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Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Sindh: By Najmul Hasan

In the winter of 1947, Dr. Umar bin Mohammad Daudpota, the Director of Public Instructions, Sindh had sent a message instructing my father to reach Shikarpur, Sindh, where he would be posted as a lecturer at C&S Government College.

We had to flee our home in such a hurry that we just had our clothes on but my mother ran back to the house, at the risk of her life, and brought back a (Potli) bundle containing her jewelry, some cash and some important papers including diaries of my father and grandfather. We, (my self, my two elder brothers, and my parents) had traveled by train via Khokhrapar border. At some junction, my father had gone out in the town and bought two ' Lihaf ' and two thin ' Razai ', to ward off the cold air seeping through the windows of our third class compartment. Just before that, a Hindu family had given us a thick Khaddar Chadar to wrap around the children.

We reach Shikarpur:

We arrived in Shikarpur, changing trains at Hyderabad and Kotri. Throughout the way, my mother kept on teasing my father that ultimately he was taking us to his real place-‘Shikarpur’. The joke was that a town with a similar name in UP was known as a ‘Town of Fools’. My father kept on refuting that and saying that ‘this town is one of the most developed towns of Sindh and the very fact that it has a college, several schools including one for girls and two hospitals, it can not belong to fools and does not have any semblance with the Shikarpur of UP’.

Shikarpur. Photo, courtesy Abid Ali Kamboh's blog
We reach Shikarpur around four in the morning. By the time my father went outside the station to find out where we can go, the last 'Taanga' was gone. The stationmaster comes to our rescue and opens the upper class waiting room for us, brings his 'Angeethi' and extra coal to warm up the room. Late in the morning, the attendant will warm up the water in buckets on the same 'angeethi' for all of us to wash up and later have breakfast of tea and 'Papay' (a kind of toast) from the station tea stall.

The stationmaster called a 'Taangaywala' and instructed him to take my father to Arbab Ali Shah who will help us. Father comes back within an hour accompanied by a burly, clean-shaved man with a huge 'Pagri' on his head. My father introduces me and my brothers to him. He talks to us very fondly in chaste Urdu. Later on we will find out that Arbab Ali Shah was an Aligarhian dropout as he ran away to Bombay to become an actor, but with no luck.  

Photo, courtesy 'My Shikarpur' Facebook page
He becomes sympathetic when he finds out that we had no luggage with us. There are two beautifully decorated Taangas outside the station. My father and one of the brothers sit in one with Shah sahib, while my mother, my elder brother and I occupy the other. The tree-lined road is very clean, with neat footpaths on both sides. Just before turning right, on the crossing is Dr. Holland Eye hospital. As we cross the railway phatak, we see a big complex with many buildings on our left. It is the Civil Hospital constructed by a Hindu philanthropist Rao Bahadur Udhawdas Tarachand. On our right is the Government Boys High School and again on the left are the other two buildings of the same high school. Both sides of the road are dotted with beautiful houses and other buildings. Then just before the slope is a Petrol pump, where a jeep is being filled. There are two big glass bottles on top of the pump. Each is a gallon. A guy is moving a handle from right to left to right, filling one gallon at one time and emptying the other in the jeep. Shah sahib seems to be very well respected. Both the pump guy and the jeep driver raise their hands for ‘salaam’.

Rao Bahadur Udhawdas Tarachand Hospital. Photo courtesy 'My Shikarpur' Facebook page
Just down the slope to our right is Jumani Hall, a huge building with lush lawns on both sides of the path. Before the Lakhidar Chowk is a beautiful park. Even in the winter, we can see flowers and manicured hedges. And neat buildings, housing hotels, a cinema and shops surround the roundabout around the Ghanta Ghar.

This is my first introduction to my Shikarpur, which might be a 'town of fools' in UP, but here it is a most developed town brimming with activities, trade and education. I will grow up here, run in the streets, learn to read and write, learn to swim and teach swimming to kids, learn to respect and be respected and learn to love and be loved. I think I am being carried away with emotions. Better come to the point, for which I started writing all this.   

My mother is also awe-struck with the beauty and magnificence of this little town and she is watching all this, holding up her veil, until she realizes there are people all around us and puts it back. Our Taangas come to a stop near a big compound. At the corner is a small mosque and in the center, a tall thick ‘Alam’. This is Shah Sahib's abode. I go inside the house with my mother, where all the ladies of the family live. My brothers stay in the adjoining Autaq (men's living room) with my father. Shah Sahib has come inside the house and is introducing my mother to his wife and other girls, who all seem to be waiting for us. After rapidly instructing his wife in Sindhi, Shah sahib leaves the ladies’ quarters. Shah sahib's wife lovingly hugs my mother, gestures her to take off the burqa and we all walk into a big room. Within minutes, a lady brings a bunch of clothes, two or three pairs of shalwar and qamees, all new. She starts opening the folds and starts measuring those one by one on my mother. My mother starts sobbing at which both ladies try to comfort her but she becomes hysterical. A younger lady jumps and brings in water. It took quite a while for my mother to calm down. She is ushered into a bathroom on the other side of the compound.

Meanwhile, I hear my elder brother calling me from outside. There is Ada Niaz - ‘Niaz Bhai’ - the tailor master, a recent émigré, he is going to sew our clothes on an urgent basis. I am going too much into details. But the purpose is to tell you all, the kind of care those simple Sindhis took of total strangers.  

The next three days, we stayed with Shah sahib. Meanwhile he is taking my father out to introduce him to almost every body in the town. They took him around various houses the Hindus had left behind, ultimately selecting one huge three-storied house for us. Later we will shift to a smaller house but for few years this is our home. Within a week or so, my father and my brothers become part of this volunteer brigade. They know all the vacant houses, so they will take the new comers to the appropriate house, according to the size of the family. Arbab Shah, Wadera Nazir Moghal and a number of others have taken the supervisory position. In the meantime, on my father's suggestion, the so-called committee of elders has selected a huge compound near the Police station with rooms all around. It has been chosen as an interim house. Families of the new arrivals will stay here till they are comfortably settled in some permanent place.

Shams-ul-Ulama, Dr Umar bin Mohammad Daudpoto
After a month or so, my father goes to Karachi to meet Dr. Daudpota, who informs him that because of the budgetary constraints, he will have to wait for his appointment. Dejected and worried, my father returns to Shikarpur, but is soon immersed into bigger problems - helping the never ending influx of refugees and their rehabilitation. Shah sahib asks him about money situation and offers help. My father refuses. By the evening two big bags, full of wheat and rice arrive. My elder brother asks the guys about who sent the bags? They don't know. They have orders to drop the wheat and rice at this house. My father will come to know about the bags' mystery much later. Shah sahib had lamented in the company of some friends that my father has not yet got the job. So one of them, a landlord, sent the produce.

Three more months passed. Just opposite our house lives Himmat Ali Shah. His wife has become a friend of my mother. I will sometimes go with her. The two and many other ladies chatted every day for hours. My mother speaking Urdu and all of them speaking Sindhi. But they understood each other very well. My mother is picking up some words of Sindhi and they are using Urdu. Amazing!

One day my mother asked Himmat Ali Shah's wife, if she knows of any jewelers?  She says yes of course. My mother tells her she wants to sell some bangles. She says you don't have to. How much money you need? My mother refuses and insists on selling the bangles. The next day Mrs. Himmat gives her 350 rupees saying that the bangles were pretty thick and heavy, but you know these jewelers. They will never give the right price. Gold in those days was around sixty rupees a tola (100 grams).

Menu in our house those days used to be Khichri (rice and lentils) for lunch, any daal or vegetables with bread for dinner. Meat, once a week. How much meat my brother used to bring from the market? Half a pound. Aik Pao for all five of us. My mother will mix potatoes, bhindi (okra) Gobhi (Cauliflower) with meat to make it more filling. Once in a while we will have minced meat, but that too with potatoes or peas.

C & S Govt. College, Shikarpur. Photo, courtesy 'My Shikarpur' Facebook page
Three more months. Still no word from Karachi. My father has started visiting the Government College. The principal, Arif Ali Shah Gilani is very sympathetic, but cannot do any thing. In the meantime, there have been many appointments. Ziauddin sahib, Akhtar Raza, Hasnain Kazmi, and many demonstrators. No letter for my father. Gilani sahib suggests my father should go to Karachi and ask Dr. Daudpota. Father is worried. How to go to Karachi? There is no money. He talks to my mother, who says he must go immediately. But how?  How? By train. I will give you the money. Father is flabbergasted. How much you saved in India? Mother just laughs. But rushes to Himmat Ali Shahs'. This time bracelets will bring three hundred rupees by the evening. Mother cries. But no body knows the reason. Only I knew.

Father leaves for Karachi the very next day. Dr. Daudpota says he signed his letter of appointment last month. He asks for the file but there is no copy of the appointment letter in the file. Those were hectic days. Every thing was in a mess. Father returns with the good news, a back dated appointment letter, in his hand.

You must be getting bored with all my details. Let me conclude the story: Two years later, Mrs. Himmat asked my mother: Are you saving any money or ....? No. No, I always save, my mother replied in Sindhi. She can now speak the language haltingly. Why are you asking? Actually, I needed some money. Can you spare some? Yes, yes, of course. All of it. I will be back in a jiffy.

My mother returned and gave Mrs. Himmat 500 rupees. Mrs. Himmat gives her back one hundred rupees. Goes inside and comes out with a silken handkerchief tied neatly. A small ' Potli '. 'Take this. You can give me the 250 rupees later on’.

My mother started crying. For hours. Nobody could stop her.

Najmul Hasan is a print and TV journalist. He did his B.A. from C&S Government College, Shikarpur and M.A. from Karachi University. He started his journalistic career with PPI (Pakistan Press International News Agency) in 1964, joined daily The Sun since it started publication and joined PTV as News Producer in 1973. In 1986, he migrated to USA and did a Pakistani TV show for about 17 years in New York. Now he lives in Toronto-ON, Canada.

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