The Qazi of bukkur

Excerpted from Sindh and its Sufis by Jethmal Parsram Gulrajani

A story is given about the Qazi of Bukkur who was a judge in the days of Jam Sanjar. This Qazi had a peculiar way of his own, he took bribes not from one party but from both. Jam Sanjar having received complaints sent for him personally and took him to task. The Qazi , although dishonest in his duties, was honest enough to confess. he said, “Yes, I do take bribes. If I could, I would extract money from the witnesses who leave the premises before the court closes.” The pious Jam could not help laughing. The Qazi continued : “Sire, with all this sin, and with all the hard work of the day, I am not able to keep hunger out of my house, and my wife and children suffer.” The Jam took a lesson from this and raised the salaries of his servants. The present British rulers of India ought also to take a lesson from Jam Sanjar. Their lower subordinates often receive too little salary and obviously interpret this as an inducement to take to irregular means of increasing it. The Sumras and the Sammas ruled for two centuries. Their territory extended from the sea coast far into the boundaries of hte Punjab. Tatta, their capital, which was a huge city, is not now an important town in Sind, but its vast ruins stretch out for many, many miles, and its Makli Hill still presents many an object of interest and study. History repeated itself and luxury corroded the foundations of prosperity. The immorality and laxity of the last kings weakened their strength; and like Dahar of old, Feroz the son of the great Jam Nando, having neglected his duties for worldly pleasures, lost his kingdom and seriously disgraced himself. But so it was destined to be!

Like looking into a mirror for the first time

An interview with Fazil Jamili in Aman ki Asha on 28 May 2014:

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 with.

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.

72 years ago, today

The opening of Visakhapatnam Port with the arrival of passenger ship S.S. Jaladurga in October 1933

This is an old story, but moves me every time I hear it. On 14 November 1947, the passenger ship SS Jaladurga arrived in Bombay after a two-day journey from Karachi, carrying evacuees from the newly-created nation of Pakistan. Most of the passengers on Jaladurga that day had never stepped outside Sindh before. They were entering a new life where they would stop speaking their language and set aside the traditions and stories of their ancestors.

Sixty-five years later, having asked my mother to tell me about her childhood, I was astounded to learn that, a thirteen-year-old at the time, she could still remember so many details of that journey, and even the date on which she had landed, with her parents and five siblings ranging in age from four to nineteen, in the strange new city where they would make their home.

This conversation led to many more, and I knew that I was listening to something special – something not many people knew. This filled me with the determination to start telling it! So I interviewed others, read books for contextual and supporting information and this is the book I wrote.

On 14 November 2012, we launched the book with a party for my mother’s family. Her cousins, some of whom I had never met before but whom she had been very close to in Sindh and were so happy to know that their story was being written down, were among the honoured guests that day.

Seven years have passed since that day. Sadly, my mother is no more. Happily, she had seen the very positive response the book, the story of her childhood, received . She had read the reviews and also travelled with me to participate in some of the prestigious events the book was invited for. I continue to listen to personal stories of people who once lived in Sindh, think about the experiences they went through, and talk and write about them.

A small glimpse of Sindh in 1930

I was less than five years old when I was watching a Hindu shopkeeper of our village weighing butter in the house next door to ours.

Ghulam Rasool , some nine years older than me, was standing in that house and he asked me to ask the shopkeeper: “Hoonda will you eat cow’s meat”?

I repeated the words. Hoonda left his weighing scale. He looked at me with anger. I was frightened and ran towards Ghulam Rasool’s house, but the thorny hedge prevented me from entering . Hoonda felt sorry for me. He picked me up, brought me out from the thorny brush and said: “Do not ever say that again”.

The next time he came to our house, I hid behind the sacks of grain. After he left, my mother told me: “He is a Hindu and they worship the cow as a mother. For them, slaughtering a cow and eating it is like you killing me and eating my flesh.”

I was horrified. I wanted to apologise. I had learnt how to offer an apology from my paternal uncle. When I played with his belongings, he would make me touch his feet and then stand waiting with my hands folded until he said “I forgive you”.

So I stopped outside the Hindu merchant’s shop and when I saw Hoonda coming out, I touched his feet and stood with folded hands before him. He immediately picked me up embraced me, gave me lot of sweet stuff to eat and told me “Now you are a good boy, but Ghulam Rasool is naughty. It was he who made you say those words.”

It was a lesson to respect other religions. Since then for me to disrespect any religion means that I slaughter my mother and eat her meat.

An excerpt from the memoirs of MH Panhwar (1925-2007). From a land-owning family of Sindh, MH Panhwar returned to Sindh with a Master’s in Agricultural Engineering University of Wisconsin USA in 1953. Professionally he specialized in groundwater development, earthmoving, agricultural machinery, water logging, salinity control drainage and agriculture. After twelve years as a government engineer, he set up his own consulting company specializing in irrigation, water logging, drainage,
agriculture, scientific equipment and horticulture. He was also a social worker and a passionate student of Sindh studies, and wrote a large number of books on
various subjects.

A note on the style guide used in ‘the amils of sindh’

This book follows a style on the spectrum between British and American usage, a middle-ground widely accepted in the globalization of the language. It chose the idiomatic flow of contemporary English, only slightly apprehensive about the cohorts of coiffed and elegantly bejewelled elderly Amil ladies armed with century-old textbooks of the British Raj, who might wince when confronted with a mix of usage such as ‘programme’, ‘organization’, ‘ton’ and others, in the same book.

To give the reader the experience of a historically authentic setting, place names have been retained as they were in the period presented. However, as a result, Bombay and Mumbai could well appear on the same page when two eras are referred to. Similarly, in some places, measurement uses the metric system but, with pounds and feet the standard in pre-Partition India, miles and kilometres nestle side by side.

Many institutions have evolved with time; today’s Congress Party does not feature in this book whereas the pre-Independence Indian National Congress (INC), the entity in which it has its earliest origins, certainly does. There is also an attempt, in this book, to inculcate shifts of perception: The displaced Hindus of Sindh did not come ‘to India’! They had always been in India. When they left it was because a new border had been created and they were forced to flee their homeland and cross it. The displaced Hindus of Sindh did not come ‘from Pakistan’! They fled their homeland because Pakistan had been created and, very unexpectedly, they were made to realise with threats of violence that there was no place in it for them.

On a similar note – to be a member of the Hyderabad or Karachi Municipal Corporation was a matter of high prestige; a recognition of mature authority and administrative competence, not at all the kind of sleazy opportunistic identity associated with a similar position in today’s India.

Photo captions in this book do not specify ‘left to right’ on the understanding that readers of English would instinctively know that.

Hyderabad, Sindh was generally known by the migrant generation as ‘Hyderabad, Sindh’. In this book, the historic capital of the Amils is referred to simply as ‘Hyderabad’ and readers will be alerted when other Hyderabads appear. Sindh was called Scinde, Sinde, and Sindy by the British. In this book, the contemporary spelling ‘Sindh’ is used; to call it ‘Sind’ could be considered on the lines of choosing Cawnpore over Kanpur.

1880 map of British India showing the province of ‘Sind’, with the town of Hyderabad marked in white. The province of Hyderabad, another place with the same name, can be seen in central India. In the present day, the latter comprises the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. These places have traditionally been distinguished as ‘Hyderabad, Sindh’ and ‘Hyderabad, Deccan’. In this book Hyderabad, Sindh is just ‘Hyderabad’.
Image Courtesy Veda Aggarwal

Using italics in a book written primarily for Indian readers can be treacherous to consistency with many commonly-used Indian words ending up inadvertently unitalicised. Words like sari, roti, chaddi and many more have long been accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary. Most of my previous work has been determinedly in straight face, supplemented with a glossary that describes Indian words, dated expressions and acronyms. In this book, however, I have applied a suggestion from the children’s writer Varsha Seshan and occasionally used a font that simulates Sindhi for Sindhi words and words to be pronounced with a Sindhi accent, and another which simulates Devnagari for words from other Indian languages. This device is applied with the purpose of gently nudging Sindhi readers towards their heritage. There is also a glossary, and all suggestions for additional entries to it will be gratefully accepted.

Some Indian words with standard English spellings have been modified to fit the Sindhi context: Brahman instead of Brahmin; mandar instead of mandir and in fact Shah jo Rasalo rather than Shah jo Risalo.

Writing Sindhi names in English is not easy and some families stepped away from previously established norms, going from Gidwani to Gidvani or Gidwaney, while others who fell victim to the pen of the admissions clerk became Malani even though their father spelt his name Malaney. Some families developed their own standards: Jotsingh would have an h at the end of his name if he was a Lalvani but if an Advani he would be simply Jotsing, the pronunciation remaining the same. Non-standard spellings in this book respect the spelling chosen by the bearer of the name. With ‘Sai’, ‘Sainjin’, ‘Saeenjin’ it is the devotees who chose spellings they were accustomed to; similarly it was their descendants who specified ‘Rao’ or ‘Rai’ Bahadur.

In some cases, however, it was necessary to make a choice. Jairamdas’s father appeared to be unanimously designated Daulatram even though the stamp and first day cover issued in his honour by the Indian Postal Department presented him as Doulatram. This book retains the former spelling. Narain Nebhraj Advanie wrote his uncle’s name as Bherumal Maharchand Advani; in the Kimatrai and Shamdasani Foundation translations he is Bherumal Mahirchand Advani. Sahitya Akademi sources cite him as Bherumal Meharchand Advani. Bherumal, introduced on page 669, is quoted widely throughout this book; the last spelling is used.

In terms of the people in the book, most are highly respected for their achievements. However – and no matter how esteemed and glorious – honorifics have not been used. Mr, Shrimati, Dr, Principal, Rai Bahadur have all been explained once where necessary and dropped thereafter; especially when referring to their early lives, where people are presented simply with the names their family elders would have known them by. It may be noted in this context that Mohandas is better judged for his words and actions without the ‘Mahatma’ label.

I have written this book for lay readers, with the purpose of creating a many-layered understanding of the Amils of Sindh. Attempting to present as much information as possible in an interesting and enjoyable format, I wrote it as a series of interlinked stories. For the many who will refer to it for specific data about their own families, indices have been prepared. These indices are far from comprehensive and all suggestions will be considered for future reprints.

A group of illustrious Amils, c1880s. Image courtesy Leila Advani, whose great-grandfather Mehtabsing and great-grandfather-in-law Harising are both in the photograph. Some of these are the Khandarani Khalsas, the clan named after their ancestor Kandharimal Ditomal. In the late 1800s or early 1900s, they reverted to the surname Advani. This information is courtesy Harish Jagtiani, who adds, “Amils no doubt had great faith in Guru Nanak. However, there was an added economic incentive to being a burly, bearded Sikh: the British were more inclined to give jobs as at one glance they were seen to be not just ferocious but trustworthy too.” The list of names that connects the people is a precious record of people once of significance, but long forgotten

He carried his college with him

When Khushiram Motiram Kundnani left Sindh forever, he took what was most precious to him: the foundation with which he could rebuild the institution he was forced to leave behind. There were big risks in what he did, offset by the risk that the things he carried away would be destroyed or decay, unused, if left behind[1].

When Partition came, the sudden lawless and dangerous situation led to all schools and colleges in Hyderabad (Sindh) staying closed. On the day DG National College opened in November 1947, of six-hundred and fifty students, just one, a girl, attended. Of twenty-six staff members, only ten turned up.[2] As the Hindu exodus out of Sindh accelerated, the college was left deserted for months. Principal Kundnani somehow rescued what he could of the basic laboratory equipment and library books, filled them into trunks and escaped by train across the new border with the precious material.

Images of some of the laboratory equipment and library books, still in use at National College.

Staying in a cramped apartment in Agripada, Mumbai, with many others rendered homeless by Partition like himself, he would leave every morning[3]. Nobody knew exactly where he went, but everybody knew he was desperately trying to find a way to start National College again. It would not have the Phuleli flowing past it, but it would have the same ethos and many of the same staff members, exiled from Sindh like himself.

Every Sunday, Principal Kundnani sat in the crowded living room and wrote a stack of postcards to his colleagues and friends from Hyderabad, once professors of repute, now refugees struggling to make a living for themselves and their families in different parts of India. When he located the plot in Bandra where the college now stands – among the choicest real estate in all India today – people laughed at him saying that this remote, swampy location was never going to draw students. His wife Jotu gave him the jewellery she had received from the family and they sold some and mortgaged the rest: the seed money to buy the plot. Later, Barrister Hotchand Advani and others joined in with donations. Thanks to their efforts, the foundation stone of National College was laid in 1949, the first institution of the Hyderabad Sind National Collegiate Board (HSNCB) which today educates nearly 50,000 students in seventeen graduate and post-graduate schools and institutions.

Excerpted from The Amils of Sindh: A Narrative History of a Remarkable Community by Saaz Aggarwal

Photo credit: Dr Subhadra Anand (researcher on the Sindhi diaspora, former principal of National College, and founder of Jhulelal Tirathdham, Narayan Sarovar.


[2] The Making of Exile by Nandita Bhavnani Tranquebar Press (India) 2014 p55

[3] Interview with Kishu Mansukhani, who was a young boy in the same house at the time, on 8 Nov 2016

A tribute to a landless but brave and high-achieving people

%d bloggers like this: