Chapter 15

The Business of Being Sindhi

The following article was submitted on Sindhi-net by Anil Balchandani
on 27.5.98

I do remember my husband and myself being interviewed by Sifra  in 1997, but I do not remember reading the article.

I express my gratitude to Vimla Raisinghani, Sindh-net and Anil Balchandani, who were instrumental in bringing the article to my notice.

Shakun Narain

Anil Balchandani writes:

BRIEF: Here is an article I found, to my surprise, in the Indo-American News, a small Houston based weekly. It talks about some of the better known Sindhi Hindu families and their accomplishments against adversity.

The Business of Being Sindhi

The Sindhi community, uprooted during India’s partition, now girdles the globe and figures prominently in business enterprises worldwide.

By Sifra Samuel Lentin

“There’s a joke that when man first lands on Mars he’ll find a Sindhi shop. Furthermore the shopkeeper will already have staked out his territory on the Red Planet.”
The teller of the joke is Indian businessman Srichand Hinduja, 62, whose family of indefatigable traders is one of the best known in India.

The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, recently ranked Srichand, alongside his brother Gopichand, 55, as Britain’s 11th richest man, with an estimated net worth of 1.7billion. Beyond that, they are the chief representatives of the Sindhi community, 250,000 of whom were uprooted from their homeland in modern Pakistan and forced to virtually reinvent themselves after India’s Partition in 1947.

The joke hides a bitter reality. Today, fifty years after the exodus, the Sindhis, who trace their roots back 5,600 years to the Indus valley civilization, are a stateless people.

Partition divided the sub-continent and overnight, Sind with its bustling capitals of Karachi and Hyderabad, joined Pakistan.

In the enormous exchange of populations that took place soon after India won independence from Britain, the enterprising seafaring Sindhis, many of them Hindus marooned in a Muslim land, left their homes to come to largely Hindu India. Only a very few were able to carry away with them anything more than the clothes on their backs.

Today, the Sindhi network girdles the globe, stretching from Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong through the Middle East to Africa and Gibraltar, and across Britain and Europe to the U.S. and Latin America. “We lost considerably with Partition” said Narain Kimatrai, 60, whose mercantile family forced to flee its magnificent ancestral home in Hyderabad.
“While the Muslim Sindhis were unaffected,” said his wife, Shakun Narain Kimatrai, 53, who grew up in Spain but wrote four books on Sindhi culture and religion, “We lost our homeland and have never heard Sindhi spoken on the streets again.” Some were saved by their overseas business enterprises. “Sindhis like our family had diversified even before Partition,” Hinduja said. “Since 1919 we shifted to Bombay and only a small part of our assets were in Shikarpur (Pakistan).”

In the years that followed, as India adopted a closed socialist model of economic development, the Hindujas went on to make their fortunes trading in Iran.

Yet others travelled further afield and rose to prominence in different nations – B.K. Murjani and Dr. Hari Harilela in Hong Kong, Manubhai Madhvani (sindhi?) in Uganda, Tan Sri Kishu Tirathrai in Malaysia, Chief Harkishin B. Chanrai in Nigeria.

“The first overseas J.Kimatrai & Co. office was established in Rangoon (Burma) in 1896,” said Kimatrai. “Thereafter, we had many branches worldwide.” These networks needed trusted personnel to man them, and so a wave of relatives joined the diaspora.

In India, Sindhis are widely perceived as having an inborn flair for business. “The interest earned on wealth is like a good racing horse,” is a favorite Sindhi proverb.

“We have always been known to go out and make a buck,” said Manhattan-based businessman Mithoo Mahtani.

But all through their years of wandering, the Sindhis have clutched tightly to family, cultural and social ties. “I believe Sindhis will never lose their identity because they firmly believe in their culture and religious identity,” Hinduja said.