All of Sindh is a shadow of my beloved
which shines over the water
and makes every plant fall asleep
And there is a wonderful dream
that fills my eyes with drunkenness
With a snake on the desert sand, moonlight up in the sky,
and a peacock dancing in the Karoonjhar.

This poem by Hassan Dars (1966-2011) reminds us how fundamental the preservation of the environment is to Sindhi poetry. This is an old tradition. Perhaps the most famous Sindhi poet-saint is Shah Abdul Latif Bhithai (1689-1752), in whose poetry the soormiyoon, the Seven Queens, interact with the rivers and the mountains as they fight for their love.

Just as Sindhi poetry inherits the essence of a love for the nature, this year’s Lahooti Melo, held in Mehran University, Jamshoro, revolved around the themes of ‘Eco, not ego’. Melo can loosely be translated as a fair, or carnival, and the Lahooti Melo is an art, literature and cultural event. It was initiated by Saif Samejo, a member of the Sufi rock band The Sketches and founder of the Lahooti ashram in Hyderabad, and his wife Sana Khoja in 2016.

The melo has always been a cause-based event. Last year it was themed on the Me-Too movement. After the 2019 climate marches organised in more than 27 cities in Pakistan, the three-day event this year was based on spreading awareness on the impacts of climate change, but it seems to have been less successful.

Speaking to thethirdpole.net Saif Samejo said that conversations about preserving the ecology often led to policymakers arguing for the sake of argument and not actually proposing solutions. “The panel on Indus river had two researchers and two politicians, but the conversation somehow drifted into a matter of ego, not eco. But we have tried.”

During his keynote speech, Sardar Ali Shah, the current Provincial Minister of Sindh for Education, Culture, Tourism, and Antiquities, grieved, “Our rivers have been sold without us knowing,” and that elicited a loud roar of applause. The Vice Chancellor of Mehran University, which has one of the best science and engineering programmes in the province, pledged to declare climate emergency at the campus and make it a car-free zone in 2020.

Many well-known environmentalists and experts were present. The lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam discussed the tangle of laws around the Indus. Hassan Abbas, a hydrologist from Michigan State University, spoke of the displacement and lack of resettlement from the Tarbela dam. But the political players were missing.

Sana Khoja told thethidpole.net that, “It comes as no surprise that government institutions who are primarily responsible both on federal and provincial level for the portfolio of climate change and environment didn’t seem interested to sponsor the event. Neither did they support it nor did they show up at the inauguration.” This is linked to the lack of political capital around the issue. Over years the public has been kept away, or desensitised to environmental negligence over the years.

“I have only come here for the music. Nobody really sits through the panel discussions,” a student told thethirdpole.net on the second day of the festival. Another said, “We, as a society, never do anything unless it’s forced upon us, I guess it’s the same with environmental pollution. Unless we see people dying in our own homes, we will not take it seriously.”

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