Legend of the Mumh

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
This short story is based on my memories about Quetta, the Wild West of Pakistan.In this story I tell you about the romance and exhiliration of living in this legendary valley.

Submitted: April 20, 2009

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Submitted: April 20, 2009

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LEGEND OF THE MUMH

 
 Balochistan is again in the limelight. Hardly a day passes when a gas pipeline is not blown or a vehicle does not hit a land mine. But the Balochistan I know of was another land, a fantastic world where jinns and fairies intermingled with human beings. I have spent the best years of my Army life traversing the gleaming deserts and stony valleys of this El Dorado of the East. Yes, my dear reader, I am going to tell you about my paradise that was located in a valley surrounded by lofty mountains on all the sides. Human beings call it the Quetta Valley. Unlike the legendary paradise, it is barren, with small islands of green here and there. Well, most of the valley is paradise no more, but a patch, tucked neatly within the cantonment, remains. This patch is the paradise where I used to live few years ago. If you close your eyes, you will see a beautiful golf course. Seen? Now as you are standing with me in the middle of the golf course, facing east, the boundary wall that runs all the way from nowhere to nowhere, to your right, separates my house from the golf course. The house with a towering old almond tree, yes that is where we used to live. A jogging track encircles the golf course from end to end. I am not interested in playing golf. But, since childhood, walking has been one of my favorite pass times. And I have spent the best moments of my life traversing this jogging track .You cannot see it from here, but a road leading from my house skirts the boundary wall and finally emerges at the eastern end of the golf course. Before linking up with the main road that leads further east to Command and Staff College, it crosses over a causeway (a causeway, is a road built inside a seasonal stream. When the stream is not flowing, it can be crossed. During rains, well, your car may get partially submerged while crossing it. Thrilling! Is it not?). While crossing over the causeway from the east, the golf course suddenly emerges at your right. Whenever the panorama would unfold, I would ask myself, ‘Is this the paradise?’ And my inner self would reply, ‘Yes, this is the paradise’.
 
 
To the south the valley is dominated by Murdar Hill (Mountain of the Dead) where a beast, half woman, half bear, used to live. It was called ‘mumh’. Now mumh, in Balochi language, means ‘bear’. It is said that in the olden days there were a large number of bears and other wild creatures living in the wilderness of Balochistan. At that time, fairies and jinns were also frequently cited in many parts of the world. Those were the days when life was still full of hope and romance. As we lost hope in our destiny, we also lost our romance with our surroundings. And then, gradually the fairies, the jinns, and all those fantastic creatures that used to interact with us so closely, started disappearing from this world.
 
Our legends are the reflections of our hopes, fears, insecurities, and challenges of life. So is the legend of mumh. In the Greek legend of Thebes, the sphinx was a monster, half lion and half woman, who destroyed those who could not answer the riddle: `What is it that walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?'. Oedipus answered, correctly, that it was Man, who first crawls on all fours, then walks upright, and in old age needs a stick as a third leg.
It is said that during the British Raj creatures, half beast, half human, used to live in the caves of Murdar Hill, a majestic feature that dominates Quetta valley from the south. At the time Quetta and the surrounding areas were still part of the Confederacy of Kalat. British wrested these areas from the Confederacy in the nineteenth century. During the many battles that took place between the British armies and the locals, many beasts either perished or fled towards what was left of Afghanistan. But a widowed female, called mumh, half bear and half woman, survived. 
 
Our Lady of the Mountains, having lost her male partner, was seething with anger and a deep urge to avenge her mate’s death. So, according to the legend, mumh would often lay in ambush in the vicinity of her cave in the Murdar Hill. The British used to regularly patrol the surrounding mountains to ensure that the valley down below was safe for the cantonment and other military installations that they had started building to integrate this area into their huge Indian empire. Many times the patrols would be attacked by mumh, resulting in the killing of many Brits. During one such encounter, our beast captured a British Army captain (or was he a major? Anyway, it does not matter), lifted him up, and took him to her cave where he was held captive. Perhaps the mumh had fallen in love with her prisoner. She would lick his feet till they became numb and he could walk no more, leaving him at the mercy of his captor. Finally, a patrol dispatched to find out what had happened to the British sahib, encountered the beast near her cave and killed her.
 
 As you leave the cantonment for Quetta airport, you come across the British Cemetery (Gora Qabarustan). In the cemetery, there is a grave with a small statue, half lion, half woman, sitting on top. For generations the locals have believed, and still believe, that it is the grave of mumh. How the bear was transformed into a lion is yet another mystery of the legend. The inscription on the grave, however, suggests that it is the final resting place of a British Army officer whose unit had fought in Egypt. Perhaps the statue on the grave is a replica of the famous Sphinx of Egypt.
 
What is the truth? I think it is mumh’s grave. But some of my friends think that it is the British officer’s grave. Our overemphasis on rationalism has robbed us of our fantasies. Until we cast away the demons of hopelessness that torment our souls, we will keep denying the existence of mumhs, fairies, jinns, and the like. Beyond doubt, there is genuine magic in believing.
 
 


 


© Copyright 2018 Saleem Akhtar Malik. All rights reserved.

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