THE metropolis donkey-cart races are said to be as old as the city itself. The city and the sport may have evolved but the bond between man and animal remains as close as ever.

Loader doesn't get the fancy stuff. It is hard for Parvez to arrange expensive food for Loader who has earned him some memorable wins in the past years. But Parvez has taken the responsibility to provide as much comfort to the beast of burden as he can.

''I love my donkey like my closest friend,'' says Parvez while giving the animal a massage after a tiring day of work at the grain market in the old city area.

At eight years of age, Loader is still in his prime by Third World standards and just two or three more years left before retiring him from active life. Parvez, who is 27 years old, acquired Loader five years ago. He knows that it is not easy to see animal you love so passionately, die.

''But this his how it is. Those who keep donkeys, dogs and cats can't enjoy long associations. They die young but that does not stop us from from loving those animals, and so we have to witness such casualties every few years in our life. I have heard donkeys live a longer life elsewhere, but I don't see it here,'' he says.

Loader is among those donkeys that are not meant to be running all day to help earn livelihoods for their masters. He takes part in donkey-cart races - both, the ones organised by the city's administration and donkey cart associations and duels in which a master of a donkey challenges another against cash bets.

Such bets normally involve little amounts on the part of the donkey-cart racers. Spectators, too, put greater money on the donkeys of their choice.

Parvez has won several such challenges and lost some as well. He does not blame Loader for those defeats. He blames himself for not assessing opponents properly.

''It is wise to assess your rival before accepting the challenge for a race, as our elders have told us. The opponent should be your equal or less, which is best but I have failed to assess that way and have led my animal to bite the dust on a few occasions.

But assessment may not be the only thing. Diet also matters. Parvez cannot afford expensive food meant for race donkeys, which includes dried fruit such as almonds and raisins soaked milk. ''I could not arrange for barley and grass and sometimes chickpeas but it is hard for me because of the price hike.''

Parvez would spend Rs 5,000 on his donkey until a few months ago. But he now spends at least Rs 10,000 on Loader's food while his earning have not risen a notch. He lives in a two-room flat in Lyari and leaves Loader in a nearby compound at night.

He also says that most donkeys that are used in races are not used for lifting heavy stuff all day. Those who can afford to, keep them just for the racing purposes and spend at least Rs 30,000 a month on their food and training.

Ghulam Ali is among those who have donkeys for all trades. he has a couple of Iranian breed donkeys, too. Iranian donkeys are physically agile with swift legs, which are considered to be ideal for races. Donkeys from Makran, Hyderabad and Lasbella come down on the ladder of preference after them.

''All this is not about gaining money but snatching victory,'' says Ghulam Ali. ''We spend more money on our donkeys than the cash we win in races.''

The donkeys are normally rested for a day before a schedule race. They are driven in trucks to the starting point to ensure the animals are not fatigued reaching there on their own.

Donkeys such as Loader are an exception, which have to run overtime to salvage pride as well as well as work for their masters.

Universally, all donkeys that part in the races have to run on rough, uneven, damp and dirty surfaces to strengthen their muscles, and to build stamina to gel with the dilapidated conditions of the roads of the teeming metropolis.

The World Students Society thanks author Hasan Mansoor.


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