This article of mine appeared in the ‘Femina’,’Bharat Ratna’,’Amil Samchar’ and in the Hindvasi (Translated into Sindhi)
A TRIP TO SINDH-A JOURNEY TO MY ROOTS
By Shakun Narain Kimatrai
The Kimatrai Building still majestically stands in Hyderabad Sind
We finally made it! To Hyderabad Sind that is! My husband Narain and myself finally left on a trip that would make us set foot on the very soil that we had left 39 years ago.
When I told my Sindhi friends in Bombay that I was leaving for Pakistan, they showed a lot of interest-in fact more interest than had I told them that I was going to London, New York or to Timbuktu for that matter. But why was I surprised at their reaction? After all I was going back to the land of our birth, to the land and houses which we had left reluctantly with tears in our eyes and to which we had been denied access for so many seasons.
Those friends to whom I told about my trip to Pakistan, not only showed interest but a variety of emotions.
I sensed in them envy, apprehension and fear for my safety—as a matter of fact a friend of mine asked: “Going to Hyderabad Sind, Shakun, are you sure you will be back?
Though I was a little apprehensive myself I was not really afraid. After all of whatever kind may have been the frenzy during partition-I had the confidence on the fact that we Sindhis having drank from the same Indus Sindhu water for centuries prior to the sad separating event, they would welcome us with the age-old ‘Sikka’ (affection) of the Sindhis.
From Bombay, we first landed at Lahore where the hotels are comparable to any other good 5-star hotel elsewhere in the world.
Whenever one goes out of India, one is midst strangers from a different land, so to speak-one looks different and talks a different tongue. While in Lahore, what struck me was that no-one could tell that I was a foreigner there-we looked alike and spoke the same language. Then why? Why did one have to go through customs and immigration at the airport like an outsider? I felt sad.
Amongst the elite, the ladies do not practice purdah as a rule. They wear salwar kameezes made in the latest style. The people of Pakistan enjoy good food, though alcoholic beverages are at least visibly absent.
My charming Pakistani hostess took me around sight-seeing and shopping and she proudly presented me everywhere around as her Indian friend from Bombay. Her friends and the sales people generally welcomed me warmly and even courteously gave me discounts on their goods.
Amongst the common citizens of Pakistan whom I met, I felt that there was competition with India as far as Economical progress or a game of cricket was concerned-which according to me is healthy and natural of any set of neighbors.
At a couple of parties that I attended and where my host learned that I enjoyed singing, they requested me, not to sing a ghazal or a film song, but a ‘Bhajan’! Is it possible that they subconsciously miss the Hindus and their culture in their midst?
I myself having lived in Bombay in cosmopolitan surroundings almost all my life, did feel rather restricted being surrounded by only Muslims in their country.
From Lahore we flew to Karachi from where it was a mere 2 hours drive to my birth-place Hyderabad in Sind.
It was unfamiliar seeing the Arabic Sindhi script strewn all over on hoardings and advertisements and the milestones on the road ; though odd, the feeling was pleasant.
Once we approached Hyderabad I found my husband’s voice getting more emotional. He remembered the roads, as he was 9 years old when he had to leave his home-town. He instructed our friend who was driving to take us to a certain spot, to stop; after which he wanted to find the way up to his old house himself.
Amongst the chirping of birds and the hustle bustle of rikshaws, motor cars and cycles did stand ‘The Jhamatmal Kimatrai Building’ . It stood majestically as though defiantly proclaiming that it would stand no matter what happened to the surroundings, and it would stand because it had been built with love.
I entered my ‘sasural’ like for the first time. I had always felt that my elders had exaggerated in their account for the grandeur that we had left behind-but I was wrong. The house was magnificent. It was well maintained and is presently occupied by a Doctor and his family. Even though the present owners were out of town, the servants at the instance of a marble cutter who had known the family and who lived down the stairs since 1935, opened the door to us.
I visited ‘Mulchand Mahal’ (The Khiani Residence) which was the place of my birth. There, people came from the neighborhood proclaiming that they had heard about the ‘Asli Maliks’ (The real owners being Khianis) and they insisted on our visiting their house to have papad and water at least! My birth house was as lovely as I had heard it to be, and is still well-maintained.
The ‘Mehman-navazi’ for which Sind is famous for, still exists today and I observed that the Sindhis strive to stand apart from their Pakistani counterparts by wearing a typical quaintly embroidered cap. I saw the other landmarks like the fort, remains of the Mir’s palace inside the fort, the Katcha fort, the Homestead Hall. The Civil hospital, The Hirabad Jail, Vidyalaya, The Convent with its new constructed wall, The Nanikram Hall, The Shahi Bazar (narrower now) , The Das Garden, and the collapsed remains of the Nanikram School.
They all stand as a reminder of a past which will not return, but which no-one can take away as belonging to us-The Hindu Sindhis. A famous Sindhi singer in Pakistan sings today: “Umar desh pehenjo visaaran dukhyo aa!” ( It is surely difficult to forget ones land). I wonder if we would have still lived in Hyderabad Sind if partition would not have taken place, and I feel yes! We would have made Hyderabad our home centre just like today Bombay is.
But what happened-happened. Who is to argue?
On my return to Bombay, I felt I was coming home. Bombay is home now. It was good to be absorbed amongst the Hindus, the Catholics, Zoroastrians, Muslims etc. here. one is that much more enriched living in a colorful combination of cultures
However, though Bombay is the branch of the tree on which I happily sit, Hyderabad in Pakistan is the roots. How can one forget that? Both are important. Roots and branches to make a tree live and prosper. and a complete human being blossom.
Note. I said human being. Not Sindhi, not Indian. And a human being belongs to humanity and the essence of God shines in him just as brightly as in anybody else-no matter where he geographically comes from.
The Khiani Mansion at Tilakchaari that has been converted to a hospital
Shakun Narain Kimatrai
Visit to Saigon
Ho Chi Minh City
My son Sunder had gone to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.
He called his father, my husband Narain who guided him as to how to get to ‘our place’ after 35 yrs. The name is still there…you will find it in the 2nd photograph…
So many memories…nostalgic…My son Sunder was about 3 yrs old then…but he says he remembers briefly…follow his notes…
Here is the building as I took its picture this morning (luckily got there before the rain started in the afternoon). At night the area becomes a night market and is quite different. You can see the adjoining buildings are newer. It still is a very congested and traditional part of the city.
By the way Papa – the floating restaurants at the end of Flower Street are no longer there. One of my local companions said that most older residents know the old name of the lane as Tha Thu Thau as it is a well known market street – however younger residents and those from upcountry do not.
The company name below the 2nd floor balcony. This is the one that is most visible.
The building next door looks relatively newish to me. There is a jewelry store on the ground floor. Is this where the cafe used to be ?
A closer look at the shops on the ground floor on the Phan Boi Chau side – they have been subdivided and it seems that each one as its own loft. One sells textiles, another sports shoes (which goes deeper inside) and a snack bar as you can see. You can see “J. KIMAT” and then the company name is covered. Most of the buildings on the street seem newer and have their original names (if they still exist) covered up by signboards.
And this is the Tha Thu Thau side – hard to find the entrance to the building. To be honest I could not. Each one is an individual stall.
You can see the company name visible above the awning. It is also visible on the upper floor…