Tuesday, July 22, 2008

the shimshalis

so back to the essence - was it,
besides our own personalities, the unique ways in which we were all friends, some new, some old.
or was it the Shimshalis and their land, that made this such a special journey? obviously nothing is possible in and off of itself - so it had to be a combination. i haven't done much of a job describing ourselves, so I'm not sure how much more effective this description of the Shimshalis will be.
they are from the same general Gojal region of northern Pakistan, same Ismaili religion as the rest of the area, same polite mild tempered ways, living in some drop dead gorgeous parts of the country, but something distinctly sets them apart from their brethren west of the KKH.
we saw this in Gul, the first time we met him last year.
we took his self assured assertiveness and his pride in the land and its people as cockiness. that could not have been further from the reality - which was more about pride in real accomplishment, in the happiness and contentment which stems from having lived productively in a harsh remote environment, as against false pride or bravado.

cut off from the rest of the country up until the road was completed in 2003, this was no place for insecurity - everyone seemed to make the very most of what they had - or more what they didn't have - and make that work to their advantage. a sense of calm pride, quiet love of land and each other, was a common thread that ran across the board.
perhaps that is the life of most remote mountain communities, i wouldn't know cause i haven't lived in such places, but this was a group of people who exuded a sense of calm equilibrium within themselves, with each other, and the land they inhabit. there were obvious hardships to endure, obvious desire for a better more progressive life, obvious human tensions - vagaries of living a life, whichever kind it may be - but every one seemed to deal with it all without aggression or resentment for those who had more or better, nor were they fatalistic, cynical or beggarly. what was theirs they would take care of, what they wanted to make of their lives they would do by the dint of their will and effort, what was not possible didn't always have to be forced into possibility.
this came through not just in Gul's way of dealing with all of us and his crew, but in the brief interactions that wed had with others in the village. most remarkable was the lack of resentment and rancor in their inter personal relationships. a smile and laughter came easily to most people, eye contact was always made - with the exceptional odd ball, no one was shy or reclusive. of course it is a traditional patriarchal society and there is a hierarchical order to every thing but no one we met, not even the women, came across seeming inferior or subjugated. everyone was comfortable in their skins -------so it was inevitable that we too would react similarly to the harsh environment into which wed thrown ourselves - we too took our first misstep (mixing up the guls) in stride. with the dint of our will and effort we too did what was needed to make this an enjoyable experience. for Kamila and myself our dreams of chafchingol had to wait, she didn't have enough time, i was unsure of my own ability to go it alone with a bunch of shimshalis for company, nadir and nafeesah had to scrap ideas of climbing Mingalik Sar and nargis had to enjoy every excruciating blister ridden step she took. we too had to let go where it was not possible to go further, no false pride or bravado, just calm equilibrium - ultimately a real sense of pleasure and accomplishment for the 18 to 50 somethings alike.

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