An interview with Fazil Jamili in Aman ki Asha on 28 May 2014: http://amankiasha.com/its-like-looking-into-a-mirror-for-the-first-time/
1. What was your
experience come twice in Karachi?
During my two short trips to Sindh, I experienced a wide spectrum of
feelings. One was the excitement of visiting a region that is so intimately a
part of our lives and yet forbidden to us. Another was frustration and
unhappiness with the difficulty of entering and the restrictions on free travel.
Yet another was the longing to visit an ancestral homeland, and delight at
doing so. A fourth was the fear of being in a country where we are officially
perceived as enemies. If war were to break out while we were visiting, what
would happen to us? Karachi has the reputation of being a violent and dangerous
place. However, most important of all has been the love that we were showered
I should also say that my first visit to Sindh was the most exciting
and most meaningful trip I have made in my life. The warmth and hospitality my
family and I received changed our feelings towards not just Pakistan but
towards humanity as a whole.
2. You got visa of Sukkur,
Larkana this time but couldn’t make it to visit these cities. What stopped you
to go and see your mother’s native village?
I was in Karachi in March 2014 to attend the seminar, Sindh through the centuries, organized
by Sindh Madrassetul Islam University. It was a fantastic experience with
scholars from all over the world, resulting in a lot of learning and
interaction. SMIU had courageously invited Indian writers and academics too,
and nine of us accepted. We were issued NOC for visa by Islamabad with the
request that we restrict our stay in Pakistan to the dates of the seminar.
Though I had a visa, it would have been an abuse of hospitality to stay on, and
I decided to visit Larkano, Sukkur and my mother’s native village on some other
trip, if at all.
3. When you told your
mother all the love you received here in Sindh. What was her reaction?
My mother and her siblings were very surprised but also happy to
hear about the love and all the messages to them from people in Sindh. In the past,
nobody in the family had ever spoken about Sindh. They had deliberately put it
out of their minds. So it was something new and totally unexpected. I felt a
lot of latent emotion in them. None of us said it aloud, but I think we all
missed my grandparents and wished there was a way for us to tell them about it.
4. As she is no more with
us. What are the feelings when you think about love and hate emotions towards
this vanished land?
My mother was a fiercely proud Sindhi all her life. When I was young,
these feelings were totally irrelevant to me. I never thought about her and her
family’s enormous loss and how bravely they had faced it, and only realised it
while I was writing the book. I then became very keen to travel to Sindh with
my mother. I told her many times that if we went, our experiences would make a
good last chapter to the book. She gave me many reasons for not wanting to go.
The one most relevant to answer your question is, “They threw us out! Why
should I go back!”
So the biggest benefit of my book was that it enabled her to
experience closure by reclaiming her lost childhood and by affirming her forgotten
link to Sindh.
Personally, I feel rudderless and demotivated to continue my Sindh
journey without my mother.
My mother was 79 years old, and she had lived a fairly comfortable
life, facing its challenges with courage. Her death was no tragedy. I was with
her as she left her body peacefully, smiling all the while. My mother was an
agnostic and there was no religious ritual in our home. But because I had
worked with her to write the book, I knew that the prayers she was taught as a
child were from the Sikh religion, and I arranged the memorial service and meal
in her memory at a Gurudwara. While I am deeply grateful for all these
blessings, I feel terrible that I lost her so suddenly. I was totally
unprepared. There were many, many questions that I wanted to ask her, always
assuming that I could do so later. If I write about Sindh and Sindhis, I will
always feel pain that she is not going to read and comment on it.
5. Do you think you are in
better position to understand Sindh and its people and can write another book
on this subject?
I have collected many more interesting stories and intend to compile
them into a sequel. Each of them gives a different insight into Sindh, the
Sindhi experience, and the Sindhi psyche.
In India we have a one-dimensional stereotype of Sindhis as
calculating and profit-oriented. Even when people speak positively about
Sindhis, they will use adjectives like ‘hardworking’ and ‘enterprising’ which
directly relate to this one-dimensional stereotype. When I visited Pakistan, I
saw that Sindhis there too are labelled in a limiting way, different but also deprecatory.
One reason why Sindhis are misunderstood is because they have a unique culture
which has been misunderstood. I feel that these stories will help people, in
particular the Sindhis themselves, to understand that unique culture.
6. Do you think India and
Pakistan can ever become good friends?
India and Pakistan were one land, one people with a common history
and cultural kinship.
How different are Bombay and Karachi, how different are Delhi and
Lahore? People look alike, they sound alike; their body language and core
ethics are similar.
When I travel to Calcutta, Delhi, Madras or other places in India,
things are similar but not quite the same as they are in Pune where I live. Often
there are strong regional variations. People can see from the way I dress and
speak that I have come from somewhere else. Yet they know that I am one of
them. Why can’t it be the same when I go to Karachi too?
It is vested interests which have kept us apart, and it would be
extremely difficult to overcome their power and wealth to become good friends.
7. Would you advise all
the Sindhis living in India once visit their homeland in their life?
Sadly, most of the migrant generation is no more. Those who lived in
Sindh and have memories of a lost childhood home would be over 70 years old. I
doubt if ALL of them would have sufficient motivation to tolerate the rigour of
the required paperwork and travel. As for younger Sindhis, they feel much more
rooted in the place where they live than their lost homeland. To my mind, for
them to come to terms with their identity, a visit to Sindh is only one of the
things they need to do, and not one of the most essential.
Having said this, I must also say that when an Indian Sindhi meets a
Pakistani Sindhi, for both of them it’s like looking into a mirror for the
first time. There’s a feeling of magic and wonder in the air, like when two
long-lost brothers suddenly find each other. It is a miraculous, amazing and uplifting
experience which I wish every Sindhi could have.
8. How the writers can
play a positive role in promoting peace.
Good-quality writing is enjoyable, but it is also much more than
that. Through it, readers come closer to understanding themselves. When we
understand ourselves better, we realise that one of the highest human
priorities is a safe and peaceful existence and a certain degree of comfort,
replete with human bonds of love.
9. Anything about Karachi
or Sindh you miss when you recall your visit to Pakistan?
What I miss most is easy access to Sindh. I wish I could travel
there whenever I felt like to spend time with my friends there, to enjoy the
shopping, and to wander down the streets thinking about my mother and my
grandparents and wishing I could share these moments with them.