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Khamiso: looking back

Khamiso: 'We have become [poor and] jobless because we did not migrate from here'

Khamiso is in his 70s, and lives with his large extended family near Manchar Lake. With only three of them earning money, they continually have to take out loans.

In his youth, Khamiso had a shop and was creditor to many customers: “People were indebted to us, but now we are indebted to others.” Drought and pollution of the lake destroyed people’s livelihoods. His customers defaulted on their loans and many migrated elsewhere; Khamiso’s money “disappeared” with them.

Khamiso regrets not having bought land or moved elsewhere while they had the funds. He describes how they try to manage household expenses, revealing how being in debt to the traders means they have little choice over the price at which they sell their meagre catch.

Neither labour work nor any other employment is available to us here. Our only source of income was fish… We have been living here since our forefathers’ time. At that time, fish used to be in abundance… Now only pomfret is available and that in small quantity…

“We cannot feed ourselves”

I leave for fishing at 6 o’clock in the morning and come back at 9, 10 at night… Yet it is not enough… We are 21 family members and we cannot feed ourselves satisfactorily… We all work together yet we hardly earn 100 rupees, which is not enough even for our tea expenses.

Now people take tea in the morning and evening, but we cannot manage that. If we buy milk once in the day then we do not have money to buy the same in the evening. In the night we sit idle because there is no work available.

I have three sons and six daughters. My mother, my wife and my sons’ families live with me; and my sons have seven daughters and one son… In all, we are 21 family members who live together. Now you can well imagine that if we have 21 mouths to feed and we do not even earn 100 rupees – then tell me where should we go?

Indebted to traders

If the catch is available then [three of us men] go fishing; otherwise we simply pass our time. No needs are fulfilled [with what we earn so] we have to take a loan. However, if somebody had already taken a loan from us then we pay back our loan from that amount. Or we take a loan from the traders who purchase fish from us.

When we fall ill then we take loans of 100 to 500 rupees from them and then he deducts his money from that we earn by selling fish to him. Similarly, he also purchases aata (flour) for us, otherwise we would remain hungry.

They dry [the small fish we catch] and make poultry feed…. I sell fish to Shaikhs (a caste). They buy it at 3 rupees per kg and I get 120 rupees for a maund (37.5 kg)…

That’s the traders’ job [to decide prices]. They say that they sell one maund of [dried] fish for 500 rupees, while they purchase one maund of fish for 120 rupees from us. When they dry 3 maund of fish it makes 1 maund of dry fish, which is sold for 500 rupees. Then there are also other expenses. Transporters charge 2000 rupees…

We are passing through very difficult times these days. If the contaminated water was drained out from here then fish would breed, as they used to in the past. For example, species like Jarko, Shakra and Morakho fetch high prices. One kg is sold for 70 to 80 rupees… Had this fish [remained] available here, we would not have been poor. If we catch three to four such fish, we could earn 400 to 500 rupees.

Drought and debt

[In my youth] I used to have dakay (loose change), and would give loans to other people and take it back after eight days. At that time, I also had a shop which I would run, as well as fishing…

The shop was closed for 7 to 8 years because those who took loans from me did not pay it back… there was drought for seven years and people migrated to various places from here and my loan money disappeared with them and we fell into trouble… all employment came to a halt during those seven years.

What we could do? Because all the people fled. We also went to other lakes, Kashry and Badam near Maher, for two, three months. The contractors there were very cruel. If the price of fish was 60 to 70 rupees per kg then they would purchase it at 10 rupees a kg. Since they had their own contracts, their command reined supreme.

We have become [poor and] jobless because we did not migrate from here and look for other employment. It would have been far better if when we had money we had bought land at some other place. But at that time we didn’t think about that.

Perhaps if we had moved to a city and had done any kind of work, then we would not be so distressed today. Our money got stuck with other people… The drought continued for six to seven years. It was because the waters of the Indus River did not flow here due to the construction of dams at the upper side…

Water supplies and health

We have been given a plot of land [for the water supply] at the main road… [The man in charge] demanded a monthly salary to operate the machine [so] we could get water. Now we buy him oil worth 100 to 200 rupees and he operates the machine… We pay him 2000 rupees per month. There are 200 to 300 houses in our area. We all pool the money and pay him.

If the machine develops some fault or any other expenses develop, then each house contributes 30 rupees after 15 days at the rate of 2 rupees per day, per house. Earlier, when we didn’t have water, we used to transport it on donkey carts and would pay 5 rupees per drum of water. This is a better facility for us.

The [government] electricity transformer has not been installed here as yet. If it is installed then they will send a bill every month. At present, we are operating [the water pump] using diesel… We are happy with this arrangement, because earlier our children were always on the look-out for sweet water, because we could not drink the contaminated water…

We carry [the sick] to Dam, Bhobak, Bhan Saeedabad or Sehwan city by [vehicles] which ply the main road and charge 10 rupees. In cases of emergency at night we hire a van which charges 200 to 300 rupees… There are so many diseases. Recently, cholera erupted here. People also suffer frequently from vomiting and diarrhoea and many have died from these…

If a physician was provided here then some lives would be saved… because the distance [to medical help] is quite significant. One pregnant woman died of vomiting and diarrhoea three days ago. We took her to the lady doctor but she died on the way…

Environmental decline: “productivity has become zero”

[The pollution of the lake] has affected our lives to a great extent. First of all, our employment opportunities have been almost eliminated…productivity has become zero. Those things which we used to sell earlier are no more with us. Earlier, the cattle were also healthy and fish, Beh and Lorh, used to be available here.

Now nothing has been left… everything has been destroyed. Deah (grass) used to grow in the sweet water, but [the] grasses of Dair, Kakar, Kam, Paban, Lorah and Baih all have withered and their roots as well. Everything has finished now because the water has become poisonous…

Now we bring [grasses] from Kashri and Badam. It takes 1500 rupees for the transport and one room is made from 600 to 700 rupees [worth of grass] while the whole house is built with 7000 to 8000 rupees worth…

Before the 1976 flood we were prosperous. At that time, I was young and married with two or three kids. We were very happy. We had so much money at that time and we had good employment…People were indebted to us, but now we are indebted to others….We earn 100 rupees and buy aata (flour) from it. But if somebody falls ill then how can we provide them with treatment?

Good times

Earlier, when there were forests, [wild] pigs used to come here… we used to send the dogs to chase them… Sometimes the pigs used to bite the dogs or trample them underfoot. We used to hunt pigs every week and would enjoy this hunting so much so that we didn’t want to do any other work…because at that time there was a lot of prosperity in the area.

We had employment and it was so well paid that if we worked for one day then [the money earned] would have been enough to sit and eat for the whole month…

Oxen were slaughtered on my wedding, which was organised in a grand manner. I also married my sons 14-15 years ago and bought three or four oxen on that occasion. I also arranged a performance by Jalal Chandio (renowned Sindhi folk artist). I married both my sons at the same time.

Then oxen were cheap… one cost 15,000 rupees but now the same ox is sold for 25,000 rupees. I arranged to cook 40 to 50 degs (cauldron) of bhat (rice) and all the guests ate three meals on that occasion. That was a good time…

We are leading a terrible life now… We villagers go to the cities for labouring work but come back again in the summer… Similarly, if we go to factories for jobs then we are not paid good wages. So we come back from there too.

Household management

Even aata (flour) is not sufficient for our daily use…We buy [it] weekly on credit. After we pay for it then we buy more on credit. Every week I buy one maund (37.5 kg) of aata along with salt, chillies, oil, soap and other necessary things.

We, the elders, take one meal a day while the kids eat all day. We reserve food for them. If we take a meal in the morning then we don’t take it at noon. And if we take supper then we take only tea, biscuits in the morning. We also take pomfret (fish) curry. We take rice in the night along with sugar or masti (traditional food)…

Every week we buy groceries for 1500 rupees [but we only earn 700 rupees]; we take loans for the balance and then pay it back after going fishing… we never cook meat. On the occasion of Eid ul Azha (festival to mark the end of annual pilgrimage to Mecca), we get a piece of meat; otherwise we hunt birds and eat them.

We do not have money, so how we can buy meat? One kg of meat is worth 70-80 rupees. Even poultry is sold for 100 rupees per kg. Sometimes we hunt birds and cook them, [but] we usually sell the birds we catch.

We use kerosene lamps and buy oil worth 5 rupees daily. [There is no electricity.] Usually we go to sleep at 10 o’clock at night… If we lit the lamp all night then oil worth 15 to 20 rupees would be used. During times of rainfall, oil consumption increases. When storms come, our houses turn to ruins. We repair them the next morning…

We do not have any [local] organisations. However, in the case of a problem, the people from Maula Bux (a local person) provide us with guidance and solve our problems…

[The outside world?] We bring newspapers here every day and then read out the news to others. My son also [does this]. We also listen to the radio and get to know about the news of other countries. We listen to the BBC but we don’t understand Urdu. My son understands Urdu because they watch VCRs. In our time these things were not available.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.

Project

Khamiso: looking back is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Pakistan oral testimony project.

Testimonies

Allah Bux: older generation

Basran: desperate times

Chhutta: migrant’s tale

Fatima: vulnerable lives

Hodat: diversifying business

Karim Bux: lacking support

Khamiso: looking back

Kishore: living prudently

Mircho: losing dignity

Nasreen: just surviving

Nazeer: high standards

Salma: independent spirit

Key themes

Introduction to the project

Loans and debt

Survival strategies

The cost of poverty

Environmental decline

Gender

Political representation

Powerlessness

Insecurity and conflict

Education

Food security and health