Gaytri Lakhani Chawal (India) is an award-winning poet, translator and French teacher from Mumbai. Her poems have been published in International anthologies and journals such as The American Poetry Anthology, The Indian P.E.N., Modern Poetry Translation, The Bombay Review and Narrow Road.’ Her poems are featured in Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians by Sahitya Akademi, The Kali Project, Yearbook of Indian Poetry in English.
His passport still read
Name-Daulat Mulchand Lakhiani
born - 1930
place - Ghadi Khata
State - Karachi of Undivided India,
Daulat looked around, the house was quiet, Dada and Amma were in their bedroom. It was a late Friday evening and the night azan still resonated in his ears from the hill afar, Daulat stood at the corner window of his room on the second floor. His mind travelled to their ancestral building located at Ghadi Khata, they had just shifted this year to a bigger house with three storeys at Jamshed Quarters in the posh city of Karachi (now Pakistan). He reminisced the crystal granules of sand which always left their mark on the steps of their simple house in the village of Manjhu.
Manjhu village was located in the district of Jamshoro. It was two kilometres away from the Indus River. The closest railway station was Unarpur. This was home to Daulat a place of his own with his parents and siblings. He had learned to read and write and the first thing he had learned was his address-his way back home, he repeated it in a sing song way again and again till he could proudly recite it almost like a poem gracefully atop the wicker chair of the local school.
Daulat had completed his schooling at Premier High School, he was good in Mathematics and this year he had done exceptionally well. He was the fifth of the nine siblings; they were 2 girls and 7 boys making them a family of eleven. The year was 1947; an important year for two nations and millions of people whose lives got disrupted and disturbed with the partition of India. The family took their decision to shift to Karachi in the mid-30s. The children were growing and Karachi was a flourishing modern city with colleges and libraries. Karachi was the capital of Sindh and was known for its natural port. A lot of commercial trade took place in Karachi as it was well equipped with resources for business.
The bungalow at Jamshed Quarters had three storeys which consisted of bedroom chambers for Dada and Amma and children’s bedrooms. The ground floor had a huge kitchen which was a plethora of aromas of Sindhi cuisine. The shelves carried earthen pots and clanking pans rested on a small kitchen cabinet. A splendid collection of spices like cumin seeds, asafoetida, turmeric, coriander and dried mango powder boastfully sat in ochre and cream ceramic jars. It was here that Amma spent most of her time cooking delectable sumptuous meals for the family and of course giving orders to the rasoiwala Ramu . The bungalow at Jamshed Quarters had orchards of chikoos and guavas and right in the middle of the mango trees grew a well-kept vegetable garden. Daulat and his group of cousins often played chor police in the courtyard of their new home. Afternoons were spent climbing mango trees and playing in the badminton court that the family owned. Outside there were two garages and the servant quarters. Ramu used to live in one of them; he was a lanky teenager who was living with them since the last two years. He was from Larkana and had come to Karachi for work. Ramu was not only a clever cook but also a connoisseur of Sindhi foods. He had a flair for knowing which ingredient was missing just by looking at the colour. “Ramu, come here what have I forgotten to add in this papad dough?” Amma would ask on days when her mind just wouldn’t work “Ammaji black pepper” Ramu would promptly answer. “Just sprinkle some and help me roll them we must dry them in the terrace this afternoon” Amma would say rolling out roundlets of the dough, how she made a perfect circle was indeed an art that she had mastered.
The terrace was Ramu’s favourite abode, given a choice he would have lived there, spending hours spreading old bedsheets in order to dry papads and staring at Mummal. Mummal was the only daughter of Ayaz bhai who was their neighbour Dwarkadas’s driver. She often spent time cleaning the terrace and drying clothes on the terrace. The children must have noticed how tongue tied Ramu would get in front of her, “Ramu look up the moon is out” they would tease as Ramu would turn crimson.
‘Dama dam mast kalandar’ played on the radio of the neighbouring building, Daulat looked up it was a full moon, and a dark night, the smell of mogra flowers put his restless mind to peace. The Victoria stood in the garage next to black Standard 14 car which was bought last month after his matriculation. “Daulat has fared brilliantly and we deserve a car now” Dada had said to Amma who seemed fazed with the splurging of money especially at times like this. “Heda why don’t you understand we have so many expenses why should we add another one,” she asked in a worried tone, but Dada was insistent on buying a fancy automobile after all they were reputed zamindars. Daulat’s grandfather Lilaram Tilokchand Lakhiani was the man who had laid the foundation stone for Karachi Cotton Exchange. Their family business consisted of two huge ginning factories, import and export of cotton and lands of wheat, pulses and rice in the District of Dadu.
The seeds of migration were soon planted in these vast fields of wheat and rice. The year 1947 was a dark and tragic year for humanity. Partition infused a loss of country and an infinite deep-rooted suffering of separation from their culture and land of ancestors. During the partition almost 6 million Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India. Among these were the Hindu Sindhis who also came to the shores of India as refugees. The Hindu Sindhis led a content life and had good relations with the Muslims in Pakistan. They lived peacefully respecting each other’s differences and a sense of security prevailed. Alas! After the Independence of India there was a wave of turmoil. News broke out that it would be safer to leave since there were so many Muslims from India migrating to Pakistan. Then one day violence was reported in the city of Karachi and it was never the same after that day. Sindhis lived in a constant shadow of uncertainty and a filthy grey smog of change hovered the air.
It was just a matter of time when the Lakhiani family like many others would leave their country and move to the shores of another. Daulat had overheard Dada talk to Amma few months back, “I’m not going to leave” cried a resilient Amma, “I have everything here, my parents and my family. Why should I leave? I was born in this country and I shall die here,” “Now don’t be difficult” said a disheartened Dada who resented the very thought of uprooting his entire family from the homeland they were born into. His heart ached with the thought of separation from his homeland, how could one survive in a constant state of non-existence he wondered, but the fact remained that the ugly truth of partition is something they would have to face haplessly.
The argument went on for months sometimes during teatime while they ate sanna pakodas and coriander chutney with sweet chai, Ramu had strict orders to serve both piping hot. Dada and Amma would speak in low tones then suddenly Amma would get annoyed and say “No I will never,” but mostly they had arguments late at night when they felt the children were fast asleep to listen to their emotional outburst.
Daulat tried to catch the last paragraph of the lilting song, it was a well-known Sindhi song composed in the honor of Shahbaz Qalander and Jhulelal. The song was originally written by poet Aamir Khushro and then modified by Sufi poet Bulleh Shah. He suddenly felt pangs of anxiety and uncontrollable feeling of isolation. He had studied about the Sufi poets Abdul Shah Latif and Sachal and was proud to be born in the same sandy terrains of Sindh, but tonight he was pensive with the thought of parting. How could he leave his school and neighbourhood? What would happen to his mohalla friends? Will this be goodbye forever? Little did young Daulat know that tonight would be his last night at Karachi. The year was 1947 the date unforgettable it was a Friday.
The shrilling telephone broke the silence of his thoughts, Dada hustled out of his room to pick up the phone “Hello yes Dwarkadas, is all well at your end?” a hoarse voice at the other end replied “Mulchand Bhai the ship is here everything is ready it's time to leave.” “O Jhulelal!” said Dada with a gulp in his throat “Is it really time?” His hand trembled as he called out to Amma, “Heda We need to wake up the children.” Amma looked at him anxiously as he told her to carry just the basic necessities, “Daulat beta wake up your brothers and sisters, don't panic everything is going to be alright’ said Dada “we are all safe” but Daulat was quick to notice that his father looked twice his age the frown lines seemed deep and prominent. Dada was a man of stoic stature and incredible patience. It was hideous to see how political crisis and change had reduced him to a helpless man reacting to the critical situation. He always wore his black trousers a little higher than his waist and his crisp seashell white shirts mostly half sleeves to work. Tonight, in his kurta pyjama he looked disoriented and tired. While Dada started gathering the documents for travel Daulat walked over to his bedroom to wake up his elder brothers first; the younger ones would be woken up last after the initial feeling had sunk in. The family got into a rhythmic chaos to pack their basics into two large suitcases. Amma had already packed some necessities last week it was easier to give in then to fight against something as mortal as this. Pots and pans were left behind along with the four poster beds and glass cabinets. “They will be shipped in the next round” Dada said looking at his gold watch, they couldn’t afford to be late tonight, the ship was leaving at 11.30 p.m. sharp. With all the lights switched on Jamshed Quarters looked pretty it looked like it was Diwali even though one was mourning as in Moharram. Inside Jamdhed Quaters there was an unconscious wave of empathy that everyone developed for things that were being left behind. Younger children were arguing about which toys to be taken while the older ones sulked over books and clothes. The ambience was tense and Amma kept calling her eldest daughter every five minutes. Amma hated travel of any kind; it worked like a nervous drug on her, making her restless for the whole day. She ushered Ramu to pack kokis, kutti and papad for the journey, they would require more than just strength to get through this night. Her collection of pickled onions, lotus stem and carrots were already packed separately in glass jars; this was her alter ego she couldn't leave it behind.
Ramu makes a heap of kokis of all kinds: with onions, with black pepper, salt, plain kokis without onion for the children, he gets busy making papads on the fire, he plans to put them in an airtight container. His hands work meticulously his mind travels to the terrace, he impulsively packs some in an old newspaper. “Ramu get the beddings from the terrace” shouts Amma her voice a little chocked. The terrace is dark except for one corner light that attracts the evening moths. Ramu looks out straining his neck to catch a glimpse of Mummal. He doesn’t have to strain too much a petite shadow is already standing at the neighbouring terrace. “Mummal” Ramu says realizing this is the first time he has said her name aloud. “I am leaving for India tonight with my family, I have come to say goodbye.” “Did you know I would be here waiting” says Mummal in a hush voice, “always” said Ramu looking at her rapt face. “My family has decided to migrate to India with the other Sindhis. What are you going to do?” He was hoping she would elope with him but he knew this only happened in the movies. Mummal adjusted her dupatta on the head and replied “You know, we cannot leave this place my father has decided to stay back in Pakistan.” She lowered her head and her eyes moved to the crowd gathering on other roof tops of neighbouring houses, everyone was packing and gathering essential things. It was indeed time for goodbye, lost in her thoughts she does not notice a silhouette approach her. She wasn’t surprised to see Ramu beside her; he had climbed the branch of the mango tree connecting the two terraces. “I shall miss you, here I have something for you” says Ramu offering her a bundle of kokis wrapped haphazardly in a newspaper. “I thought I should treat you to your favourite savouries one last time”. Their fingers brush, it’s a sweet bitter feeling of separation, for a moment Mummal is Ramu’s shining star from the black and white movies, they whisper promises to write to each other endless love letters and part heartbroken.
The Keemari port at Karachi was three kilometres from Jamshed Quarters. It was from here that the cargo ship would disembark. It was going to be a thirty-six-hour journey across the shores to India. There were numerous Sindhi families leaving the shores of Pakistan that night. The streets were abuzz with activity.
Back home, the children were leaving for the port in a huge camel cart and the rest of the family was going to follow by Victoria. “Beta Daulat, be with your brothers and sisters stay close together children,” said Dada rechecking the official documents and gently nudging Amma to leave the house. Amma stepped out into the veranda feeling a sense of void, her eyes a sea of emotions, her mind empty, a feeling of numbness inside.
Daulat stood outside the metal gates of Jamshed Quarters looking at the name plate on the red wall next to the wild creepers and mogra plants. He reached out to touch it one last time, he hadn’t noticed that the letters flow almost musically in a classical font. He thought of the lesson of life he had learned, how difficult it is to detach oneself, how difficult it is to disconnect from the only place he knows called home, and still how one is always linked to another in form of place in mind, body and spirit, how he would forever etch the name Jamshed Quarters in his heart long after it belonged to another in a country once his own below the indigo blue skies.
Mohalla- an area or town, a community
chor police- a game of thieves and police
Azan- the Islamic call to prayer
Koki-a typical Sindhi flatbread made of wheat flour
Ammaji- a name given to an elderly lady
Papad- thin crispy Indian preparation sometimes described as a cracker or flatbread
Kutti- Sindhi breakfast made of wheat flour
Dadu- a district in Sindh
Dada- elderly man
Heda- dear in Sindhi
Rasoiwala – Cook
sanna pakodas – Fried Savory snack
Jhulelal-The Ishta Dev of the Sindhi community
Kurta pyjama- nightwear
Sindh 1947 is my father’s story; it is about the chaos and displacement of existence on leaving one’s homeland and how a perfectly normal day can change one’s life and fate forever. It has traces of nostalgia and love for a place lost in the mirage of time. The story is seen from the eyes of a teenager, a day in the life of his home in Sindh. Sindhis as a community have progressed since but the internal turmoil of search for oneself has scarred their lives forever.