Category Archives: Amil

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.

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.

[1] https://www.dawn.com/news/1287006/footprints-a-monument-to-hindu-philanthropy-turning-100

[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.

Amils_cover

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.

RIP Principal Gidwani

Pribhdas, the sixth of eight siblings, was born to Ramibai and Nanikram Jethmal Gidwani. A sickly child in a time of low mortality, who could imagine that he would live to be a hundred and two?

Nanikram was a magistrate and had the authority to conduct judicial trials of the Sessions Court. He was also a zamindar of Wagreji, Tehsil 291 and Jamesabad with 2000 acres of his own and 20,000 more under his control, largely growing cotton.

When the family visited the fields, evenings were spent in pleasant conversation, kacheri, with their farm hands, exchanging folk tales, songs and Sindhi baits. During the day they inspected their lands riding on horseback and Pribhdas never forgot Makro, his favourite Arab stallion who had to be left behind – who could know what happened to Makro after the family left Sindh after Partition?

In 1933, the family moved to Karachi and took up residence in Jethmal Mansion, a palatial home Nanikram named after his father at No 15 Amil Colony No1.

Pribhdas was a high academic achiever, fluent in English, Persian and French. He loved playing tennis, and he enjoyed reading Sindhi and Persian poetry. When he was twenty-one, his father sent him to England for higher studies and his mother, worried, warned him not to eat beef, smoke or get married to a foreigner. Pribhdas attended the prestigious London School of Economics, interacting with the best brains in the world and making lifelong friends. In 1939, he received the heartbreaking news that his father had died, succumbing to pleurisy. When the Second World War broke out, his education was interrupted and he returned to India to complete his examination for BSc in Economics from Colombo as an external student. Pribhdas was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1941.
With all his exposure to urban living and his excellent academic qualifications, Pribhdas chose to work on his family’s extensive landholding as he did not wish to serve the British Empire. One of his tutors had suggested that he sit for the ICS examination but Pribhdas declined for this reason. However, his English education came in handy in dealing with the British agents who came to purchase cotton. Being a wadero was strenuous but fulfilling and in the evenings, the haaris would gather and recount their simple tales and Pribhdas would recite couplets of Shah Abdul Latif.
When Partition came, the family chartered an Ambika Airlines plane to fly out of Sindh. Pribhdas and his eldest brother Motiram stayed behind to put their affairs in order and leave until the difficult times abated and they could return, little knowing that it would never be. Sabbab Ali Sabbah, their munshi, escorted them to safety and bid them goodbye with tears in his eyes.
How does a family that has lived in style adapt to life in a place with a different language and culture, having left behind most of their material assets? With the benefit of his education, Pribhdas went to work as a professor and education administrator. In 1948, he was appointed Vice Principal and Head of Economics Department at the recently founded Jagadguru Gangadhar College of Commerce. With his sound knowledge of history, philosophy, economics and law, and being an excellent orator, he was invited to speak regularly on All India Radio on various topics for a period of some years, which supplemented the income of the joint family.

In 1955, Pribhdas went back to his studies and earned MLitt from University of Glasgow and when he returned, he worked first as Head of Economics Department at Siddharth College of Commerce and Economics, joining the HSNCB in Bombay as Founding Principal and Professor of Economics at MMK College 1960-1970. Within a few years the college acquired a reputation as one of the best in the suburbs.

From 1970-1990 he was Principal of HR College which also established itself as a premier institution very soon. During his Bombay years, Principal Gidwani served Bombay University in many important positions. It was during this period that he was struck by personal tragedy and lost his wife Janki (nee Jhangiani 1923-1985).

He continued working with the spirit well described in an interview to Dipti Satwani for Sindhian in 2016 when he turned 100:

I was full of enthusiasm to contribute to the building of a modern India. I was keen to introduce students to logic, reasoning, and economic and business management ideas that would transform our economy.

Although I’ve posted this here as a tribute to an extraordinary person, Pribhdas Nanikram Gidwani (3 Aug 1916 – 15 May 2018) I wrote it for the book I’m working on, The Amils of Sindh, A Narrative History of a Remarkable Community” and it appears in a section called Building the New Nation – some stories of the ‘refugees’ who made notable contributions to Independent India.