakistan
Contact: director@afkarachi.com

Sunday, May 25, 2008

SANA: 24th Annual Convention, July 3rd, Dallas, Texas

Sindhi Association of North America, SANA is holding its 24th Annual Convention in Dallas,Texas from July 3rd to 6th, 2008. This will be the first SANA convention in the Dallas metropolitan area.

For information, or to sign-up click here.

Note: Sindhiyat is currently recruiting freelance (volunteer) bloggers and podcasters to report about SANA conference. If interested email info@sindhiyat.org

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Marvi Jo Melo

The annual Marvi Jo Melo was inaugurated yesterday at Marvi Jo Khooh near Bhalwa village in Tharparkar, Sindh. This mela, a two-day affair, is arguably the biggest social and business event in the Thar area in which thousands of Tharis from various villages participate by putting up stalls under straw huts and shamianas to trade their arts and crafts and bringing their camels and horses to take part in the animal racing events. Other attractions of the mela include malakhra (wrestling competition), adabi conferences and musical programs in which various artists play or sing traditional folk songs.

The annual mela is a mark of tribute to one of the most well-known legendary heroines of Sindh, Marvi, famous for her purity and patriotism. The legend goes thus:

In the period of the Soomra rule there lived in Thar a poor shepherd named Palni, who had a beautiful daughter named Marvi. As Marvi grew older the fame of her beauty spread far and wide and reached the ears of Umer, the King of Umerkot and ruler of the Soomras. Off Umer went in search of her, disguised as a traveller and vowing to himself that he would find and make the beautiful girl his queen. On the fateful day they met, Marvi was filling water alone from a well. Looking at such beauty Umer was mermerized and knew this was her. He knelt down pretending to be a thirsty traveller asking for water, and as Marvi complied he swept her off her feet and forcefully on to his horse and made for Umerkot.

In Umerkot he tried to woo her but Marvi, who was engaged to her cousin Khet, held steadfast in her resistance and resolve to go back to her land and people. He tried to win her, proposed, begged, pleaded, offered her jewels and riches, confined her and eventually tortured and intimidated her, but Marvi did not relent. She shunned his advances, rejected his jewels, refused his velvet offerings and scorned his love - for she declared her love and longing for her land, her beloved and her people above everything else. As a fine translation goes,

My soul is sewn finely with my people
I miss the earth, the grass, the trees of my land
My heart dwells there though my flesh may be here
My breath is in the hut although my body to mansions bound

Seeing such sincerity and purity, Umer was heart-broken and finally sent for her people to come and collect her. Once back, Marvi walked on burning coal to prove her chastity and innocence, and lived happily ever after. This remarkable tale of Marvi's longing for her barren but beloved land has been immortalized in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

Coming back to the mela, the well where Marvi used to fetch water and was kidnapped from is today called Marvi Jo Khooh (the well of Marvi), though today the well, as most of Thar, has no water. The annual mela is the only time that the vast and desolated desert is in the news, in remembrance and celebration of the Thari Marvi's legendary patriotism.

In the words of Asif Farrukhi, all that is left of Marvi today is eternal thirst and longing for what is no longer there.

Cross-posted to chawkandi

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Heritage Spotlight: Hindu Gymkhana

The Seth Ramgopal Goverthandas Mohatta Hindu Gymkhana was built in the year 1925, to be used as a club by the elite and upper class Hindu community that formed the backbone of commercial acitivity in Karachi at the time. It spans an area of 47,000 sq yards and was designed by a Muslim architect, Agha Muhammad Hussain, who boldly used a Mughal-Hindu mix of architectural design, arguably the first of its kind in a city that was dominated by European-style architectural buildings. With its thick walls, carved cupolas and other features the building reflects in miniature the magnificence of a grand Rajasthani palace.

After partition in 1947, the premises were used by the Federal Public Service Commission until the capital shifted to Islamabad some years later. As has been the case with a large number of such historical sites, the Hindu Gymkhana subsequently fell victim to neglect by the authorities and suffered severe physical deterioration and degradation. In 1984 the site shot into limelight when the government of the time decided to demolish the building, but the efforts and intervention of various local and foreign bodies saved it from extinction.

In 1994 the building was declared a cultural heritage site to be protected under the Cultural Heritage Protection Act. In or around the same period a scheme was approved, first to convert the premises to establish Sindh College of Arts, later revised and decided to turn the Gymkhana into a cultural heritage complex by the name of Kak Mahal Cultural Complex, with an approved cost of Rs 38 million.

In 2004, President Musharraf issued a directive to hand over the building to actor Zia Mohyeddin who had selected it as the site to set up the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA), the first academy of its kind in the field of performing arts in Pakistan. All the cultural material placed in the building was shifted to the Sindh Provincial Museum in Hyderabad to make way for NAPA, which was formally inaugurated by Musharraf after a year in February 2005.

In April 2006 the Hindu Gymkhana was in the news again when it was reported that illegal construction work was being carried out by NAPA in order to build a 50-feet high theatre and auditorium at the site. The site being declared protected under the Heritage Act, any changes or construction required mandatory clearance and NOCs from KBCA (Karachi Building Control Authority) and the Sindh Culture department, which was not done by NAPA. The ensuing publicity made NAPA stop this construction, however small illegal alterations continued to be made to the building in order to accomodate the requirements of the Academy.

This year in February 2008, a Hindu welfare organization took both NAPA and the government to court in a bid to reclaim the building, claiming that the property belonged to the Hindus of the city who had no place of their own to carry out social or cultural activities of their community. The organization also alleged that of the total 47,000 square yards area, over 27,346 sq yards had been ancroached upon by the Police department, 6,700 by the Federal Public Service Commission, 4,164 by the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association and 416 sq yards by a private individual. The organization also alleged that parts of the building had been demolished, damaged or modified beyond recognition, in gross violation of the Heritage Act.

Two weeks ago, on April 17, the new Culture Minister Sassui Palijo while appreciating the efforts of NAPA, declared that the Academy will have to vacate the Hindu Gymkhana building and find some other premises, as the historical site will be handed over to the Hindu community to carry out its social and cultural activities.

There is diverse reaction to this decision. On one hand many are hailing this move of handing back the building to its 'rightful' owners, and on the other many are also lamenting the treatment meted out to NAPA which has also done some praiseworthy work towards the revival of performing arts in Pakistan. Perhaps if NAPA had remained within the confines of the law in preserving the protected site it would have continued to occupy the premises. Another question that comes to mind is where was the Hindu community during the last 60 years when the building was deteriorating badly and why it did not make any demand for its restoration earlier.

In any case, there is no doubt that the government must make more efforts to protect and preserve the sites that fall under the Cultural Heritage Protection Act, but while doing so there is also a need to devise some sort of strategy to put these buildings to good use in a manner that can promote and enhance their cultural and historical value further.
Cross-posted at Chawkandi

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sindh Wildlife

About a month ago an uncle of mine who works in the Sindh Wildlife department visited me in office. We started talking about Wildlife reserves and I told him about my interest in getting involved in WWF initiatives in Sindh but that I could not find any good website that would guide me in this direction. He told me to log on to http://www.sindhwildlife.com.pk. I typed the web address on my computer right there and the page that flashed before me said, 'Site suspended due to non-payment of bills'. Chacha was obviously embarrassed, but called me up a few days ago to say the outstandings have been settled and the site is now functional.

It is mainly a limited resource site providing information on the organization and history of the department, the main animals found in Sindh, info on protected reserves (the photographs don't seem to load) and some external links. Interestingly the Public Awareness section devotes most space to information on game hunting rules, permits and fees, when what I really wanted to find was how common people can assist in protecting our diminishing indigenous animal species in the province.

Another interesting thing to note is in the Animals section the population estimates given are from the year 1999 or 2001, meaning that since the last 7 years no estimates have been prepared (or published), especially for the endangered species like the Indus Dolphin or Marine Turtle.

The site is a good initiative by the Sindh Wildlife department, but a lot more can be added especially with respect to ongoing activities by the department, providing downloadable material and providing suggestions on how the public can assist and contribute in this very important arena.

If anyone is aware of more sites that have info on how to help/contribute, please do share.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ex Chief Minister 'Manhandled'

Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, ex Chief Minister of Sindh under Musharraf rule, was a very frightened man on Monday, trying to run for his life and escape from the clutches – and shoes – of the mob that was trying to get their hands on him outside the Sindh Assembly in Karachi.

The scene in which somebody succeeds in hitting him hard on his face with a shoe has been shown countless times by all TV channels. This was after he had taken oath as MPA inside the assembly hall where someone else also threw a shoe at him (and missed) from the visitors’ gallery.

Later when someone interviewed a couple of women MPAs, instead of condemning the incident they started lamenting that they had not managed to get their own hands (read shoes) on him!

To give the devil his due, Arbab during his tenure as Chief Minister had been very vocal about his hatred for and criticism of Benazir Bhutto, had accused her of corruption and even went as far as to say that from a religious point of view the “leadership of a woman – and therefore BB – is a curse!” All this obviously seems not to have gone down well with the public.

In any case the incident can in no way be condoned. It is totally and completely deplorable and shameful that such an act was allowed to occur in the place where our representatives take the solemn pledge to protect the constitution and maintain law and order!!

Benazir Bhutto herself had only responded to Arbab’s accusations by taking strong exception in the media to his comments and sending him a legal notice of defamation, which was the correct course of action and response. Those jialas and supporters of BB who are defending the attack on Arbab are simply not helping BB’s cause. They have a much higher responsibility, especially after her death, to ensure that order is maintained at any and all cost and that we move on as a nation on the path of reconciliation and real democracy that BB envisioned.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Anwar Solangi: State of the Pakistani Artist

Well-known TV and Radio artiste Anwar Solangi, known popularly as Makno Khan after one of the characters he portrayed in Urdu serial Deewarain, passed away yesterday in Civil Hospital Karachi after a prolonged illness at the age of 64. Despite having worked in over 500 TV plays, 1200 radio programs and over a dozen Sindhi films, Anwar Solangi enjoyed neither the fame nor fortune that actors with such a portfolio are able to achieve in other countries. On the contrary, Solangi lived almost hand to mouth in a rented house, supported by small payments made to him whenever he could find some work.

Being very bitter about the system and the lack of acknowledgement for artists in the country, Solangi once admitted that he would never have ventured into acting had he known beforehand how artists are treated in Pakistan. In an interview in 2002 he had said, ” I run from pillar to post each month when my telephone connection is terminated for non-payment of bill. With 5000 or so rupees of cash per episode, I have to keep focusing on how to keep my bills cleared and my stomach full. I live from episode to episode for a livelihood in the most basic sense.”

Once, having received an award for best actor of Sindhi dramas, he had said, “An award is the biggest form of appreciation for an actor and all I received with this award was a total of 4500 rupees with 500 deducted as tax. The award is sitting in my drawing room. I can’t eat it. Don’t artistes have a right to a normal life? I have given this field my best. My youth, my energy, my devotion. And what have I received in return? Regrets, bitterness and poverty.”
Solangi’s example speaks volumes of the state of performing arts and artists in the country. Despite the mushrooming of TV channels in the country, many artists are not able to make ends meet. Some private channels do pay well, however by far the majority of channels, including PTV and especially regional or non-Urdu language channels simply are either unwilling or unable to compensate actors in line with their talent, time and efforts. Most artists therefore either act as a part-time profession or as a hobby - it is becoming rarer and rarer to find full-time actors.

If cricketers can be paid millions of additional rupees and other ’gifts’ for winning matches, surely our actors and artists can also be paid in line with their talents. It is high time that the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism, under whose jurisdiction this falls, revisits and regulates the dismal wage, employment and royalties structure of TV and Radio actors in Pakistan.

Anwar Solangi will probably not be the last artist to die in poverty and bitterness, but may his death mark the beginning of change.
Cross-posted at chawkandi.wordpress