My father was an agent of Philco Radio Company and he also did radio repairs in his shop. We lived in a flat on the third floor of a building in Karachi – my father, mother, older brother and older sister, me, and one younger brother. When the riots, started I remember our Muslim neighbour on the ground floor came and told us, don’t worry, I will see that you are safe. He put up new nameplates on the doors with Muslim names. We were told to hide inside but could look out and see people entering homes, throwing children from balconies, people fighting in the streets, and heads being chopped off with swords. Our neighbour stood at the entrance of our house with a sword and did not let anyone enter.
Our family travelled in a ship with many other families to Bombay. When I saw the ship I was scared but my father held my hand and said, don’t worry, it’s just like a train. It was a cargo ship which used to carry wheat but it had come empty to Karachi for us refugees.
In Bombay we were taken to the Lake Bill military camp and given a place to stay and food to eat. We stayed there for a month and were then moved to Kandivali where there was a row of huts and we were given one. The water connection and the toilets were outside. One day my father saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a radio instructor urgently required at Wadia College in Poona.
He applied for the job and was appointed, and our family moved to Poona. My father rented a shop on Mahatma Gandhi Road and we called it Bhatia Radio.
My mother and younger brother had fallen ill. The water at the camp must have been contaminated. They were treated by Dr Banu Coyaji at KEM Hospital where they were given a special room and well looked after but they had bloated and could not eat anything. It was a very difficult time for our family. After some years, they died. All my father’s money was used for their treatment. Atur Sangtani was a prominent Poona Sindhi and he helped our family and many other Sindhi refugee families a lot.
In Poona, we stayed in touch with our family members but lost touch with the friends we had in Sindh. Local people would ask, “Where are your fields? When do you visit your village?” But we had to tell them that we had nowhere to go, we had nothing. My father put me in St Mira’s School and I was there till the eighth standard. After that I went to work at the Kandla Port in Kutch. My older brother was already staying in Gandhidham. He had been appointed there as a dispatcher.
Gandhidham was a jungle but Bhai Pratap had developed the place for us Sindhis. There were separate quarters for clerks and bungalows for the officers. My brother and I lived in Gopalpuri Colony and had two rooms, a storeroom, kitchen, bathroom and a small compound. It was a good arrangement. A cowherd would come in the morning with his cow and give us milk. Gandhidham had a hospital, shops, schools, everything. My sister lived in Adipur.
I started working for a daily wage of Rs2, going to the dock when a ship came in. I was given a register. When a ship came in, I had to write in it the number of sacks removed, and the number placed in the warehouse. Then I was also made a dispatcher and had to make note of all the letters, inward and outward, of the residents of Kandla Port. There were big offices, one in Gandhidham and the other in Kandla.
One of the most important things I did in Gandhidham was to attend the Home Guard training which was arranged for us Sindhi refugees. We were taught fire-fighting, how to go into the jungle at night, and the technique of ‘cockering’ where we walked on our knees and elbows, and how to handle guns. We were paid Rs7.50 per week for this training.
I went back to Poona after fifteen years to work in my father’s radio repair business and began to volunteer as a traffic warden. Because I was fully trained, the Poona DCP Traffic instructed his force that I should be allowed to work at any traffic signal of my choice. I am now seventy-three years old but I continue to direct traffic in Pune every day, either morning or evening. Many people have appreciated my efforts and I have received three medals from the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Traffic, Pune.
Excerpted from Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland