The tragic tale of a fisherman

Karim Mallah, like many other fisherfolk, has lost much of his sustenance to natural disasters and the Covid-19 pandemic

The tragic tale of a fisherman

Karim Mallah’s life was never easy, but now Covid-19 and the safety measures meant to restrict its spread have taken away what little his family was surviving on. There have been days, the old fisherman says when he has been forced to beg for food. He says no end is in sight to his misery. The losses incurred by the pandemic have been too many to count and too hard to overcome.

When the administration ordered a lock down he was barred from selling fish in Seerani city of his native Badin.

Mallah fears that even when the lockdown is lifted his prospect of earning a reasonable income will be bleak on account of the shortage of canal water in the coastal belt. “Little water in the water bodies means little fish no water means no fish. No fish means no income for me and others like me“, he says.

I see Karim Mallah emerging from the local mosque after offering the Friday congregational prayers. He is holding the hand of his six-year-old grandson Ali Akbar. The lines of experience are etched deep on his forehead. He says he had promised Akbar he will get him a new toy this Friday, but a toy is impossible to come by as long as the lean period in his financial circumstances lasts.

It is clear that the child understands the situation and does not want to cause his ageing grandfather more embarrassment. As Karim Mallah takes him home without first visiting the bazaar, he throws no tantrums.

Karim Mallah remembers a time when he enjoyed respect in the community. He says he had owned several fishing boats and vehicles and used to employ several people to help him. All was good as long as the Narerri Lake had enough water for fish to flourish.

Today Karim Mallah does not even own a bicycle. He lives in a single room mud hut with five family members in the Hajji Ghafoor Mallah village, seven kilometres away from Seerani.

His only son, Aslam Mallah, used to work in a factory in Kotri city as a daily wager and make Rs 300 a day. However, in an accident seven months ago, the young man lost both his legs. He can no longer resume the work he was accustomed to and thereby contribute his family’s livelihood.

“It is the fifth day today since I was last allowed to set up my cart. I have not earned a single rupee whole week. What I earn is the only income for the entire family. Where can I look for some work to make Rs 200 to Rs 300 that I need for my household. How will we survive if nothing changes?”

He falls silent. After a pause, he says, “I was perhaps the richest fisherman in this region. That was before the Narerri Lake was destroyed. I used to have everything I needed. Then there was a series of natural disasters. First there was A2 cyclone of 1999, then the floods of 2010-11. Next, the sugar mills started dumping their effluent into the lake and the fish died. How can fisher folk live on a lake if there is no fish in it?”

The community that had depended on the Narerri Lake for their livelihoods has had to move and find new work. Since moving away from his ancestral village in 2013, Karim Mallah has fished in the Mirwah canal, which has dried up now.

Karim Mallah regrets that he never focused on his son’s education. He says it was because they were was financially stable. “Aslam did not pursue education because there was no school in our village. Also, I thought that one day he would take over from me.”

Mai Khatoon, Karim’s wife, was a well-liked woman, he recalls. “She would help settle women’s matters in our village.” She died of cancer a few months back. “Towards the end of her life, she suffered with us in abject poverty,“ Mallah says. “I borrowed Rs 500,000 from a local moneylender for her treatment but that did not save her life. Since that time, I have been trying to repay the loan.”

Many like Karim Mallah are suffering the pangs of poverty. Water scarcity and poverty are a lethal combination of the community that lacks adaptation skills. “Repaying the moneylender is impossible under these conditions,” says the old fisherman.

The writer is a freelance   journalist based in Sindh. He can be reached at

The tragic tale of a fisherman