I do always wonder how joy and contentment could stem from such little things.
At an altitude of 2500 feet, Hunza Valley slumbers in surreal peace. It nestles between peaks of all shades and colours.The tranquility and joy of the valley with its settlers is almost ethereal, alien to the land beyond the mountains. Yet there it is, thriving and real. I did always wonder how joy and contentment could stem from such simple things. But then I met Fazl in his small but gratifying store, built from wood and stone.
To hike up to Fort Baltit, one must tread over highly steep pathways. It takes around ten to fifteen minutes to ascend to the Fort from the flatter grounds. It was noon when we reached the grounds. Engulfed by excitement and awe in my climb up, I took little notice of the small “market area” from which originates the stone path to the fort. However, on the way back, I took my time to observe most of the stores set up. And it was in one of those shops that I encountered Mister Fazl Rehman, a most kind and humble soul.
We exchanged short dialogue. He originally spoke Broshoski: the child of Turkish with local languages lost to time. His Urdu was fluent, though. The shop was his, as were all the experiences and conversations he exchanged inside it. Planks were nailed along the walls to make for wooden ‘shelves’, and stacked with processed food items as well as golden apricot oil, dried fruit, and locally manufactured jam. “Tell me, Uncle, however do you make this?” I beamed at him, holding up a jam bottle. “Oh but we do not; it is prepared at Gilgit, they have vast areas for the plants and machinery. It is just transported to us, and we make small businesses of it,” he replied honestly. In that moment, he could have exchanged great lies and fables, and being an outsider, I might have bought him. But his honesty and straightforwardness spoke volumes about the strength of his character.
What won me over, was truly his smile and hospitality. “You are a bit late. Every week it rains in Hunza, and the weather is cool and pleasant. I do not know why this week it hasn’t rained and it is much hotter than usual,” he apologized with a sincere smile, looking quite embarrassed over the weather. Amused, I shook my head and assured him the weather was wonderful and I was having a wonderful time. Upon my inquiry, he explained how the valley provided electricity 2-3 hours a day, and the rest of the time things were run on generator. He did not have the latter, though there was a bulb for night time.
When he spoke of the limitations of the valley, his face was not lined with worry, frowns or frustration, as if he had no complaint. When he spoke of his shop, he spoke simply with a smile. When asked to pose for a photograph, his face lightened up with a thousand colours. And upon departure, he expressed great gratitude.
A human being living a life so simple yet imparting joy and expressing only patience and gratitude. Who are we then, to complain and be impatient in our elaborately luxurious lifestyles?
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