When I was a child, our lives revolved around board games, books, encyclopedias, and general knowledge quizzes. There was this series of coloring books that told you about the different kinds of birds, animals, continents, and even about India. There was a write-up on Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Holi, Baisakhi, and lots of other harvest festivals. Although we did celebrate Holi and Diwali at home, I noticed there were no other festivals in the book that I knew about. There was no Chetichand, no Teejri, no Thadri, no Laal Loi which were staples in my house. None of my friends had any value for these festivals and as a child, I just assumed these were ‘not so important’ festivals because otherwise, my books would have mentioned it.
A few years later, I noticed another thing. When we celebrated the Chetichand Mela, I saw hundreds of people singing and dancing to laadas on the ground. Sindhi weddings were always filled with familiar faces conversing in distinguished dialects. Even my residential complex had 10-12 Sindhi families and we would exchange food and celebrate all our festivals together praying to Lord Jhulelal. At Sadhu Vaswani Mission, everyone sang bhajans in Sindhi and heard upadesh asking us to not forget our mother tongue – the sweetest language of all. All this was one world for me. So culturally rich and together.
I grew up in Pune, which is known to be the cultural capital of Maharashtra. I went to a school with a church and chapel and we said “Our father who art in heaven” every morning. Most of my friends did not even know who Sindhis were. “Where are you from?” they would ask me. I would tell them my family is from Pune and my grandparents came here during the partition. The coloring books did not mention our culture, and naturally, it was unknown to almost everyone around me. The only time I could explain my roots to everyone was in history class. We were studying the Indus Valley civilization. I remembered I raised my hand the most in class that day because I knew everything there was to know about an ancient civilization located in the Sindh Province of Pakistan. This was another world for me where no one knew anything about my roots.
Well, to sum up, I grew up with a cultural identity crisis. I was divided into two parts. Half of me was culturally feeling very excited about my heritage but the other half was confused because no one outside my community knew anything about my culture.
In some conversations with my grandparents I realized, our entire community was living in this identity crisis. My grandparent’s generation must have had to question themselves every day. Who are we? While the situation during the partition was very unstable in multiple parts of the North-Western Border of India, from the stories I heard, it wasn’t so bad near the Sindh Province. There weren’t many riots but thousands and lakhs of Hindu Sindhis had to pack wherever they could carry and leave their homeland. They left behind everything, their houses, their lands, their assets, their families, and most importantly their identities. They came to India on foot like my nana, some by train, and some even by the sea like my dada-dadi. My nana’s family was very well off, but when they came here, they had absolutely nothing.
That generation experienced the loss of leaving behind a stable life topped with the pressure to build a new one in a new land. From one land filled with their culture, they got scattered all across the country and were living in camps.
I remember seeing a short skit at Sadhu Vaswani Mission where a Sindhi man interacted with his wife in Hindi and his children in English. On the phone for business, he spoke in Gujarati, Marathi, and Bengali. Upon being asked, he said he had to learn those languages to connect better with the clients and build a stable relationship with them. That is when his mother asked him, why did he not speak in our mother tongue at home with his wife and children? Where did the connection, culture, and relationship go? (the skit was in Sindhi)
Sindhis have to live with the conscience of preserving their own culture and language while contributing to the community and country they are now a part of. It is the cold, hard truth of our lives. We have to work twice as hard to fit in while not fitting in completely.
I was on a student exchange program in Egypt for 2 months a few years back. I preferred to travel through the country on the weekends and as a result, I was meeting lots of new people on the regular. On one such trip, I introduced myself to a group of students, and as soon as I finished saying my name, one of the boys jumped up. “Oh My God! Are you Sindhi? I am too!” There were students from almost all continents in that room. The smartest and coolest people I could ever want to meet. But hearing those words, instantly brought a smile to my face. I was 5000kms away from home, but meeting a fellow Sindhi, brought on a different sense of joy.
Our clan built itself from the ground up. Not just business, but media, real estate, politics, education, healthcare, and the judiciary system have Sindhi’s on the top. The way I have seen our community come together in the last few months inspired me to write this blog and embrace my cultural identity. While the world forced us all to stay at home, every single day, we had something to watch, an event to attend, or just attend Satsang in Sindhi. I even watched an entire web series in our tongue. We dance to Dumadum Mast Kalandar in family zoom calls and all the women pray together on call for teejri. Thousands of Sindhi’s made videos of their Chetichand celebrations at home and took photos of daal-pakwan on the International daal-pakwan day. There are countless groups on Facebook and Whatsapp where Sindhi men and women are supporting and empowering each other.
We may be the Forgotten Sindhis but I can assure you, we have not forgotten we are Sindhi.