Melodies of Hunger

The Manganhars of Sindh are unable to make ends meet during the Covid-19 pandemic

Melodies of Hunger

Sitting on a footpath in Nasim Nagar, Gulzar Faqeer recalls pre-Covid days when he and his colleagues would make good money performing folk music and entertaining crowds on various occasions. Faqeer is a drum player. He has been associated with the profession for fifteen years. A few of the group’s members are shehnai nawaz. The group of eight is used to visiting Nasim Nagar in Hyderbad to earn a living.

The performers belong to a marginalised community known as manganhar. Members of the community live in every city of Sindh. The artists have been performing their act for centuries. Once these same Manganhars were highly respected people. They were part of all social and cultural gatherings.

Since the coronavirus outbreak in 2019, the pace of life has been slow all over the world. The pandemic has caused many people to suffer economically, especially those working on daily wages. In Pakistan, the first lockdown was announced in March 2020. While a vaccination drive is in progress, a fourth wave of Covid-19 has once again confined a number of people to their homes. The pandemic has taken a terrible toll on people’s livelihoods and their mental health.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the great poet of Sindh, has also praised the Manganhar community in his poetry. His Sur, Sorath, narrates the story of the community.

“Our life has become miserable. We are going through a difficult phase. People no longer invite us to gatherings as they would in the pre-pandemic times. Not having any other skills has made it tough for us to make ends meet. We have never seen such a pandemic in our lives. It has snatched our employment from us,” says Gulzar Faqeer, who leads the group. “We keep waiting for customers from dawn to dusk. He says some artists are forced to beg instead of showcasing their art. Early in the morning, they spread out in various city areas to seek some food or money. When no one offers you work, and the government bans all gainful activities, what else can one do?” he adds.

Melodies of Hunger

Irshad Faqeer is a young drum player; he belongs to Tando Aallah Yar, but has been living in Hyderabad for almost ten years for the sake of his children. “I don’t want to see my children being forced into the same profession. We face hunger and poverty. I have borrowed Rs 20,000. Now I have to pay the amount back. But how will I do that if I do not get to perform?”

Riaz Faqeer is a shehnai nawaz who has been in this profession for 15 years and plays with this group of Manganhars. He says he accumulated a Rs 100,000 debt. His inability to pay the loan back is keeping him away from his home.

“My children are in school. I want to educate them. Our profession has no promising future. It is a daily grind. If they opt for the same vocation, they will die of hunger. Even on good days, we no longer get a handsome amount,“ he says.

“These artists earn their livelihoods from live performance. Very few of them work for radio or television. They alone get fixed salaries. Most of them depend on cultural activities to make a living,” says Ali Akbar Hingorjo, station director at Radio Pakistan, Hyderabad.

“The government should survey the Manganhars and design a programme to support the community. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected their livelihoods. Any income support plan would be beneficial for them. After all, these people are entertainers who add to our celebrations,“ says Hingorjo.

The Manganhars demand that the government pay attention to them and support them until the end of the pandemic.

The writer is a fiction writer, blogger and journalist

Melodies of Hunger