“Unlike the Jews and the Tibetans the Sindhis cast aside their traditions too easily. Unlike the Palestinians they tore themselves away from their ancestral homeland . Somewhat like the gypsy Romani they did not know how many they had lost -because they had not counted in the first place”.
Much has been written about the Punjabi displacement from Pakistan during the Partition of India in 1947. Not as much about the Sindhis.
Sindh – stories from a vanished homeland is rooted in the story of Saaz’s maternal family – the Bijlanis and memories her mother Situ who has never spoken about Partition earlier suddenly shares with her when Saaz is thirty six.
Very soon the personal becomes the political and the search for answers makes this book an engrossing read.
In Saaz Aggarwal’s book memories of displacement are echoed in those tiny mundane details that make up the fabric of daily life.
There is Baby’s recollection of losing one silver bangle of her set of six in the crush to get on the bus taking them to the ship that will sail to Bombay. Her small loss is her only way of articulating all she will leave behind as a child.
Aruna is sent to India with her beautiful sixteen year old older sister, her younger brother and her grandmother in the charge of a young Muslim commando her father trusts at the peak of the Partiiton violence. When the trains between Indian and Pakistan are exchanged he walks away without saying goodbye or looking back.He has risked his life and saved their lives but their countries are now different.
Situ remembers how she feels seeing umbrellas in Bombay – she has never seen one or had to use one in Sindh. The non stop pouring rain in Bombay takes her time getting used to.
Moti is oddly reassured that his his older brother Kanna carries a big knife when they leave their home forever even though it is supposed to be used to peel apples.
The peengho or traditional swing runs through memories of many children who recollect their lives in Karachi and Larkano.
We discover distinctions betewen Bhaibandhs and Amils, the Shikarpuri Sindhis and the Sindhis from Karachi and Hyderabad .
There are fascinating stories of the Sindhi diaspora. Not bound by the strict caste and crossing of the sea norms of the conservative Hindus the Sindhis like the Parsis traveled and conducted business all over the world establishing thriving communities in Gibraltar, Las Palmas, South America, and China .
Gita’s grandfather teaches himself to read and write in Spanish so he can read Cervantes while he runs a chain of big businesses across Spain. The same grandfather refuses to leave Karchi and she has fond memories of visiting him in until his death in 1985 . And she finds the Pakistani officials are always courteous and polite.
Putli,a Sindhi born in Tienstsin ,China in 1936 moves with her family to Manchuria and remembers growing up eating sai bhaji for lunch everyday despite being so far removed form Sindh .
Through stories and oral history Saaz explores various questions.
Were memories repressed or did the Sindhis, traditionally a prosperous community that travelled the world take displacement in their stride choosing to move on ?
What was the price for escaping to the safety of a new home and country but being treated as refugees living in camps ?
Sukkur,Larkano, Karachi, Hyderabad, Shikarpur are not imaginary homelands and yet the question is will they resonate with young Sindhis the same way ?
Is the community facing a loss of its Sufi influenced cultural identity and its Persian influenced language ?
The book mixes oral history -memories, stories, recipes (syel, khaki, sai bhaji,papad,tikki), poetry- and historical fact to paint an engrossing picture of the Sindhis.
Historian Dr Radhika Seshan who is quoted in the book says, “One can learn a lot abut the Sindhis by examining what they have forgotten”.
This could be applied to all communities that have faced immigration, displacement and partition anywhere in the world.