Jandar is a Hindko word for the watermill. Hindko is a language spoken in northwestern parts of Pakistan including Hazara, some parts of Punjab, Potohar, and Peshawar. As it is a separate language with its own dialect, it has its own unique culture and folklore. A person like me, who is a born Punjabi, was born and raised in Lahore and is unaware of this culture, the novel Jandar written by Akhtar Raza Saleemi has been an exquisite introduction to this culture, its folk tales, and traditions. In this article, I will not be reviewing this book on its literary basis (on that you can trust me it is excellent) but on two major aspects: the Hindko culture that it depicts and the usage of long sentences slightly touching it with the overarching topic of the novel which is death. However, before that a brief overview of the novel.

Jandar: A Brief Overview

The novel is a story of a man named Wali Khan who is a water miller, and because of the advancement in technology his watermill has shut down and with it, he feels and he is very sure that he will die. He is sitting beside the watermill, listening to its piercing shrilling sound, which for him, is a howl of an animal, and anticipating the first person who will see him dead and inform the villagers about his demise. His son lives in the city and only twice visits the village and his watermill. Therefore, he is certain that that first person cannot be his son, and if not then he is thinking, who else it could be? when he is aware that the path that leads to his watermill is deserted. Hence, he is stuck on this probable person who will see him dead first and while waiting for his death and the person he is thinking about the events that lead him to this helpless situation.

The novel was first published in 2017 in Urdu and received UBL best fiction award in 2018; it was an instant success. It was the second novel of Akhtar Raza Saleemi; his first was also in Urdu entitled “Jaagein Hain Khaab Mein” which can be loosely translated, but retains the essence of the title and the novel thereof, as “Dream Within a Dream”. (The literal translation can be: Woken up in a Dream)

Hindko Culture:

As mentioned above it is a language spoken in the northwestern parts of Pakistan and this section, I will delineate the parts of this culture in reference to the novel, Jandar. First of all, I shall start with folklores that are mentioned in this extraordinary short novel. The first folklore is Biju. It is said that Biju is a creature that knows about the beating vein in the people’s ankles, pulling which a body can start walking. According to the tradition, if people don’t put prickly tips of boughs from trees like Jandi (Prosopis cineraria) on the graves of their relatives or friends, then, at night, sniffing the smell of the fresh body, Biju comes out of its grave and dig a hole in the grave at the foot-side of the body and pulls out the body from that hole, then tearing the shroud from the ankles, pulls the vein and walks the body with it to the grave, and eats it with other family members. People who may not believe in Biju’s existence, simply following centuries-old tradition, also put prickly tips of boughs from the trees on their relatives’ graves. They do it until it is acknowledged that the body is rotten or the grave is marbleized (before it was just a mound of mud).

Another folk tradition that is mentioned in the novel is that of another creature called Ghori Dheench. It is actually Hazara tradition. And it is a creature whose original (real) face is of the horse (Urdu: ghora; from ghora, ghori word is taken) but it has the ability to take up the appearance of anyone. However, if one touches it, it will disappear. Disguise in other living and dead persons’ countenances Ghori Dheench aims at frightening people. These were the two folk tales that were mentioned in the novel. In addition to these folklores, some other traditions are associated with this culture. For example, the tradition of Laitri.

Laitri is doing things collectively, be it the construction of houses, sowing and reaping crops, etc. In this culture, in the old traditions, it was the custom that people from the entire village will come together to construct a house and that too without getting paid. In the same way, the reaping of crops was done. People would select an old man (who could walk) and he would start from the eastern side of the village, checking the crops, finishes checking on the west side, and then decide a date for the day of collective reaping. On that day, people would gather in a mosque and there Maulvi would announce the date and time. If some people are absent, they will be informed by the other folks. Subsequently, the next day, early in the morning, all will be in the fields to participate in the collective reapings; even those, who have jobs and businesses in the cities, would come to join in the collective reaping. If anyone missed participating in the collective reaping the collective reapers would not reap his crops and if he misses again, they would abandon him and his family altogether; even Maulvi would forgive people who visit the mosque twice a year (only for Eid prayer) but he would give the look to the men who did not participate in the collective reapings as if they are infidels.

After Fajar's prayer, everybody would gather at the decided place in two lines. People in the first line held sickles in their hands and the second line, which was used to be much shorter, did not have any sickles; Maulvi would pray for God’s blessing, and right after the prayer, singers, in this case, dhol players, present there would start beating dhol hanging around their necks and the first line, with sickles, would move into the fields while the people in the second line would start binding the harvested crop in bundles to take them to the land owner’s house.

The arrangement for breakfast and lunch was made at a house, and the selection of the house was made considering the number of crops and the number of men, after calculating the location of the collective reapers at the time of the lunch or breakfast; whilst the expenses were on the people whose crops were being harvested, still, according to the formula of quota per person, these expenses were distributed considering the quantity of the crops. The next day this arrangement would be taken up by another house and the expenses would be borne by the people whose crops were being harvested at that time. The lunch was usually simple but, on the other hand, in the dinner, for the collective reapers, natural ghee and cock or goat, etc meat was prepared.

On the days of the wheat harvest, as the weather would be hot, so, after eating lunch, people would rest for two or three hours. But, on the days of corn harvest, as the weather would be temperate, people would restart the reaping right after lunch and would continue until the prayer call for maghrib, in the late evening.

Laitri was not limited to reaping crops only but people would also give hand in the construction of the houses without any desire for remuneration. Other than a mason, whose work was bricklaying and cementing, no one got paid, it was not in the tradition. As, in this area, in winters, snow fell, that is why, in the constructed houses, they would put a lot of mud and cement on the roof of the houses so they would not leak. That’s the reason, the part of getting the heavy sticks and chains from the forest and putting mud on the roof was the hardest of all in the process of the construction of houses. To bring chains, a whole group of people would go to the forest and binding strong Kahu sticks on both sides of the chain, four men would pick them up and go; if anyone felt tired, another man would give his shoulder and the tired man would move out from under the chain. The process of putting mud was called “Pahoochi”. In Pahoochi, at least one man from each house had to participate. Even Wali Khan, who went to the village rarely, used to participate in Pahoochi.

Laitri, Pahoochi, and other volunteer processes of these kinds had bound people together; without them, one could not imagine anything of big scale to be done. People could skip funeral prayer, considering it Farz-e-Kafaya­, a general obligation that if done by an adequate number of people could absolve all, but, on these things, they would do it as their obligation that could not be absolved


The second topic that I will be discussing here is death. Death is the second poignant topic that he usually thinks about (the first being dreams). Therefore, in this novel, we see different takes on the existence of death. According to him, irrespective of the conventional opinion that death arrives and people die, he thinks that death is always present in a ‘being’ and continuously battles with life, and the ‘being’ lives according to the strength of his/her life but at last, it is death that wins. Death comes with only one color, black, while life has many different colors to it, but that one color black is more powerful than all these extravagant colors of life. The main character of the novel, Wali Khan, could not resolve this conundrum of death like the writer himself. He, like the writer, is strangely preoccupied with death because he happened to see the death of his close relative and his dead body at a very early age. And he kept thinking about it till his death came and he could not figure out what actually is the philosophy of death as he did not know the truth of the existence of God. For him, death and God are the different sides of the same coin and he could not find the solution to it. He was wondering was it God who created death or was it death that created God?! And then, after daybreak, he died. He always wished that people could come back from death to tell us about it but alas that is not the case! No one comes back from the grip of death to solve the conundrum.

The novel discusses many things apart from these two (Hindko culture and folklores and death) for example, it indirectly applies Gerhard Lenski’s perspective of how advancement in technology evolves the society, in this case, in place of watermills people started to have electricity-run flour mills, collective reapings (Laitri) is now done by threshers and plowing of fields are done by tractors. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this novel, Jandar, is about the writer mourning the death of a civilization.