“Reth aur Reghistan” – Pakistan’s Coastal Folklore

Boy and Camel at Seaview Beach, Karachi / Photograph by Nimra Bandukwala © 

Having created sculptural worlds that interpret Western stories, we want to expand our project to the backyard that we grew up in: Karachi and other coastal cities and towns along the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. We had been searching for folklore, stories or urban legends from this region online, however were unable to find much information. We realized that many of these stories remains in the voices of these communities, and are orally passed down from generation to generation (as are stories from our own religious community, Dawoodi Bohras). Thus was born “Reth aur Reghistan,” (Sand and Desert) a visual storytelling project by two sisters that aims to share stories from the coastal regions of Pakistan.

Our project aims to fill the knowledge gap that persists on a global scale regarding Pakistan’s rich culture, history and lore. We will focus on primarily interviewing women and minority communities, to ensure that our work represents the broad spectrum of people that have lived in that region. We will include at least one story from the following communities: Parsis, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Ahmaddiyas, Bohras, Ismailis, and Shias. Furthermore, our artistic process aims to promote sustainable art practices, that creates art from found objects and recycled materials.

Our project will consist of three primary phases:

Old Man at Seaview Beach, Karachi / Photograph by Nimra Bandukwala © 

Research & Fieldwork: The first phase involves travelling to Karachi and building a base of individuals, communities, and organization that we will contact to collect stories. Stories will be collected and recorded over 3-4 weeks through semi-structured interviews. While travelling, we will simultaneously be collecting objects from the region such as shells, bones, handicrafts etc. to incorporate into our sculptures.

Artistic Creation: During the second phase, we will choose 10-15 stories to interpret as miniature worlds (similar to stories interpreted in our Backyard Worlds project). The final product will be a book that features photographs of these worlds alongside stories. Additionally, we will create a website to share audio recordings, field research, and the creation process.

Publication & Dissemination: The third phase involves sending our manuscript to publishers in Pakistan (Karachi & Lahore) and Canada (Ottawa & Toronto), and creating an online resource with a collection of the stories and creative process.

Manahil’s experience with the publishing and literary world, Nimra’s experience with ethnographic research, and both sisters’ artistic background provide us with a range of skills required to successfully complete this project. We are excited to take what started as a passion project (i.e. Backyard Worlds) to a project that holds deeper meaning and value to Pakistani’s in the country and abroad. We invite you to join the journey!

Truck – Karachi / Photography by Nimra Bandukwala © 

Lal Palang: A Lullaby in a Cup

Baby baby so ja
Lal palang pe so ja
Ami abu aaen ge
Lal khiloney laaen ge
Kheltey khelte bhook lagi
Kha lo beta moomphali
Moomphali me dana nahi
Hum tumhare nana nahi
Nana gaey dili
Dili se laey bili
Bili ne diye bache
Allah mian sache

Our miniature worlds definitely invoke a sense of nostalgia for us. In our next one, we visit a lullaby our mother and grandmother used to sing to us.

To contexualize the lullaby, Manahil has translated the words into English as best as she can:

Sleep my little baby
Sleep on your red bed
Mama and abu will come
With red toys
As you play, you’ll hunger
Eat peanuts, my child
The peanut shells are empty
We aren’t your nana
Nana goes to Delhi
From Delhi he gets a cat
The cat birth kittens
God is indeed real

The lullaby is rich with imagery: a red bed, red toys, a cat, and a baby. We still wanted to be creative and adapt the elements in the lyrics.

For example, instead of making a literal “lal palang” (red bed), we designed a big swing for the baby to sleep in. Manahil collected red roots by the river to make the structure. The bed swings on an old necklace chain.

Another part of the rhyme includes “lal khilonay” (red toys). We didn’t want to overwhelm the scene with too much red, so instead we went with colours that complimented the rest of the scene.

Here’s the doll, bear, rattle, and spinning top!

‘Lal khilonay’

The main character in this world is, of course, the baby. One part of the rhyme goes: “moomphali me dana nahi” (no peanut in the peanut shell), so naturally we had to include that in the world.

We were VERY diligent in finding just the right shell for the baby to sleep in – take a look at our ‘hard work.’

It definitely paid off. Here’s the baby napping peacefully below!


‘Baby baby so ja’

We brainstormed many ways on how to make the cat. Modelling it with clay didn’t seem to work that well, and we didn’t have the tools to felt one. We finally figured that the body could be made of clay, while white felt could be “stuck” onto it as fur.

To signify the end of the poem “God is real” we started making a janamaaz (prayer mat) out of an old shalwar. We created a disproportionately large tasbih (rosary beads) and Quran.

Manahil created the book cover with the binding from an old German dictionary (remember the book our Shire was in?)


Close-up of a janamaaz, the Quran, and a tasbih (and you can even see a cat in the background!)

We figured out how we wanted to arrange the world – but didn’t know what to put it in. A cold ceramic cup wouldn’t fit the homey and tender lullaby.

Then Nimra found a wooden pot that was perfect! Urdu is a very naturally artistic language, so we decided to paint the lullaby on the pot. We stained the wood to match the earthy tones of the world.



Hagrid’s Hut

Front view copy

Your left brain may be asking: “How can that red pumpkin be so HUGE” or “How can that pumpkin be RED?”

Enter the magical world of Harry Potter and the home of our beloved half-giant half-human, perched in a dainty tea cup.

pebbles - hagrids hut.jpg

The foundation of Hagrid’s hut was built with Costco newspaper ads scrunched into “pebbles.”

We used birch bark and twigs to create the hut itself. Although we toyed with the idea of adding a small light inside to show Harry visiting Hagrid, the hut was far too tiny for interior details. The moss and seeds on the side help bridge the gap between the bottom of the hut and the rocks (Nimra said, “there can’t be a hole in the bottom!”).

We used dried berries for the pumpkins and dried seeds for Hagrid’s cabbage patch. Pine tree buds (fallen ones of course) made marvellous “roses” along the edges.

Creating the miniature fence was one of the hardest parts. We had to use tweezers and a great store of patience to make sure the fence wasn’t wonky.

Maybe down the line we’ll add a hippogriff, the pink umbrella, or even Hagrid!


The Hobbit: There and Back Again

For a bibliophile, building the Shire in a book is almost a rite of passage in the terrarium-sculpture building world.

We collected plenty of moss for our shire. Luckily, it had rained a few days earlier, so the stock in our backyard was abundant. We may have dried more than we needed..

Manahil found an 18th century German dictionary from a church sale in Ottawa. We hollowed out the book, or relic one may call it, as who uses paper dictionaries these days?

Shire - Process.jpg

The first step was filling it with newspaper pebbles. Our initial attempted hills turned out to be unnaturally bulbous mountains, so we tore them out and started over. The final look for the hills was great for our little Hobbit holes!

Manahil collected bits and bobs on a hike to Streetsville park. We used sumac berries, white flowers, wildflowers, violets and some pink flowers to add colour to the world.

Can you see the flowers lining the path leading out of the Hobbit hole?

We could not create a shire without hobbitses, so once the landscape was complete it had to be “inhobbited”. We created our little characters out of oven-bake clay.

Once the hobbit was sculpted, we explored placing him on a bench near the hobbit hole, or sitting by the river, but we finally had him soaking up the sun under a tree on the hills.


Did you notice the abundant hair growth on Mr. Hobbit’s feet?

We naturally made Gandalf next. Was his beard a tad bit exaggerated..? We squabbled briefly over this important fact, but quickly decided that it lent him that quintessential Gandalf edge.

Here’s the finished Shire nestled in our backyard! Maybe Rivendell is next..?

People Watcher

Here’s “People Watcher,” our second backyard creation. We played around with different layers of rock and soil in the glass jar and worked our way up.

The base is dried moss from our backyard. We used bits of cedar leaves, seeds, grey moss, and larkspur for the foliage. The figurine’s clock face was the remaining pair of a lost earring from our teenage years. What is clock-face thinking about? What are they watching?

Can you spot the watcher’s little friend?

How did we begin?

On a wintery trip to the Georgian Bay over a long weekend, we brainstormed ideas for little worlds in a cup. Nimra likes the whimsical, Manahil likes fantasy, so the two minds combined and exploded to give birth to “Backyard Worlds.”

We collected birch bark, pine needles, leaves and other objects on our hike to the Bruce Peninsula National Park. We stayed near Sauble Beach, gathering driftwood and pebbles along the icy coast.

There wasn’t much time between returning to Mississauga and Manahil’s ride back to Ottawa, but we still managed to create a “prototype” world. Take a look at what we created!

We like working on creative projects together, and we’re excited to share our work and process with you. Welcome to our world of miniature worlds!

From the gorgeous Grotto at the Bruce Peninsula National Park. Guess which sister?