India@70: Where are the Partition memories of the Sindhis?
There is an absence of Sindhi voices in Partition memory projects that explain why the community jettisoned the past and invested in moving onUpdated: Sep 07, 2017 17:32 IST
Partition, that mammoth event, 70 years of which we are currently memorialising is a noisy theatre in my head. Directed by the anguish of my late writer parents, its manic characters – the Sindhu river for instance – would perform through sentimental storytelling. Since then, it has remained an incredible psychological predicament.
It reared its hydra head again in these last few weeks. With some exceptions in Mumbai, current photo exhibitions, seminars, memory and museum projects in the context of India@70, show an absence of the Sindhi experience after Partition. Accounts of loss from Punjab broadly dominate the narratives with some oral histories from Bengal. So yes, unlike Bengal and Punjab, Sindh was not split into two, but about 1.2 million Sindhi Hindus, fled to India during Partition and would never again have a land to call their own.
Their post-Partition existence defined by what writer Nandita Bhavnani calls “a deliberate jettisoning of the past” deserve a podium right now. But no Sindhi voice that is singeing yet unsentimental, done with the past and explains why the Sindhi Hindu minority invested in modernity and moving on, in turning loss into gain, choosing in the bargain to distance themselves from their language, literature and culture has been given that space. A voice that analyses why new Sindhi literature suffers from a serious famine of talent and interest; that there are almost no translations of poetry or short stories from the progressive period of Sindhi literature (1950-1970) that occupied itself with Partition. That most young or middle aged Sindhis can’t speak, read or write their language. Why contemporary Sindhi literature is so hard to define or the near total absence of an audience for Sindhi seminars hard to explain even though the Sahitya Akademi officially supports 25 plus literary events every year. “Today if I were asked to commission a modern anthology on the filtered idea of Partition that defines present day Sindhi identity, I wouldn’t find even six writers for it,” says poet and playright Prem Prakash, also convenor of the Sindhi Sahitya Akademi.
Some will say that even the Sindhi Muslims from the Banni district of the Kutch border or Sindhi Sikhs (often confused with Punjabi Sardars) deserve a role in the Partition narration after 70 years. Right, they do.
In effect, Partition podiums have not been snatched from Sindhis. Even the Indian Institute of Sindhology in Adipur in Kutch, the only such centre that enables doctoral research, archives linguistic tools and scripts, music, songs, drama and literature by and of Sindhis before and after Partition isn’t dialing into these India@70 Partition fests. Nor are other Sindhi forums in India and abroad.
Isn’t it also curious that Sindhi filmmaker Ramesh Sippy made the hit TV serial Buniyaad in 1986 focused on the partition psychosis of Punjabis as did Govind Nihalani with his 1988 film Tamas?
Such befuddling realities have been studied as “a story of courage, determination and hard work that displays a refreshing absence of self-pity” in Bhavnani’s book The Making of Exile. Other compelling angles have been explored by author Rita Kothari. In an article for Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), she talks about the “hardened Sindhi identity”. “When you meet Sindhis this forgetting (of loss) does not come across as repressed memory, but as a pragmatic and mercantile decision to move ahead with life,” writes Kothari. She also explains why the syncretic Sindhis of pre-colonial India who chose Sufism from Islam and Guru Nanak’s Sikhism without the Khalsa element allowed the anti-Muslim sentiment to take over their political choices in India. In another study on Gujarat, Kothari talks about the “shame” Sindhis experienced over their identity having been labeled “like Muslims” by Jain and other communities.
High time perhaps that the Raichandani who chose to become “Rai” or the Sipahimalani who turned into a “Sippy” and all caricaturised Sindhis selling ice to Eskimos get an unbiased deconstruction.
Irony now displaces the funny satire of my own nickname: Sindhi Crawford.
Shefalee Vasudev is a fashion journalist and author
The views expressed are personal