Sindhi Tapestry: reflections on identity

WHO, WHAT, AND WHY
Something about this book and its writers, by Saaz Aggarwal

The idea for this book started with Ritesh Uttamchandani, photographer and journalist, while locked down by the pandemic. During this time, he also emerged as a chef and food entrepreneur, along with his sister Shirley, integrating their Sindhi literary, gastronomic, and mercantile heritage.

Ritesh’s idea was a compilation of work from young Sindhis. I got started immediately, but my focus was to make something meant for young Sindhis. Something they would read with interest; something that would give them many “Ah yes, that’s me!” and “That explains a lot!” moments, a sense of connection, and relevance to their inherited ethnic identity, corroded and distorted by circumstances as it is.

I was lucky to get fifty-nine excellent contributions, but not all are from young people: three are in their twenties, but one is a feisty ninety-year-old. The majority are in their forties, followed closely by a tie between those in their thirties and fifties, fourteen equally divided over those in their sixties or seventies, and four in their eighties. In all, a fairly normal distribution curve, and an average age of forty-eight, somewhat like the population of Japan, which Google sometimes pulls up as number one in an ‘oldest countries’ list.

Of these, thirty-three live in India (thirty-four counting me), twenty-five in other countries, and one (the one with the highest number of pages in this book) in Sindh.

Most are ethnically South Asian – but we also have an American, a Frenchman, a German, and a half-Filipino. Interestingly, our Chilean Sindhi (whose forebears had a home in Sindh but lived in Indonesia; and then a home in Pune while living in Chile and with close family members in Hong Kong, Africa, Spain, USA, the Caribbean Islands and Panama – where he was born) scored 100 percent South Asian origin on a DNA test. Not bad for a scattered community of hardened migrants!

Most of the contributors are academics or in creative professions – interestingly, an equal number of each; in addition, we have three doctors, three engineers, two from the armed forces and one, retired from a career in international relations, now a social worker. Thirty-one have postgraduate degrees, and sixteen are PhD. Quite a few, across this mix, are in business – and, of those who are not, each and every one is hardworking and enterprising, thus conforming to the best-known Sindhi stereotype.

Of the sixty, thirty identify as women and thirty as men, which I see as a significant achievement. Not because the ratio indicates that Sindhi women are equal. It is true that Sindhi women have had a somewhat better status, perhaps starting from some decades before Partition. What is relevant here, however, is that most of us who have begun the process of writing and talking about Sindh and Sindhis in English in the mainstream Indian media, are women. So it’s very special to have so many male voices in this collection.

This distribution over age, location, and gender, has yielded a collection of essays that range from actual memories of pre-Partition Sindh; epiphanies of self-recognition; efforts at locating one’s cultural legacies while living in countries around the globe; affectionate remembrances of real characters who embody Sindh and Sindhiness in so many different ways; patterns of worship, of hospitality, of ways of relating that stand out; all kinds of little-known, or little-remembered, historical realities that fell prey to Partition – and more. And a surprising number of poems. I am so very grateful to all the writers who spared their time and energy for this project. Each submission filled me with joy when I received and read it, and I feel awestruck by the range and scope of what has been jointly achieved. These essays have not been categorized by topic but conform instead to the theme of patchwork tapestry, ordered to provide what I felt would be an aesthetic and enriching reading experience, with the joys or discoveries or lessons of one complementing and creating a setting for the next. I sincerely hope that they will strike chords of recognition and bring you fulfilment.

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