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“For centuries, Hamarcho has portrayed our previous hurdles, our hope for a bountiful crop yield and a prosperous life for the Thari people,” says Arjan Meghwar, referring to the folk song which is part of the pre-harvest tradition in Thar. The folk song of Hamarcho, which depicts aspirations of three generations, is a way for Tharis to remember the sufferings of their past, celebrate the present and envision a bright future.

As crops grow, farmers’ families, friends, neighbours and relatives come together to weed out grass from the land — the grass is considered harmful for the growing crop and a single family is unable to do this on their own. This community event held in the monsoon season or ‘Waskaro’ (in Dharki language) is known as Aabath and Kherd in Dharki. Harmacho is sung during this event and can be heard in the fields of Thar after the rains.

“It boosts morale and enthusiasm,” says Noor Ahmed Janjhi, a research scholar on folklore and folk literature. “Its linguistic aestheticism is in its harmony. Legendary poet Shaikh Ayaz has even composed a novel with Hamarcho,” he further adds.

Prior to harvest time, Tharis sing a special song to keep plugging along at their laborious field work

And indeed Aabath and Kherd is not just about farming, it is about bringing the community together through poetry and song; a reminder that friends and family are there for each other. I set out to see this traditional farming activity deep in the desert.

The land looked as if it wore a green quilt — this lush greenery after the desert rains this year attracted thousands of visitors from all over Pakistan. On the way, I met more than 40 adults and youth, singing Hamarcho while cutting grass. They looked enthusiastic in the work which they were immersed in since sunrise and which would continue until sundown.

Ali Khan who owns around 20 acres of land in a remote village near Khorbiyon, Mithi, is the host of the Aabath and Kherd which I am currently visiting. “One cannot farm the desert alone; it can only be done through collective effort. Today they are cleaning my land and tomorrow I shall have to give back to each of them. This is how we live in Thar,” says Khan.

In a nearby hut, Sikiladho is managing the food for the event. “I have been assigned to facilitate community participants, arrange the tea, drinking water and lunch,” he says as he busies himself with the prep. “People from different communities are participating — from Bheel, Kolhi, Meghwar, Sameja, Hajam and Thakar. They work hard all day and eat lunch together,” he points out to highlight how close-knit the community is during this annual event.

The intent behind singing Hamarcho is to motivate people to quickly complete the task — they have a single day to cover 20 acres of land. “Cutting grass with a hand hoe from early morning to evening is quite hard, but the power of Hamarcho pours energy into our bodies and soul so we don’t feel physically tired,” says Gordhan Singh who is the lead Hamarcho singer of Khan’s Aabath and Kherd.

According to the writer and poet Bharumal Amrani, the younger generations are no longer as familiar with traditions such as Hamarcho in the rest of Sindh but it is still observed in the Thar desert. He suggests that the study of Hamarcho and other traditional customs be made part of school and university curricula so that the younger generations knows more about native folk traditions.

For Amrani, Hamarcho is also a reminder of the changing seasons — and fortunes — of the Thari people. “You cannot feel the cheerfulness until and unless you spend time in harsh weather in the Thar Desert. One can only feel the fragrance of rain if one has spent days in hot weather, during the hurricanes and the dry summer season,” he points out.

For Thari farmers, a lot of work is pending till the harvest in November — from cutting grasses and plucking harvest to storing fodder for animals till the next rainfall — but at least they have Hamarcho to inspire them.

“This [Aabath and Kherd, and Hamarcho] is what we wait for the whole year, when sand dunes turn aromatic after the rains and when the Almighty helps people cultivate their land,” says Sikiladho.

The writer is a freelance photojournalist and tweets @genanimanoj

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 1st, 2017

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