The best attended fairs that I have ever witnessed tire those that held every year in my village, on the occasion of the ‘Urs’ of a great Muslim Saint, Hazrat Shahbaz Qalandar.
They are attended by thousands of people from far and near. A few days before the fair is held, the tomb is whitewashed, the houses repaired and the premises thoroughly cleaned. The custodians of the shrine are dressed in their best. They are very civil to the pilgrims who came in streams to pay their homage to the departed saint. Their civility, however, is not completely disinterested. They wish to impress upon the pilgrims the saintliness of their own character, so that the shrine may become all the more popular in the neighborhood, and the offerings of pious pilgrims the larger, year after year.
All sorts of people attend the fair at the shrine. The beggars in their rags line the route to it on both sides, and solicit our charity in many ways. You pity the blind beggar, because he is deprived of his eye-sight. And you cannot ignore the cripple either. The leper shunned by everybody is there, and the pauper also flits about like a ghost.
Pakistani fair does not, however, possess only a religious significance. People go to a fair for the sake of merry-making and enjoyment, and surely one can find various kinds of enjoyments there. At one place you see a merry-go-round with its load of gay children and proud young men whirling in the air. At another place you find the juggler showing his tricks. Acrobats and rope-dancers also perform their feats in a corner. A company of strolling players has also pitched its tent there, though the admission to their performance is by tickets. There is a travelling circus too, admission to which is by tickets costing fifty paisa’s and a rupee.
A Pakistani Mela, however, does not provide entertainment only. It also provides the people with a market for their goods. The people of the neighborhood get an opportunity of buying and selling their wares. There are some fairs. Where cattle are sold, but at most of these fairs the chief articles or consumption are the sweetmeats and the other eatables. The confectioner displays his wares to the best advantage, and tempts every passer-by to purchase something or the other. Nor are the peddlers wanting in anything. They sell pins, brooches, bangles, and other trinkets to woman and children.
Advantage is sometimes taken of these fairs to hold exhibitions on a small scale. These exhibitions are meant to show us how we can improve agriculture by using better seeds, better oxen, and better implements. There are places where we are told how we can decrease the death-rate of children, improve the sanitation of our homes and the village, and live more hygienically. All these are very necessary.
On the whole, these fairs serve a very useful purpose. They encourage trade, and enable the people to meet and discuss questions that affect their daily life. In times of an epidemic, however, these fairs become a source of great danger. They spread disease from man to man and from one village to another, and should on such occasions be disallowed by the Government.