There are cherished as well as strange moments in one’s life. Once I made a presentation to a distinguished group of scholars hailing from Asia-Pacific countries in Osaka, Japan. As I finished I scored, beside routine applaud, a sentence from the learned Chair that I could not understand as it was in Japanese. Later I discovered with the help of the focal person the meaning of that invaluable reward: ” KEEP YOUR HERITAGE CLOSE TO YOUR HEART, MR. BALOCH. IT IS TRULY WORTH IT “.
Let me take you to San Francisco to meet Professor Allan Dandies, at Berkeley University. He pulled out a bunch of keys from the drawer and took me to show his treasure as he called it, kept in the adjacent room. Professor Alan Dundes was the World famed Folklorist with very prestigious credentials as a proud American teacher and of course as an accredited writer. It was an elongated room with boxes fixed in the walls from floor to roof with identification tags. Those boxes kept the world’s wisdom within. It was a storehouse of masterpieces of PROVERBS from across the world. I remember he pulled out proverbs from various boxes reading those to me, asking me ” Is it yours ” and I used to say NO, not mine. After getting the same answer from me repeatedly, he enquired in an exhaustive tone, ” TELL ME, DO YOU EXIST AT ALL, MR. BALOCH “.
It was an international gathering again in Japan. UNESCO hosted the event at Tokyo and the World intangible heritage was in focus. My presentation had two components, my paper and a documentary about the life of legendary Bijjar Khan, the veteran maestro and great teacher of Nad-o-Sur. I had borrowed the documentary from the PTV. My paper was quite comprehensive and as it was alphabetically scheduled, I had the opportunity to hear others and see some good documentaries quality wise and thought maybe mine would ditch me as it was not so glazed. In a scene, while Baba Bijjar Khan was teaching children how to play the typical flute, he slightly slapped his grand-grand son, telling him how to do it properly. I remember the Chair asked to still the video which was instantly done.
” LADIES & GENTLEMEN, WATCH THIS VIDEO CAREFULLY AND LEARN HOW TO TRANSFER INTANGIBLE HERITAGE TO GENERATIONS.
I AM SORRY, WE HAD ASKED YOU TO BRING DOCUMENTARIES BASED ON THAT THEME BUT SOME OF YOU BROUGHT YOUR TOURISM PROMOTIONAL DOCUMENTARIES WHICH WAS NOT, AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE REQUIREMENT “.
Heritage originated from the Latin term patri- monium, which is the union of two terms: pater (father) and munus (duty). The literal meaning is “the duty of the father” and, more extensively, the term can be translated as “things belonging to his father,” that is, the goods that belong to the father are evocative of value and sense. That breakdown still leads us to the conclusion, in a larger sense understood in an intergenerational key, that heritage is a set of goods that we have inherited from our fathers and that can be passed on to future generations. This definition inevitably places attention on the role that heritage must fulfil, a role that varies continuously between the passive deposit of historical memory or cultural identity and the powerful stimulus for creativity available for the present as well as for building the future (Settis 2010; 2012), (taken from ‘The Concept of Heritage’ by Francesco Selicato).
Heritage is ever growing and carries an inherent dynamism. It is the outcome of accumulated wisdom of generations. The Baloch are recognised as contributors to world heritage, be it a fraction on intangible aspect of heritage or a grand component in tangible sphere. For instance, the Baloch have an amazing proverb that supports the Latin theme of heritage by establishing a kinship to that foundation thought. There is a Balochi proverb that says:” WHEN YOU INHERIT FATHER’S BOW, BUY NEW ARROWS “. ( A book by Reccardo Redaelli about the Baloch published in Italy, is entitled as ‘Father’s Bow’. The title is based on that Balochi proverb ). It is being mentioned here just to stress the might of a wisdom loaded single sentence that if lost, would be a paramount irretrievable loss to heritage.
Let me share with you a slice of my memory in terms of an analogy. I am regarded as the founder of the Balochistan University of Information Technology & Management Sciences ( BUITEMS ) for, in my capacity as Secretary IT to Government of Balochistan, I did the hard-work of translating its concept into a tangible reality. Right from its nascent stage as a dream up to its formal inauguration and launching, this simple but highly scientific motivational Balochi proverb lit my way to achieve the noble goal. I remember I quoted this proverb in my speech at the launching ceremony of the University, saying that ” today I presented the SWORD OF HONOUR TO BALOCHISTAN IN THE FORM OF IT UNIVERSITY “. I still consider, beside others, modern technology as the ‘ NEW ARROWS ‘. One can think of numerous manifestations of a single masterpiece proverb. Very fortunately, the Baloch are among the richest in the world in this respect. It is an invaluable wealth that may not, never, go unpreserved.
Symbolic genesis are often claimed by many nations as being ‘the first’ in a particular sphere and there are countless instances wherein they had been given the due credit. For example a figurine in Mayan archaeology ( approximately 4000 years ) resembling an astronaut because of its gear (dress) is presented as the foremost thought regarding space travel. It was highly projected in that way. Now there are two thing that need to be understood, first that figurine is not not a piece of clay nor a terracotta toy. It could be so if you neither comprehend its tangible properties ( material aspect ) nor the vision ( non-material aspect ) associated to it, that installs renewed value and charm for the world to entice and appreciate it. But if you are armed with appropriate foresight ( insight too ) you never settle for the prima facie but look for a deeper perspective. And so comes the reward. The world will pickup your piece of clay and rank it as the ‘ancient astronaut’.
It is not possible to condense Balochistan’s tangible as well as intangible heritage within a couple of pages, for, once I wrote in a T.V play, that ” every prominent stone of these mountains is an overturned inscribed monument, which one to turn and which one to read “. But now I append an extension to what I wrote earlier and that is ” WHO will overturn it and WHO will read it “? Irony may not be the qualified word for depicting our state of affairs. I use to tell Balochistan’s friends of heritage that ” your case is strong but your advocates are weak “. So where do we stand ? Sometime heritage is not only held at low esteem but also pronounced so too. Certainly recognition of the significance of heritage is the prologue to the book of debate. WITHOUT earmarking resources, developing well-groomed teams of scholars, experts, researchers, a kind and concerned media, heritage literacy and heritage-centric citizens etc. etc. how can heritage thrive satisfactorily.
I agree that a comparison of our situation with the affluent western societies wouldn’t be fair. There is no question about it. But analogies are usually quoted to highlight the importance of a case that matters. During the Second World War, Britain faced grave financial crunch due to ever growing costs of the War. Once Finance Officials approached Prime Minister Churchill with a proposal with regard to shifting ‘heritage funds’ to meet the War expenses. Hearing the strange proposal, Churchill got infuriated and hysterically exclaimed:
” FOR GOODNESS SAKE ! THEN WHY I AM FIGHTING THE WAR ?” What he meant was that he was fighting the War in order to protect Britain’s heritage. I am sharing it because it is one of the repeatedly cited quotes which is central to the discourse of heritage, both in developing as well as developed societies. I often quote it for attention of those in power and authority.
Having said all that, let me put a couple of paragraphs with regard to a mega-discovery of heritage that virtually empowered Balochistan as one of the important seats of early civilizations, Mehrgarh. But to frame Mehrgarh in proper perspective, we need to have a quick overview of pre-Mehrgarh Balochistan, regarded as a waste land with few ancient archaeological sites not so eye-catching. It was mostly treated as a blank zone fit for excavations catalytic to establishing the spread of influence of Mohenjodaro or Harrappa for linking it somehow as the outposts of Indus Civilization. Perhaps archaeology will repent for long for the treatment of Balochistan as suzerain sub-zone which was good only for scoring distinctions for linking it to Mohejodaro, even with artificial evidences. They could do so because by then it was the popular thought process to look for influences external to Balochistan, including Indus or even Buddhist. The French Archaeological Mission of which Dr. Francois Jarrige was a team member, initially had a similar approach till they struck Mehrgarh site in early seventies.
The discovery of Mehrgarh not only created a series of UPSETS to the conventional archaeological thoughts and approaches with regard to Balochistan but also provided the world with a unique Neolithic site unparalleled in the region. One can enumerate Mehrgarh’s credentials in many volumes, but to me, its top-most distinction was its contribution in setting the archaeological record of the world straight and in proper perspective. I am glad that it is being taught in numerous credible universities of the world from that angle. Amazingly, the contemporary Baloch society carries forward faithfully numerous elements and traits of culture that originated at Mehrgarh 9000 or more years ago. To mention a few, nomadism, dates trees, Kurnu or Kak bread, embroidery stitches with Mehrgarh patterns, symbols on pottery or shapes of ornaments, tattoos, musical instruments including Penzuk (made of clay) and flute, domestication of animals, their display and exhibitions at Sibi cultural space, Bhag Nadi bulls, the carts, semblance of granaries or grain storage of Mehgarh with the granaries of Mir Chaker Fort, Sibi etc. etc. One can hardly find such an amazing sequential continuity elsewhere. All that deserve colossal care and curing, of course along scientific lines.
Perhaps the Baloch need, rather badly, a kind of self-management of their archaeology in the best interest of the discipline as well as to serve their generations yet to come with the genesis of their heritage so distinct, unique and ancient. Isn’t it worth a symbolic Mayan effort to tell the world that their piece of clay be genuinely seen as the ” ancient astronaut “, offering a tiny but pioneering heritage thought about space exploration. A similar message, I believe was there in my Japanese Professor’s comment on my paper when he said ” keep your heritage close to your heart “, because it is indeed the heritage of the entire humanity.
Not only charity but care also begins at home. A heritage site could be the invaluable asset of the entire world but its fundamental responsibility rests with the people to whom it belongs or the place that cradles it. Awareness in this respect precedes care. In other words, you care only when you understand its value. Therefore we need to improve our understanding of the value of our heritage and that is why I crave for it. Truly ” an uninformed person is a dark world unto himself “.