All posts by Saaz Aggarwal

Sheer courage and constant effort

Gulabrai Mansukhani was a successful criminal lawyer and practiced in the Karachi High Court. The family was affluent with a home opposite the YWCA, a car and driver. Gulabrai was a member of the Masonic Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Scotland. He was appointed Worship Master and was awarded a gold medal by the Prince of Wales. Sadly, Gulabrai died in 1936, when his daughter Mohini was just four and her brother Prabhu was two. Gulabrai had earned well – but he had spent a lot and donated a lot. Gulibai moved into smaller quarters and bought a plot of land in Jamshed Quarters not far from Karachi Jail, from her cousin Lokumal Mirchandani, an engineer who owned the adjacent bungalow. As she began construction, the Second World War broke out and cement and other material became scarce. Money ran out. Mohini remembers going to live in the incomplete bungalow with bare girders and unfinished furniture. There were no bolts on the doors so before sleeping at night they would move chairs and tables to block it so that it could not be pushed open from outside. The windows had to be painted black, a wartime ordinance because Karachi was a target that could be bombed.
While Prabhu studied at the WB High School for Boys, Mohini went to DB High School for Girls. DB stood for Dhamibai Basantsing, whose son Bhagwansing Advani had built the school in her memory.
Mohini remembers mocking the boys, “You are at Wangan Basar School” and they would reply, “And you are at Dabroti Bedo School” to which the natural response was, “Yes, but dabroti-bedo is so much better than wangan-basar – egg with bread is so much better than brinjal with onions!”
The principal of Wadhumal Bulchand School was Chandiram B Advani and Vice Principal was Gulab Idnani – both of whom were related to Mohini’s mother. After Partition, Chandiram (whose sister Dadi Bhoji ran the Nari Shala at Shyam Niwas) was entrusted by Sadhu Vaswani to establish Mira Mission High School in Poona.
Mohini’s principal was Sona Sadarangani and she loved this bright girl who was also a tomboy who loved skating, cycling and horse riding.
Time passed, the war ended and the house was completed with money Gulibai raised by selling her jewellery. Dr Srichand Lulla, a Shikarpuri psychiatrist, took up tenancy and Guli’s mother and brother also came to stay. In the next lane was Krishna Kunj where Sadhu Vaswani lived. Mohini remembers attending his Gita discourses and the fact that he did not permit anyone to touch his feet. So, to express their reverence for him, they would crawl and touch his wooden sandals. Sadhu Vaswani preached vegetarianism so the family took it up. Another teacher Mohini remembers is Dada Chellaram who taught them from the Guru Granth Sahib at the Gurmandar.
As Partition approached, Guli’s mama Jagatsingh Idnani, who was Attorney General of Sindh, advised her to sell the house. Mohini had just completed her matric and joined DJ Sind College but classes had been disrupted. Gulibai put her fifteen-year-old daughter on the SS Barpetta to Bombay in the care of an acquaintance, an Idnani.
Lokumal Mirchandani sold his property and left. Everyone around was selling and leaving and Gulibai found herself alone in the area. She started receiving threats against Prabhu and sent him to live with her older stepdaughter who lived in Gadi Khato and loved her children dearly. She kept a dog and slept under the bed with a dummy on the bed. On some mornings she would find a dagger in the compound with a threatening note stuck to it. One day, a displaced Muslim family entered her home forcibly with their belongings and set up house; they even started cooking. Gulibai took help from the police to have them evicted. Now she was desperate – if she left without at least something in hand, they would starve.
The people who had bought Lokumal Mirchandani’s house were Bohris who had a Hindu daughter-in-law. They took pity on Gulibai and bought the bungalow, clinching the deal at Rs18,000 for a property previously valued at Rs70,000. It was a risk to take cash – a person with a bag of money was easily plundered or killed; such cases had been reported. Gulibai was escorted to the Karachi docks by the family who had bought her house. She might have considered making a home in Bombay but her brother lived in Calcutta and Mohini had been sent ahead there. So in January 1948, Gulibai arrived in Calcutta with a bank draft received from the sale of her house and handed it over to TR Lalwani of Bank of India to encash for her.
Mohini had had her own share of adventures. The very first evening on the ship, Idnani got drunk and began making advances. She went to the ship’s captain for help and managed to keep herself safe and away from him. At the Bombay docks, Idnani stood near the ship’s exit, waiting for her. Luckily she saw Mr Captain, a Parsi friend of her father’s from the Masonic Lodge, who took her to his sister’s house in Dadar. The next day they left for Calcutta where Captain was to join a sugar mill. Gulibai had received a letter from Idnani telling her that unfortunately Mohini had got lost. Fortunately this was soon followed by her own letter telling her mother that she had arrived safely.
In Calcutta, Mohini was received by her mamo Kishinchand Bhawnani and his family. He was a businessman settled in Calcutta well before Partition, with a number of restaurants and bars including the Royal Botanical and Imperial restaurants, a soda water factory and motor parts shops. They were also Railway contractors and dealt with Hiro Jagtiani, a general manager of the Railways.
Mohini was keen to join college but her mamo was not in favour of higher education for girls. And so, when her mother arrived, they set up their own home so that Mohini could continue her education. With refugees from East Pakistan pouring into Calcutta, no houses were available and at one time they lived in a garage, sharing bathrooms with others and putting off lights and bathing in the dark for privacy.
Mohini had no migration certificate and got help from the Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge on Park Street for her college admission.
As she remembers sadly, just before the examinations, she lost her mother. Gulibai had lived under great stress for a long time. She developed gastric ulcers which worsened when she refused food, subsisting on tea. She was admitted in hospital and when Mohini needed money for treatment, TR Lalwani helped her to release funds as she was still a minor.
Mohini will never forget the condolence visit from the secretary and president of the Sindhi Panchayat. In her words:
My mother’s body was still in the house. They ordered me that I would have to go and live with my mama. When I did not reply, they threatened to outcaste me. My mother had clearly told me that in case she died, I should not go to anyone. We knew that my mama would not allow my education to continue. I gathered courage and told them, “This is not Sindh.”
My life carried on. Many years later, in 1972, I was elected secretary of that same Sindhi Panchayat, the only female among twelve committee members. I felt grateful to God.

After her mother died in 1950, Mohini sold her father’s gold medal from the Prince of Wales to pay for her and her brother’s education and daily expenses. The eight-tola medal fetched her Rs45 which was soon spent. She went to work in a school and, continuing her studies, gave a competitive examination to enrol as an engineer in the telephone office. Mohini was placed fourth among four hundred candidates, and the only woman and thereafter got a job with the telephone department.
In 1957 Mohini married Sujan, her mama’s son. He had told his mother that he would marry Mohini and no one else. So, soon after her mama died, her mami approached her, and the wedding took place. Mohini was married into a wealthy family but she continued working and as the years passed, she was promoted to higher positions.

Mohini Bhawnani Kolkata 2017

With her husband’s support, Mohini was connected with many social organizations, and served as President of Telecom Engineering Association for three consecutive years; Secretary of Business Professional Women’s Club; member of Lion’s Club and member of the Women’s Coordinating Council. In 1972 she and other volunteers of the Council took part in the rehabilitation efforts during the war of liberation of Bangladesh and cooked twenty kilos of mutton daily and delivered it to the airport. A plane would come from Kalaikunda, pick up tins of the mutton, rice and water and para-drop them for the Mukti Bahini. Mohini’s husband supported her career too, only once stopping her from attending a training programme in Alcatel in Paris. Travelling is Mohini’s passion and she has been all over the world.

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 note on the cover of this book:

The colourful, tessellated background of this book cover is derived from images of the tiling of the dargah of Sachal Sarmast, one of the best-known Sufi poets of Sindh. Sachal is derived from ‘sachu’ and means ‘one who tells the truth’; Sarmast means mystic. In the Sindhi literary tradition, writers choose or are given pen names which express their inner identity. Sachal was born Abdul Wahab Farouqi, in village Daraza in Khairpur, during the Kalhora reign.
The Amil family photograph (courtesy Sarla Malani) has Maina and Chatursing Shersing Advani and their family, in 1929, the year they got married. Next to Chatursing is his sister Parvati (who later married Shamdas Vishindas Ramchandani) and next to her is Chaturi (who later married Tirth ‘TK’ Kundanmal Uttamsingh). The young man seated on the right is their brother Sundersing. Another sister, Ruki (who married Rochiram Tilokchand Mirchandani), does not appear in the photo.

The sophisticated Amils of Karachi had quickly adapted to elite customs and the men in this photo are wearing Austin Reed suits – the very latest fashion from London – while the women are dressed in Parsi-style saris. (You can read in this book about why Sindhi women were wearing Parsi saris in the 1930s and 40s). The sari borders were made of velvet, with intricate beadwork, which they would have embroidered themselves. Their shoes would have been from Paris.


Behind them is a political map of Sindh at the time of Partition. It was the British who created maps such as these; it was the British who built the education and employment infrastructure in which the Amils thrived. And it was the British who gave Sindh intact to Pakistan, changing its demography unalterably.

The medal seen on the spine (courtesy Neena Lalwani) is the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), which was awarded to her father, Narain Shyamdas Gidwani, for his contribution to strategies during the Second World War, primarily the successful implementation of some of the policies he suggested.

Be honest and educate yourself

Ram Gulrajani was twelve years old and clearly remembers the hurried visit from a Karachi inspector of police to his family home in Karachi in early December 1947.
Till then, Karachi had continued to be a peaceful place. The family had not considered leaving. Ram’s father, Jashanmal Jhamatmal Gulrajani, had a prestigious job: he was manager of the Oriental Insurance Company in charge of the Karachi and Hyderabad districts, a well-to-do and respectable man. Jashanmal had recently purchased a tract of land in Malir, an attractive but distant suburb of Karachi at the time, near Drigh Road Airport. The 100 acres stretched from India’s anti-aircraft gun school, the Ack-Ack School, all the way up to the Malir River. Cultivation had not yet started but the family occasionally rented the fields for grazing camels and cattle. His two elder sons had recently taken up jobs with BOAC and Military Aviation Fuelling Depot, both located at Drigh Road.

The policeman who had rushed to their house to warn and save them was well known to the family. His father had worked in their garden for many years, and Jashanmal and his brothers had educated him, and helped him to find a position in the police force. “Diwan Sahib, you must leave,” he said. “You and your family are in danger and if you don’t go now you will be killed. I can’t hold them back for more than fifteen minutes.” He had arranged for a truck and the family piled in with their belongings.

Ram Gulrajani medalIt’s impossible to know what could be going through the mind of someone scrambling to get into a truck to save their lives, with just fifteen minutes to pack what they can carry as they leave their comfortable homes for new and uncertain lives. One of the precious historic belongings that remains in the family is a Kaiser-e-Hind medal awarded to Valiram Jhamatmal Gulrajani, Jashanmal’s eldest brother, for services rendered to Empire during the First World War. The medal, engraved with his name, was preserved carefully by the family through all the years of struggle that followed. In time, it was handed over to Valiram’s only son Vishno who had migrated to USA, who passed it on to his daughter Kamlu. Jashanmal himself had been conferred with an honorary rank of Captain in the British Indian Army for his contribution to managing army supplies in Karachi during the Second World War.

What must have been Jashanmal’s feelings as he quickly packed his dear brother’s prized medal and a few other family treasures, his horror when he realised that his property documents were not in the house? Perhaps the full implication did not strike him at the time; perhaps he believed that this was a temporary setback and life would be back to what it had been before.

Sadly, this never happened. Resettling in the faraway land, the family had nothing to prove that they owned land in Karachi, and as a result, they would never receive compensation. Jashanmal, with all his wealth and prestige snatched away overnight, condemned to life with his family in a dirty and disorderly refugee camp barracks, felt overcome with helplessness. Unable to reconcile himself to Partition and to his new life, he never regained his former self. His wife Sundri was a strong person and she held the family together. The daughter of Kundanmal Khanchandani, an education inspector of Hyderabad district, Sundri herself had a school education and a forward-thinking mind. She and her sister Gopi were both educated, and could read Sindhi, Gurmukhi and English. Their mother, Tikibai, came from a Sikh family and her father kept long hair, as their forebears had done. Tikibai too practiced Sikhism and Sundri, brought up as a Sikh, kept a Guru Granth Sahib at home and solemnly observed all Sikh rituals as many Sindhi families of her generation did. She also brought up Ram to be a Sikh, but without growing his hair.

The truck with Jashanmal’s family was packed and everyone was on board within the given fifteen minutes. It was driven to the house in which the newly-installed Indian High Commissioner, Sri Prakasa, lived. The family disembarked with their meagre possessions and were herded into the compound where many others had been given shelter.

After two days in the crowded compound, people were taken to the Karachi docks and Ram remembers being herded again, like sheep, into ships. The SS Ekma took them to Bombay where, on arrival, they were taken by government officials to the Victoria Terminus. The railway station was packed with people and they were being herded into trains to destinations across the country.

Special trains had been arranged and empty ones requisitioned to take the non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan to various parts of India where provision had been made for temporary accommodation. Families occupied every space in the station, waiting with the meagre possessions they had escaped with. The crowded railway station was filled with these homeless people who did not know which place they would be allotted to or what they would do once they got there. Trains came and went every ten or fifteen minutes. The toilets were filthy. After two days, the Gulrajani family were put on a train to Madras.

On arrival, they were taken to the Avadi Immigration Barracks and given accommodation which would be their home for two years. After that, they went to Vijaywada where the family made their first home in independent India. Ram completed his schooling in Vijaywada with a distinction and an all-India rank of eight in the Senior Cambridge examination. Despite this achievement, it took five years before Ram could continue his education.

During this time he went to work in Bombay, where his two elder brothers had settled, doing odd jobs (“as a nobody to a somebody”). The rest of the family moved there too. Ram continued working even when he joined college five years later. Lectures were held in the morning so that students could go to work and he would wake early for college, spend the rest of the day continuing with his jobs and then gave tuitions in the evening. He and his siblings all helped school children with their studies, partly for the income but more because they could help and enjoyed doing so. It was a time of intense hard work to make ends meet. With wholehearted support for each other, the family bonds grew even stronger. Sadly, Sundri died in 1957 and Jashanmal followed soon after, in 1961. They left behind a strong legacy which their descendants have faithfully adhered to: be honest and educate yourself.