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Thirsty monkeys of the city

By Amar Guriro
Photo by Athar Hussain

While standing at a signal, waiting impatiently for the light to turn green, a monkey might have added to your agitation by sitting on your car bonnet or knocking on your window.

You would have ignored him, rudely brushed him off or abused him, depending on how far up your agitation was on the scale. But have you ever seen or even wondered where the juggler and his monkey live?

These jugglers live in Bandar Basti (Monkey Colony), a small slum settlement just behind the PIDC landmark plaza near Hijrat Colony in Sultanabad.

Only a few people are aware of the fact that just opposite the main gate of the Sindh Chief Minister’s House, the most important area of the city with all the five-star hotels and the railway track, this small unique monkey colony exists.

It is a gypsy colony and was established a long time ago. The colony is very strange, as it is named Bandar Basti because dozens of monkeys can be seen tied to a pole of the makeshift huts and tents that the gypsies live in.

When entering the colony, gypsy children gather around to welcome you and the women are seen trying their best to forcefully bathe naked children between the old railway tracks.

The male members of the colony listen to legendary Saraiki classical folk singer Pathaney Khan on the stereo while the monkeys take a nap in the tents.

Comprising of over 200 small huts and having a population of 1,800, the colony has no water supply connection and the residents have to beg for water from various nearby slums. The acute water shortage has not only affected the residents of this unique settlement, but even monkeys are suffering from this predicament.

The gypsy residents of the colony, working as jugglers with their monkeys, told this scribe that several monkeys died after consuming contaminated water.

“There is no water line in the area and we beg for water from different slums, but since they are also pumping water and consuming electricity to do so, they have stopped giving us water,” said Zulekha, a gypsy woman. She added that the residents have found a way to collect seepage water from the main water supply line passing beside the colony.

“We don’t know about the quality of the water and we believe that we are gypsies and contamination will do nothing to us, but it is affecting the monkeys,” said another gypsy woman.

The residents of this colony are not permanent residents and are also not from any particular place. There are some families who come from Sukkur, Sanghar, Nawabshah, Hyderabad and other cities of Sindh, whereas some have travelled from Rahimyar Khan, Rajanpur, Mithankot and even Rohi, the land of the legendary Saraiki poet Baba Fareed in southern Punjab.

But being gypsies has tied them into living together. The women sell toys and bangles whereas the male members take moneys to juggle on the main roundabouts and markets of the city.

In absence of a proper sanitation system, the residents have discovered a small pond inside the big sewerage nullah where seepage from a potable water line has gathered. Thus, they get water from there for their daily use. To beat the heat in the summers, most of the residents rush to the sewerage nullah and bathe in the small pond.

“We are gypsies and can live in any type of circumstances, we just need a public water lien from where we can get potable water, we need nothing else from the government,” said Sanwal, an elderly chieftain of the colony.

Officially, there are more than 400 registered slums in the city, where legally or illegally, people have an access to potable water, but authorities have never even peeped into the gypsy colonies to find out how these people are living.

Friday, May 08, 2009
Daily Times


About WashMedia-South Asia

WashMedia-South Asia is a group of South Asian journalists working on water, sanitation and hygiene issues. Theses journalists are from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.


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