Skip to main content

Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 32 page 11



by Naeem Ashraf

Kheroo Bibi heard many people saying: “Some homes across the river have iron horn fixed in their courtyards. On moving the horn up and down, the water flows out like a spring.” How was that possible? She always doubted. Kheroo Bibi also doubted that there could be any dwellings beyond the sky-rising mountains sitting behind her village. How can someone surmount those mountains? This mountain range, she believed, was last wall on earth, it was end of the world. The same way, water flowing out of iron-hole never made sense to her. To her, water falling from sky, flowing in river or coming from a spring made sense, but water running out by twisting an iron-horn was beyond comprehension. Such occurrences, she thought, are a precursor to Doom’s Day.

On the riverbank, she first of all drank water to her fill. Then she properly washed her hands, face, arms, legs, and feet, followed by her shawl. After filling two pitchers she once again drank the water before leaving for village. At the river, she always endeavored to fill her stomach with water so that, due to hot summers, she should not feel thirsty too soon. She straightened her shawl then twisted it into a rope-like strand which she shaped into a ring atop her head where it sat like a cloth cobra. She positioned one of the pitchers atop this head cushion then stood up straight and with both hands fixed the other pitcher tightly to the left side of her waist.

She longed to be rid of the misery of fetching water from the river, miles away from the village. Had the rains poured like previous years, she reflected, the village pond wouldn’t have dried up.

On her way back to the village Kheroo passed near the dried-up pond. She prayed to God: “May it rain so heavy that it floods everywhere, may the village pond fill to its brim.”

The pond had been a great blessing. Kheroo’s cattle and that of the surrounding villagers would drink from it, and the village women fetched water from it. Wild life also benefitted from the same pond. Troops of jackals visited at night to drink water. People living there had worked out an amicable arrangement. Villagers drank water from one side of the pond and allowed dogs, jackals and other wild animals to use other side.

The western side of pond having wild growth was used by women as hide-out to bathe. Menfolk did not look in that direction. Women who came to take water did many household chores as well. They washed clothes and utensils and made sure that the used water did not flow back into the pond. If that ever happened, the drinking water had to be collected twenty steps away from that spot.

As for farm animals, the goats, cows, bulls, donkeys and horses turned back to the village after filling their bellies. But buffaloes were a nuisance, especially in summer. They preferred taking a bath to drinking from pond. Another bad habit that buffaloes practiced was urinating and excreting while swimming in the pond. Nevertheless, their mischief had been accepted and drinking water was taken from the other side of the pond. Since buffalo was a halal animal, no remedial measures were enforced by the villagers.

Usually by the time Kheroo arrives with water from river, her husband Sanghar has already secured his cattle. He removes her pitchers and places them on a pitcher-holder. Hens come running as if someone has whispered into their ears the arrival of water. Sanghar using a bowl washes his hands and face in such a manner that the water falls into a large pan. The hens would get their share of water from this pan. Sanghar takes another bowl of water from the pitcher, drinks some and hands the rest to his wife. She drinks the leftover water and starts to wash the utensils. To save water, having washed one pot, she keeps pouring the used water into the next pot. In this manner, many pots get their initial cleansing. In the end she gives a final rinse to all the utensils with fresh water. A few months back, Kheroo’s nephew visited. She happily served him water, but watching him waste it, she could not resist admonishing him, “Have you not been taught how to drink water?”

Today, on reaching near her village, Kheroo was exhausted. To her bad luck, all of a sudden she stumbled over a stone and fell to the ground. The pitcher on her head fell and broke into pieces. The other pitcher did not break but its water spilled out. What now? She must go to village, get another pitcher and fetch the water again from river. It seemed impossible with what little vigor remained to her. She did not feel the pain caused by the wounds to her body from the fall. But somewhere deep in her heart she cried and said, “Oh God! If at all you had to inflict a suffering on me, I would rather lose Sanghar than my hard-earned water.”