Unbordered memories, p.1

Unbordered Memories, page 1


Unbordered Memories

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Unbordered Memories



  Rita Kothari is the author of Translating India: The Cultural Politics of English and The Burden of Refuge: The Sindhi Hindus of Gujarat. She has translated widely from Gujarati into English. Some of her translations of note are The Stepchild: Angaliyat and Speech and Silence: Literary Journeys by Gujarati Women. Kothari is currently working on a study of border communities in Kutch, Gujarat, and co-editing a study on Hinglish. She teaches at the Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad.

  Unbordered Memories

  Sindhi Stories of Partition

  Edited and translated by




  Translator’s Note and Acknowledgements


  Rita Kothari

  6 January 1948

  Thakur Chawla

  When I Experienced the Simultaneity of Life and Death …

  Popati Hiranandani


  Sundri Uttamchandani


  Gordhan Bharti


  Amar Jaleel

  Kaafir: The Infidel

  Naseem Kharal


  Kala Prakash

  Life, a Mere Dream

  Sheikh Ayaz

  Lost Nations

  Gulzar Ahmed

  Hunger, Love and Literature

  Mohan Kalpana

  Muhammad, the Coach-driver

  Ram Panjwani

  My Amma

  Kirat Babani


  Gobind Malhi

  Familiar Strangers

  Gordhan Bharti

  The Claim

  Narayan Bharti

  The Document

  Narayan Bharti

  The Neighbour

  Sheikh Ayaz

  The Refugee

  Gobind Malhi

  The Uprooted

  Vishnu Bhatia

  Who was Responsible?

  Lachhman Kukreja

  In the Name of Allah

  Ibrahim Joyo


  Muhammad Daud Baloch

  The Death of Fear

  Shoukat Hussain Shoro

  In Exile

  Mohan Kalpana


  Translator’s Note and Acknowledgements

  Perhaps of all Partition migrants the Sindhis have willed themselves to forget Partition most successfully. In fact the nostalgic emotion so freely expressed by literary writers in this volume contrasts with a matter-of-fact dismissal of nostalgia and recall by a large number of Sindhi businessmen. Their mercantile spirit may have enabled them to fight more courageously, without indulging in self-pity but the forgetting has had ramifications that the community is discovering only now. The stories in this volume contrast starkly with the silence I have encountered in my sociological work. They dwell, much too luxuriously, upon a utopian notion of Sindh. As an academic trained in English literature and taught to appreciate the understated sense of fragmentation, I found myself struggling with the translator inside who wished to replicate the sentimentality for reasons of authenticity. The latter won, because apart from my own commitment to the voices in the narratives, I also see this nostalgia as a compensation for a world lost to the Sindhis. Meanwhile, it has been a struggle to deal with the intricate details of food and custom, descriptions of economy and society that can be only be understood if Sindh was available to me both physically and psychologically. In terms of time vii viii Translator’s Note and Acknowledgements and space, I am away from Sindh. In the city of Ahmedabad where I live, a flight to Karachi takes less time than flying to Bombay, but arbitrary and tyrannical borders have made Sindh inaccessible to me in more ways than one. Fortunately, I grew up speaking Sindhi, a phenomenon not so common in the generation after mine. The verbal structures of Sindhi came useful in learning the Perso-Arabic script in which these stories have been written. All the same, I have taken generous help from at least two people—Sahib Bijani (Adipur, India) and Shoukat Hussain Shoro (Sindh, Pakistan)—on each side of the border. I wish to dedicate this book to both of them.

  I also wish to thank Laxmandas Makhija, Vidya Tewani, Heena Kewalramani, Samia Vasa, Abhijit Kothari and Shamini Kothari for supporting an endeavour that has meant a lot to me at a personal level.

  Ahmedabad Rita Kothari

  19 January 2009


  Amar Jaleel, one of Pakistan’s most respected and controversial writers, writes in Sindhi—an official language in both India and Pakistan. He is technically a Muslim. However, his personal creed, spiritual outlook and politics recognize no borders of religion, nation and tradition. A follower of the seventeenth-century Sufi saint, Sachal Sarmast, Jaleel draws radical courage from Sufism and fearlessly critiques any abuse of human dignity in the name of religion and national borders. He mocks the absurdity of containing subcontinental identities within the confines of nations, and of equating nations with religions.

  He wrote his most controversial story ‘Sard Lashun Jo Safar’ (The Journey of Cold Corpses) in the face of unrelenting censorship in the Pakistan of Zia-ul-Haq. In the story, Jaleel takes us to Kundkot, a village in interior Sindh where Hindu families live in a colony called Nanak Mohalla. We are then taken to the house of Gopal, technically a Hindu (his Hinduism as incidental as Jaleel’s Islam). While Gopal is busy reading a Sindhi translation of the Koran, a bunch of religious fanatics are raping his sister Savitri. Unlike most Hindus of Sindh, Gopal had chosen not to leave Pakistan to go to India. Perceiving himself to be an integral part of Sindh, he made his family stay back in the new state of Pakistan. His troubles started not in the 1940s, but three decades later, when religious fanaticism flared up with state support. The story shows how Gopal, an ordinary man from a village, had a sophisticated and unbiased understanding of religion. The rest of the story is much too gruesome and violent to be narrated here. Not surprisingly, the story was banned in Pakistan. In India, it remains unknown beyond a tiny circle of Sindhi writers. To my knowledge, this is the only story in the Sindhi language that explicitly addresses Islamic violence against Hindus and, contrary to our expectations, it is not situated during Partition but after, and written not by a Hindu who suffered, but by a member of the majority community in Pakistan who empathized with the suffering.

  Disrupting Synonymies

  Jaleel documents atrocities perpetrated upon Hindus in an Islamic state. He was prosecuted by the state for writing this story. Besides being a testimony to his courage, this story is important because it defies some of the unquestioned assumptions underlying our understanding of Partition literature and also helps defy some of the repetitive patterns in the literature in general. Partition fiction is generally a sensitive and detailed account of how ‘millions of people were forced to leave their homes, their bastis, their desh, their watan, and undertake a difficult and sorrowful journey …’ (Bhalla 2007). The journey by train or in qafilas is a recurring trope in Partition literature. Based on the narratives written by ‘Indian’ nationals—Hindus, Dalits, Sikhs—we assume the difficulties of the journey and its attendant dangers and violence to be our window to the experience of Partition migrants coming from the newly created Pakistan. What is seldom taken into account is the fact that not all communities came by train, and hence encountered violence in physical terms. Or that some members of certain communities, Sindhi-speaking Hindus, for instance, stayed back in the new Pakistan to grapple with a nation that had suddenly turned unrecognizable. Jaleel’s Gopal is one such person.

  Gopal disturbs the first synonymy we make between Partition and homeland. The second synonymy he breaks is the one between Partition sub
jects and their ethnicity. Gopal’s experiences as a Sindhi Hindu, who continued to live in Pakistan, are different from the experiences described by Kamleshwar or Intizar Hussain or Bhisham Sahni, for his subject position does not coincide with that of the author. Despite Jaleel being a Pakistani citizen, he provides a glimpse into the experience of a non-Muslim in Sindh, somewhat like Taslima Nasrin’s sensitive portrayal of the Hindu minority in Lajja. The story, therefore, does not provide an insight into Sindhi Hindus in India, rather it sheds light on the life of a religious minority much after Partition. The assumption that every Hindu migrant speaks only of the ‘Hindu’ experience, and every ‘Muslim’ of the Muslim experience is interrogated here. This is not to say that Partition writers do not empathetically write about the ‘Other’; however, these are mostly narratives of a ‘good’ Muslim in a story by a Hindu or a ‘good’ Hindu in the story by a Muslim—as small islands of humanity in a sea of bewildering hatred that engulfed the subcontinent in 1947. I wish to underscore the disruption of this synonymy to show how the Sindhi narratives are essentially transborder and are not confined by religious and national boundaries. For instance, Jaleel’s story positions Gopal, a member of a Hindu minority, as a subject, while Gordhan Bharti (see ‘Boycott’ in this volume) positions a poor and marginalized Jaman Koli as his chief protagonist. Similarly, Ali Baba, another well-known writer from Sindh (not included in this volume) probes the post-Partition alienation of Indian Sindhis in a story called ‘Dharti Dhikaana’.

  The Notion of ‘Violence’

  Talk of violence has shaped most of the literary and political discussion about Partition in India. Generally speaking, print and visual narratives of Partition in India evoke in popular imagination archetypal images of mass violence and mob frenzy. However, the Sindhi Partition experience is relatively free from violent episodes.1 I remember watching the first few episodes of Tamas in the 1980s before they were taken off the air. The episodes had been so absorbing, and the adrenalin rush so high, that I had felt let down by its abrupt end. It wasn’t common to read or share books in my house, but I clearly remember watching Tamas with the entire family. The historical event of Partition we were watching on the screen was also the event that had wrenched my parents out of their homeland. My mother was only seven, hence too young to understand, but my father was a teenage boy and had carried vivid memories within him. When I look back now, I wonder why nobody mentioned (or thought) of Tamas as a familiar story. Why did we siblings watch it without thinking of it as also being our parents’ story? I would learn many years later that although Sindh and Punjab had been geographically and culturally close, their experience of Partition was vastly different with respect to violence. These departures in Sindhi Partition narratives make sense when viewed against the background of the Sindhi Partition experience.

  Unlike the Punjabis and Bengalis, the Sindhis were not coming to an ‘Indian’ part of Sindh because Sindh was not divided into east and west Sindh. It went in its entirety to Pakistan.2 This occludes from the Sindhi experience the metaphor of train-stuffed-with-corpses. A large number of Sindhis came by ship which they boarded from Karachi to arrive in Bombay and at various ports of Gujarat. Some travelled by trains from interior Sindh and came to Rajasthan. A smaller number crossed the border in the Thar desert and came to Gujarat on camel back. Although the rich and prosperous Hindus of Sindh must have felt insecure and frightened in the new state of Pakistan, by and large, the threat to physical safety was relatively less in Sindh. The danger to the lives and property of Sindhi Hindus became palpable once Muslim immigrants, driven out of Bihar and the United Provinces, entered Sindh. In her autobiography, Popati Hiranandani relates the enormous fear that made her family leave Sindh. In this story, one of the few which relates instances of kidnapping and rape, it is the immigrant Muslim who is seen as the kidnapper or the rapist. The first generation Sindhi Hindus differentiated between the Muslims who came from Sindh and those who came from other parts of India.3

  Three months after Partition, when Acharya Kripalani (president, Indian National Congress) visited Sindh he noted that, ‘There was only a slight exodus of the Hindus and Sikhs from Sindh. It did not suffer from any virulent fanaticism. To whatever faith the Sindhis belonged, they were powerfully influenced by Sufi and Vedantic thoughts. This made for tolerance’ (Kripalani, 2004, 703). The Hindus and Muslims of Sindh shared a strong linguistic and territorial identity, which brought them closer to each other than their co-religionists in India and Pakistan. It is true that this social fabric began to tear in the wake of sharpened economic disparities in the nineteenth century, and led to the success of the Muslim League. It is equally true that the rhetoric of Islamic corruption of the pure Indus civilization circulated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also made inroads after several abortive attempts (Kothari 2006). However, neither Sindh’s syncretic tradition nor its polarities in the twentieth century were uniform. When we visit individual and local histories by Sindhis, there emerge many-shaded narratives that are not yet a part of our Partition imaginary.

  In Narayan Bharti’s ‘The Document’, Manghanmal, a Hindu landowner, has painful memories of how his tenant Rasool Baksh spent his own money and saw Manghanmal off at Hyderabad station. With not a shade of bitterness or anger, the story captures a beautifully interdependent (albeit feudal, and at times, exploitative) relationship between a Hindu landowner and a Muslim haari. This delicate balance was severely threatened during Partition, and although we don’t have, in fiction or real life, testimonial accounts of physical violence, Hindu landowners in the new state of Pakistan lived in fear of the vengeance of Muslim peasants (Kothari 2007). Bharti’s story is not marked by any uncomfortable memories, but by a relentless nostalgia for the life, place and relationships that Sindhi Hindus had lost access to. The rehabilitation and refugee committees in India had made arrangements for some compensation of property, but how do you quantify an ethos and claim compensation for it? A miserable, angry and bewildered Joharmal in ‘The Claim’ (by Bharti) declares:

  Joharmal, son of Vaseymal, nukka Nagdev, has left the whole of Sindh in Pakistan. Now he files a claim for Sindh. It should be returned to him. The proof is the fact that Joharmal is a Sindhi, his language is Sindhi and his civilization is Sindhi.

  Unlike what might be expected from Partition literature, Sindhi stories deal less with themes of betrayals and escapes. Such stories are rare in fact. They deal more with the precarious moments of ‘peace’ preceding Partition, the gradual hardening of religious lines, the ambivalences about leaving or staying, the psychological violence of arriving in India as stateless migrants and re-starting life amidst hostile populations in various states, and the humiliation of living in refugee camps and interacting with the bureaucracy in the new nation state. The psychosis of fear, the separation from language and home, the shedding of tangible and nontangible possessions constituted trauma for the Sindhis, but perhaps not in the way trauma becomes akin to physical violence in Partition Studies. My research on the Hindu Sindhis shows how in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, there was strong resentment directed at them as immigrants. As a community that, through proximity with Islam, had managed to shed the practice of untouchability, the Sindhis were subjected to discrimination in India (Kothari 2007). The humiliation of being refugees, and the contrast between the affluence and prestige of Sindhi Hindus in undivided India and penury in the glorious new nation state is a recurring theme in the oral and written testimonies by Sindhis. Deterritorialized and fragmented, the Sindhis found the moment of arrival into India far more traumatic than the moment of leaving Sindh. The Sindhis were not expected in India. They had neither a corresponding territory to come to, nor was the violence (before 6 January 1948) intense enough to generate sympathy for them. Sindh’s richest and powerful religious minority of Hindus was reduced to a beggarly linguistic minority in India; its clothes, language, customs markedly different from the host communities who found the sudden influx of refug
ees irksome.

  It is found in many instances that the refugees behave as if their miserable lot is the creation of people in this province. They must be told, sometimes with brutal frankness, that we have very little responsibility for what has happened to them. Of course in their misfortune we are one with them, we sympathize with them … but they must be told that they cannot turn themselves into a nuisance value and if Government have bowed (sic) down to their sentiments it is not because they proved themselves to be a nuisance. That must be clear to them. If I understood the Honorable Member Babubhai Patel he said that many of the refugees want to live in cities because they have come from cities. Well, they cannot be sticklers, they cannot be choosers. (Karandikar)

  Mohan Kalpana’s post-Partition narrative ‘Jalavatni’ is a bitter indictment of the nation state, its kafkaesque red-tape, and abusive officers who tell Mohan, ‘You are a refugee, you can spend a night under a tree or near a railway track, or maidans. When you ran away from Sindh, did you ask Jinnah where should you go?’ In the two selections included in this volume, the contrast between Kalpana’s post-Partition acerbic bitterness and pre-Partition warmth (his RSS connections notwithstanding) is quite remarkable. Kalpana continues to be read and admired in Sindh even today, and I am told by my Sindhi friends from across the border that his flamboyance has made him particularly popular with Sindhi youth.

  An equally iconic figure is Sheikh Ayaz whose description of what happened after the Hindus left Sindh is powerful and evocative.

  I held the doll in my hands, and stood gazing at it. I tried to imagine its little owner who must have crossed Khokharpar and gone over to Bombay or Banaras or Calcutta, empty handed. I continued to gaze at it for a long time, and in the meantime my relatives got tired of waiting for me.

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