This weekend, like most of my weekends in Bombay, I was at Prithvi Theatre to watch a play. While waiting at one of the wooden benches – that they have lined in a row – and reading a book before the start of the play, a family of four – a young couple and the parents – took seat beside me. I noticed from their conversations that they spoke in Sindhi, which happens to be my mother tongue.
Now since I moved to Bombay from Ahmedabad in January, I haven’t had any touch with the language or people of my community, and frankly, I don’t even miss a thing about it. I think this is common in young and independent Sindhis of my generation who stay on their own; which is not wrong in itself for it doesn’t hinder one’s independence and helps one grow personally; but yet it feels good if after a long time you get to experience your culture again and mingle with your people in your language – like last month when I visited my parents in Ahmedabad after a gap of 8 months and visited the extended family too based in that city; or take this instance where unexpectedly you meet people from your community and start up an interaction.
So while reading at the bench I got a call from my sister and after the call the old man from the family, an aged man, must be more than 60 years of age, who was sitting next to me told me after hearing me talk in Sindhi, that it felt good to him that the young generation speaks in Sindhi, he further complimented my language and said that he found it quite unadulterated, which is funny coz I know how bad my language is, I mix English and Hindi words and I don’t speak it as good as my parents do, though I am content with what I know and how I speak.
Anyway this made me ponder on how Sindhis of my grandparents’ generation, or say of the age of this old man, find glee in their own language and culture; or if I may link it to the longing for the past, of the land they left (in modern day Pakistan) during the partition of India.
It goes like this, the story of my forefathers and all the Hindu Sindhis in India: Modern day Pakistan has four provinces, viz. Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province. Sindhis originate from one of these provinces, i.e. Sindh. Now during partition, as Punjab and Bengal were divided and a part of each was given to India and Pakistan, Sindh remained undivided. Sindh, being a mixed land of Hindus and Muslims (just like Punjab or Bengal before partition), anticipated widespread manslaughter as it had seen in Punjab. Fearing this the Hindu Sindhis of the region migrated in large numbers to India, and as the land of Sindh was not partitioned, Hindu Sindhis of India were left as the people with no land where their culture could flourish.
Thus this twinkle in the eye of the older generation when they see the younger generation sticking to their roots and language. It rekindles their hope that the culture – that is on a ventilator in India – won’t die too soon. This because the young generation Sindhis are being alienated from their own language as many Sindhi parents today don’t make their children speak Sindhi at home.
I am reading this book by Alice Albinia these days, called ‘Empires Of The Indus’. The book covers the trajectory of the Indus and thus talking about the history and the culture of the people who resided by the river throughout its history, and being an integral part of the civilization by the river, it talks about the people of Sindh. It talks how Sindh was a land of Sufi saints who preached oneness of humanity – irrespective of manmade organizations like religion – in the past and how Sufism has influenced the Sindhi culture. It further talks of the saint UderoLal or JhuleLal and Shahbaz Qalandar, whose teachings are followed by Sindhis today. This book surely has played a role in improving my understanding and knowledge of the culture I am part of.
As a young, educated and independent third generation Sindhi in early 20s and being a part of that global generation of young Indians who watch House Of Cards on the internet, relish Lebanese food and work in American corporates’ multi cultural work places, I don’t have no longing or nostalgia (like my grandparents might’ve had) for the land that my forefathers left behind during partition. I always believe that one should look at the future, and not the past.
Having said this, if given a chance, I would most certainly visit the land of Sindh and see the roots of my forefathers and the remains of the Indus valley civilization at Mohen Jo Daro where the civilization – of which my community is a part of – once flourished in the past.
Though I have made efforts to stay close to my language, like learning to read Sindhi via the internet, I can’t fully identify myself with the Sindhi traditions, most of it are as alien and inscrutable to me as would be, say, Jewish Bar Mitzvah. The way we have been brought up in multi cultural India with exposure to global media, I can identify more with the concept of thanksgiving than say Chaliho.
Anyway, in the end it all comes down to the identity, though I am not as Sindhi as my parents and grandparents are, but I am fine with it and I am glad its like this, though I don’t show inclination or traits of any particular culture but I respect them and like to explore plenty. There needs to be something that differentiates generations, and in my case, this is it. I am proud of my roots and culture, I am a Sindhi and that’s my identity.
To conclude, this Sufi Qawwali, originated from the land of Sindh in the praise of the Sindhi Sufi Saint Shahbaz Qalandar. This is the version of the qawwali by the group ‘Junoon’, one of my favorite numbers.