The roots of our family go as far back as a spring of strenuous travel when four brothers made their way from Bukhara to Afghanistan (then Khurasan), situating themselves in Kili Gaizoo, where I am told parts of our family still live – now under a new name, lost on our maps. The brothers; Syed Jamal Shah, Syed Jalal Shah, Syed Daleel Shah and Syed Baleel Shah spent months in travel, on camelback and foot, through the gruesome weather conditions of the Little Ice Age, with their family and their whole lives bundled up in whatever form of luggage they could muster to make their way as immigrants from Bukhara towards any place they could call home.
The Bukhari’s as they were called then, journeyed on to Pishin, where the brothers separated. Syed Jamal married into Haroon Tareens family and located to Pishin directly, Syed Jalal made his way to Multan, Syed Baleel got settled in Sanjawvi and it was Syed Daleel, whose roots are ingrained into the history of our family and our village.
The arrival of the brothers in District Zhob; then a much larger area consisting of much of the districts of Musakhel and Loralai, brought with it an appeal for prayer. The area had been completely barren and devoid of vegetation, making life harder with the accompanying arid climate, and thus, the brothers were asked to say their prayers for the nourishment of the land.
Our family has been told of two renditions of the story behind our name. The first version stands by the belief that rain came pouring down on them as soon as they finished their duas and the land soon gave way to be cultivated as the locals saw fit. Meanwhile, the other version sees the collective duas as a time-tested miracle; where the surrounding land was lush and evergreen the very following day. Both versions have been told time and again as palatable interpretations of the background of our surname, and both stories stand as important historical events for our people. Hence came the name “Gharshin”, where ‘ghar’translates to mountain, and ‘shin’ to green, respectively.
When the brothers decided to go their separate ways, the arrival at Rarasham wasn’t automatic for the descendants of Syed Dur Daleel Shah. After Zhob, Daleel Shah made Durug his permanent settlement, living out his days there, having married into the Jaffar Qabila. The family thus, spent around two centuries in peace with the Jaffars, until a rivalry broke out and losses on both sides made the Gharshins relocate to Basti Buzdar. During this time, Zhob District was the decided headquarters for meetings and gathering for the Sardar of the surrounding areas, and thus, my ancestors stumbled upon the location of Rarasham on one of these very trips to Zhob.
And so, we finally arrive at Rarasham, located in Musakhel District, at a two-hour drive from Fort Munro. A place of rich history and heart, with a unique culture, a gorgeous location with breathtaking landmarks, accompanied by a spectrum of different personalities, united under “their need for change, for peace and for a content livelihood, for good health and education for all, for basic necessities and facilities and all that any other people on earth would wish for” (Sardar Asad Gharshin). They are a people instilled with kindness and compassion, defined by their stories. Putting family first and embracing both change and tradition in equal measure.
It is in search of our history, one known to only a select few of us, and a remembrance of the stories of our people, both real and fictitious that I turned to people who had spent the most time in Rarasham. Being born in the city, and living so far away from your roots, it is easy to be swept away in the constant movement. To gawk at all that is not mine by automatic tradition, but simply by default, by the constant state of existence in a city so far removed from my immediate history. And thus, time and curiosity never slowed down enough to peak past the urban lens into historical and cultural identity; one moulded for me, rather than one moulded by me.
When trips into Rarasham were made, either as a week-long stay, or a 2-3 day stop on the way to Quetta, my adult memory only remembers as far as the walls of my gendered identity could let me. Thus, the immediate case stands on the internal scheme of family, stories, dialogue, and food; the togetherness that Rarasham brings with it. The external rest is a collection of accounts from fathers, brothers, and collective childhood.
It is this sense of togetherness, and a welcoming embrace that exists in the gentle caress of a hand on a grieving back. The soft smoke emerging from the Sundband as we all gather around during our visit in the summers, when it is set in the centre of the room, surrounded by laughter and hungry faces, ready to dive right into the leg piece in unison and devour every morsel of the Sohbat presented with it.
It is present in our exciting visit to Noori Dhand, just a way off from our homes, where we are shown its enchanting green-blue waters, as we emerge our feet in the cold and relaxing depths of the pool, propped up on rocks, taking in the orange hue of the sunset as we get an escape from the heat of July.
It is present in the homemade cakes sent back to Islamabad when someone pays a visit or returns after a trip to tend to the land or simply to see family. It is present in history in 1905, when the very first primary school in the entire district was set up at the appeal of Sardar Muhammad Mehar Shah, when it was denied at Zhob due to the potential Western influence being a corrupting power against culture.
It is present when the brothers and fathers of our extended family send their daughters and sisters on their way to educate themselves. It is present in the flora and fauna sanctuary under Sardar Asad Gharshin, who takes care to buy as many birds as possible and set them free. And it remains present in the memory of the time before and after my Daddo’s death.
It is a chilly, crisp autumn evening in Islamabad when I sit with my Daddo on her bed facing the window of her room to fill our time with the soft breeze and the stories of her childhood. The stories of her marriage to my Dadda, and those of her siblings and parents who are long gone. As well as the stories that enchanted her most as a child; the stories that made their way into every child’s collective consciousness in Rarasham as folktales and scary bedtime stories, and as ones we were told to contain our fascination in the obscure, but instil the dialogue in us we so associate with home.
From the stories of the “Mummra”; a huge gorilla-like monster with the ability to copy human speech, who kidnapped a young girl once, bringing her to his cave and licking her feet to the bone so she couldn’t escape. He then impregnated the girl and she was only found years later, with three carbon-copies of the Mummra, keeping her in the deep dark cave, trapped by a massive boulder only removed with ease by the Mummra. It is said a sheep from the family’s herd somehow made its way to her, where she attached her necklace around its neck. This notified the family who then found the cave the following day, finally bringing their daughter back and killing the monster and its spawn in the process.
It is this story and many others of monsters such as the llama-like “Gul-aftar”, the ghoulish blood-sucking woman trapped in black magic; “Dainr” (ڈینڑ), and the playful tale of the “Ganji Laili”; a baby goat hiding from and fooling a number of predators on her way to her Nani’s house. These stories go back decades. It is these stories that would entertain children before electricity brought in televisions and computers after 1995, and it is these stories told to us in Siraiki, that gave us our first memories of our cultural identity.
The second propagation of this identity came from the realization of the external world that Rarasham brought with it. Once memory became clearer; Rarasham became more physical. It became a collection of land vegetated; of our fathers planting olives, almonds, apples, grapes, corn and every other crop necessary. It became a land of open skies and rough green hills, stretching as far as the eyes could see, where each hill seemed an extension of the next, covered in shrubbery and shadowed every once-in-a-while by a white cloud in the stark blue sky.
It is through this consistently large area that we would journey by car, taking in the once green and brown land, now enveloped by snow during the snowstorms of January (2020), as our car travels down the long and unwinding road to Rarasham after we’ve climbed down the Koh-e-Sulaiman, crossing Fort Munro.
It is now nearing nightfall as we get closer to our destination. The hills have melted into each other as the sun sets, the snow now becoming a loud whisper carried by the intensely cold wind. It is quiet in the car as most of us are asleep, very much tired out from the 13-hour journey.
This remains my favourite part of the trip for as long as I can remember. I turn up my music, and instead of losing myself to sleep, I dream upon the myriad of celestial bodies so ever-present and scattered upon the black plain above. The stars have spilt upon the deep dark ocean like glitter, each one carrying a different story, each one being talked to by different people. It is this openness and this endless possibility of the sky of Rarasham that brings me the most comfort, as we turn down the road finally arriving at our destination.
The local ground is followed by the qabaristan, which eventually leads to the main road, where houses and shops acquire shape, cars remain on standby as distance is easily taken up by foot. The High School is enveloped in darkness, not meeting its usual hustle and bustle in the morning because of winter vacations.
It is quiet as we make our way to whichever house we’re staying at the first night, getting cosy in the blankets offered, in the rooms kept warm by firewood after dinner. The next morning we’re taken to embrace the winter wonderland; an anomaly to us, as we make our way out of Rarasham to finalize the paperwork needed for our local certificates in Musakhel city.
The sun sets as the white canvas of our land is painted an assortment of different colours, the distant mountains coming alive as time stretches on. We arrive just in time for dinner, where we are served Landi; the dried-out meat from a goat, a well-known local delicacy. For Landi, a goat is butchered, then boiling water is poured on it, and after the removal of its fur, and the breaking up into big pieces, it is set outside in the cold at night, and inside during the day for several days before it is finally cooked. It was served again with Sohbat and topped up by chai at the end of the night.