A little while and you will have forgotten everything:
a little while and everything will have forgotten you... Marcus Aurelius
"Somebody should write about our Sindhi elders and their Partition experiences before we lose that history forever." This is what many Sindhis were saying until last year. I wondered why nobody was writing a book on the experiences of Hindu Sindhis. The subject kept re-surfacing online. From Dr. Nargis Awatramani (USA) to Govind Jhangiani (U.K) from Arjan Daswani (Singapore) to Shewak Nandwani (Thailand), the question was practically a refrain. In Mumbai, it was me saying--Somebody, write the book before its too late! But there were no volunteers.
I began work. Now that I have collected true stories of Hindu Sindhis, do read the book and preserve it for generation next. This is a serious work of research, of historical significance for all Hindu Sindhis.
The journey through this book has been interesting, to say the least. Sometimes, to my surprise, I met total strangers who welcomed me warmly, at other times, with sadness I interviewed elders with multiple aeging troubles; and then, I met many who were too cynical to "waste their time" being interviewed for something which promised no monetary returns. Access to the rich and famous was often blocked off by over-zealous secretaries. One day I was shocked, another day delighted and on a third day, depressed, it was a real roller-coaster. I often asked myself why I should continue. I lost count of recorded interviews that became useless with one phone call. One 85-year old told me of all the mischief he had done, after the Partition. He became embarrassingly rich, divorced his wife, and sailed through life. I watched him agape, as he really walked into the sunset with a spring in his step, towards his girl friend and chauffeur-driven expensive car. I wrote the account out, and a week later, he said he would prefer to keep his life private.
I kept my focus on ordinary Hindu Sindhis and their experiences during the Partition. However, these 100 plus accounts and profiles are a very small number when one compares it with the 12, 25,000 Hindu Sindhis evacuated from their homes between 1947 and 1950. I am one of those who believe that big oak trees grow from small acorns, and I offer you my tiny, hopeful acorn of a book.
Subjected to communal cleansing in Sindh, with the tacit compliance of Jinnah's Muslim League, most Hindu Sindhis had only one option: leave. A friend told me the story of a Papadawaree (a lady who sells Papads door-to-door). She was a woman living in Sindh and had several children. Her teenaged daughter was sitting outside in the back of the house, sunning herself and wara paee sukaye (drying her wet hair.) Suddenly there were shouts, telling the woman to run, there were riots, and people were coming for them. Along with her several children, she ran to the station, practically with one chappal, and boarded a train leaving Sindh. However, it was only on the train that she noticed the absence of her teenaged daughter. It was already too late. What happened to the girl? For long, nobody knew. Then years later, she got news. A Muslim family had adopted the abandoned teenager, raised her to become a well-established doctor. A meeting was arranged between the daughter and the mother in Ulhasnagar. After the initial joy at the re-union, they parted and returned to their lives, the mother back to selling papads in India while her daughter healed the ill in Pakistan.
I read a story where a writer, Wali Ram, about one Viundri Tejomal from Hyderabad Sindh, who hid written a note in Sindhi and hidden it her cupboard before rushing away from home. The note read: Vundri Tejomal jo hee kabat jeko kholeendo, un khi pap lagando."(Opener of this Vundri Tejomal's cupboard will be sinning.) Who was she and what became of her during and after the Partition? This is a mystery. Inside the note it appears she expressed a desire to return home to take care of her personal belongings. She might had left her things behind, packed quickly and left the note behind.
Another family that was torn asunder was that of Maama Rupachand Mahtani, a close in-law who had another story. He wanted to cross over to India, but his wife didn't. She and their sons remained in Sindh while he crossed the border. His children went on to become highly qualified professionals, but weren't too keen on meeting with their father. In Mumbai, Maama Rupa's life was full of interesting twists and turns, he was an impish gypsy who spread his grin and jokes from Sindhi home to Sindhi home. He charmed ladies with poetical lines from Shakespeare alternating them with absolutely witty and wicked jokes. He had the Dev Anand debonair air about him and he was a hit with both sexes. He praised the cooking in his tobacco-laden voice, listened attentively to the men, and hugged children affectionately. He brought the house down everywhere. Once he admitted that he missed his family, in a moment of candour, before taking refuge behind his favourite line with a twinkle in his eye, "Sigh no more, man, sigh no more, women were deceivers ever!"
I believe Hindu Sindhis are a wonderful community of survivors. I have presented the journey of this brave and strong Hindu community, forced into poverty and terrorized out of home and hearth. These Sindhis stepped out of inhospitable barracks, wore brave smiles when they went in search of work in new, strange lands. Many had a zero balance after they left Sindh; today, it might be difficult to count the number of zeroes in most of their balance sheets. If the Sindhi community ever gets a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, it would surprise me if Warren Buffett isn't amongst its first investors. Sindhi Hindus are multi-baggers all right.
I would like to add that our elders left Sindh not out of cowardice but in fact, they chose wisdom over foolhardiness--they faced an unpleasant reality and did what was necessary for survival. Imagine a USA and UK where 75 percent of the population is Muslim and the government is Muslim as well. Even George Bush and Tony Blair would run for cover. How could 22 percent Hindus stand up to 75 percent Muslims? And then, matters were deteriorating by the day, with Hindus decreasing and Sunni Muslim numbers rising. When the mayhem began, survival was all everything.
Had Netaji Bose and Sardar Patel been at the helm of national affairs, to my mind, the Muslim League would have failed. The British played their divide-and-rule to the hilt, Jinnah played his, "We are different, we are Muslim" tune, Gandhiji undemocratically by-passed Patel to hand over power to Nehru, and the rest is history. Nehru told Sindhi journalists "Partition, yeh sab bakwas hai!" (Partition, this is all rubbish!), Gandhiji also stated that Partition would take place over his dead body. These remarks lulled Hindus into a dangerous complacency. Finally, when things got ugly, Hindu Sindhis left.
The Sindhi Hindus paid the highest price. Gandhiji's idealism was expressed when he said, "Aap baithe raho aaram se!" (You stay in Sind, without fears!) In Bombay, Morarji Desai, wanted the refugees to stay on the outskirts of the city and not come into Bombay, treating Sindhis as pariahs or pollutants. Nehru, on his part, admitted he felt little for Sindhis, when he said, `I don't know Sindh. I don't feel attracted to it.'' In a letter he wrote,``The Sindhi people have their good qualities and I rather like them. But they are a curious mixture of the Muslim feudal classes and the Hindu bania class, neither very admirable, as classes go. Still they have push and energy and that is something to be thankful for. They seem to be singularly devoid of any artistic sense. And the colour they sport in their striped pajamas are a trial." If he had tears, Nehru wasn't prepared to waste them on Sindhi Hindus, as Dr. Choithram Gidwani, a Congress leader, discovered, to his dismay.
We went from being a prosperous community, to the new untouchables. There was a push from within--the Muslim League and the Mohajirs wanted us out, and there was a push from without—Indians found us, "chee"(yuck) and a needless burden. Hindu Sindhis were inconvenient on both sides of the border. Who can call the great Sadhu Vaswani a coward? Even a wise man of spiritual depth, had to leave Sindh along with Dada J.P. Vaswani. Can we entertain any doubts on this subject after reading their story?
Doors of Hindus were marked with a red cross, making Hindus sitting ducks for fortune-seekers. Hindus watched as armed bands of people roamed the streets, crying, "Hindu ko maro!"(Kill the Hindu!") All weapons had been surrendered to the government by law, so, self-defense was out. Muslims went to Hindu homes and business premises, with documents declaring them as "Intending Evacuees." They had to vacate since the authorities had chosen to assume they were "intending" to leave; therefore, they had no business to continue living there. Nobody knew on what fact the assumption was rooted, nobody knew who was next. Everything Hindu was up for grabs.
Many Sindhi Muslims protected their Hindu neighbours from attacks by Mohajirs; but there are also stray instances of those that gleefully occupied their homes. Sadly, their glee was short-lived since they soon had to surrender their gains to the Mohajirs. Sufis at heart, many Sindhi Muslims saw their neighbours depart with a tear in their eye.
Now where are the Sindhi Hindus? Rootless, we were now a community, which chose to blend, adapt, and wear masks. We succeeded, full marks to Sindhi Hindus. But, now that we have, why do we continue with those useless masks? Do we have to change our names and surnames? Are we flattered if somebody mistakes us for Punjabis or Parsees? What's wrong with us? If Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji can make it in the world with their difficult names, can't we do the same with ours? But we want to say to the world-- Look, look, I am like you, I am not a Sindhi. And so Harry (Hariram) cries over the shoulder of Sally (Sundari), "Sally, why do Sindhis lack culture?" Sally replies, "Charyo thyo aahen,( are you mad) naturally, it's all about money, Harry!"
One of the subjects of many discussions is the issue of the Sindhi script. I am grateful to Mr. Mangharam Sipahimalani who first educated me on this subject when I interviewed him. But, in a nutshell this is the reality of the script and its history. The original script of Sindhi was not one, but eight, Devnagri, Thattai, Khudabadi, Luhaniki, Memonki, Gurmukhi, Khojiki and Hatvaniki. At the time of Mahmud Ghaznu, Al Bruni found three scripts current in Sindh—all three were variations of Devnagri. Later, when the British arrived they found the Pandits writing Sindhi in Devnagri. Traders were using the secret Hatvaniki, which has no vowels. The women men were using Gurmukhi and the government employees were using a form of Arabic script. British scholars felt that the Devnagri script would be right for Sindh. Government servants, many of whom were Hindus, favoured the Arabic script, since they did not know Devnagri. A debate went on with Capt. Burton favouring the Arabic script and Capt. Stack favouring Devnagri. Sir Bartle Frere, the Commissioner of Sindh, referred the matter to the Court of Directors of the British East India Company, which favoured Arabic on the ground that Muslim names could not be written in Devnagri. Sir Richard Burton, and local scholars Munshi Thanwardas and Mirza Sadiq Ali Beg evolved a 52-letter Sindhi alphabet. The Indian government recognizes both the Devnagiri and Arabic scripts.
Sindhi is an ancient language, with over seventy percent words in Sanskrit. Professor E. Trumpp in his monumental `Sindhi Alphabet and Grammar' (1812) writes: "Sindhi is a pure Sanskritical language, more free from foreign elements than any of the North Indian vernaculars." The Rev. Mr.G. Shirt of Hyderabad, one of the first Sindhi scholars, considered that the language is probably, so far as its grammatical construction is concerned, the purest daughter of Sanskrit. It has small sprinkling of Dravidian words, and has in later times received large accessions to its vocabulary from Arabic and Persian. Writes Dr. Annemarie Schimmel, Harvard professor of Islamics, and versatile linguist: "Since every word in Sindhi ends in a vowel, the sound is very musical." After understanding the background of the Sindhi script, one can only hope the controversy will be give a decent burial. Sindhi is our mother tongue, Devnagiri is our mother script.
Sindhi Reflections is divided into many equally important sections. Where more than one family member was involved, I have put them under one umbrella heading. All chapters has been edited. Photographs were included practically at the last minute.