Written by Muskan Samson
A man in a pale kurta shalwar, who seems to be in his late thirties, waters a fresh grave in the Kutchi Memon graveyard located in the heart of Lyari. There are marble graves all around, as far as the sight can go. Shadowed by these bright whites are the yellows of the ancient sandstone graves that seem to be dated from the 1800s with Hebrew and English name inscriptions on their tombstones.
They have a distinct architecture and are known for being guarded fiercely by the Sheedi Baloch family, which has been responsible for its upkeep for more than 80 years now. The Sheedis have been an extremely marginalised community of Karachi, and are largely settled in Malir and Lyari.
They claim to have been transported to the Kolachi port as slaves in the time of Mohammad Bin Qasim, and ever since have been affected by feudalism and its cruelty. Their skin colour has also been a huge factor in them standing out in a colonised country, where the masses are obsessed with ‘fairness’.
Saeed, who is 35 years old now, is one of the descendants of a Sheedi family. He has been living here, in the Kutchi Memon graveyard, with his entire family since he was born. “I wish to take care of these graves till my last breath, just as my ancestors did,” says Saeed.
An elderly woman, who is Saeed’s mother, sits with his three children, playing with marbles and simply going about their lives. His wife and sister are preparing food, unaffected by the fact that they are inhibited among graves. “All my kids go to school and it will be their choice if they want to continue with this legacy of caretaking work that has been in our family for decades now,” explains Saeed while he proceeds to fill the water container.
On an average day, Saeed wakes up and milks his cows, followed by watering the plants around the cemetery and then the upkeep and maintenance work of the graves. Fresh graves need to be watered, tombstones need dusting, and later in the afternoon, the cows need fodder.
Sometimes, his cousins who also live in the neighbourhood come by to help him with his daily chores. They have dug up to 200 graves in the past one year.
Kutchi Memon graveyard is a rather lively graveyard, unlike any other in the city. The moment you enter you expect to be welcomed with a deafening silence and a reminder of death as the case with any other graveyard into which you walk. But this one is different: There is a mosque here inside— children are running around and playing including those of Saeed.
There is a patch where families sit and relax while visiting the graves of their loved ones. It is also a neat and organised graveyard, considered to be the oldest in the city, much older than even the renowned Mewa Shah.