Does the Sindhi Dil Maange More?
By Sundar Iyer
Come March and April, Sindhis across the world invariably find themselves overwhelmed by the festivities that surround the birth celebrations of the Sindhi messiah, Jhulelal. Considered as the Numero-Uno festival for the Sindhi Hindus, Chetichand celebrations have occupied the pedestal position over the years, especially amongst the displaced Sindhi community. Once would undoubtedly come across a grand celebration, a Chetichand Mela being organized at every Sindhi pocket, big or small by the local Sindhi members, be they in whichever part of the world. This indeed is noteworthy and positive sign and a trend that augurs well for a community that unfortunately finds itself currently at the crossroads of cultural oblivion. Chetichand Melas, in more ways than one epitomize the true Sindhi spirit, where members revel and regale themselves amidst a feeling of unity and brotherhood. These Melas witness the coming together of members from all generations of the community, and provide an opportunity to learn and know more about their cultural riches.
Such melas are also expected to go a long way in helping showcase the unity prevalent amongst the members of the community. But alas, only if that was the case even today. Unfortunately, it certainly does not seem to be that way, at least not in the city of Mumbai. Yes, the very same Mumbai that was earlier known as Bombay, and the former Sindh was once a part of the very same erstwhile Bombay Presidency. Yes, the very same Mumbai which probably houses the maximum percentage of Sindhis anywhere in the world.
Over the past few years, for many a Sindhi family of Mumbai, Chetichand day offers its share of confusion despite all the elation. Sindhis in the city generally find themselves in the rather awkward situation, of not knowing which invitation to oblige. A few difficult questions generally hog their minds, such as, “Which Mela celebrations do we attend? Which day of the month do we conduct our Chetichand celebrations?” And so on and so forth.
A middle-aged Sindhi lady living in the suburbs of Mumbai says, “Earlier we all used to go to the same Mela celebration. Now, I am in dilemma. My brother and his family will be attending the grand celebrations at the western suburb of Khar on the day of Chetichand, while my husband insists that he would prefer to be present at the celebrations in the suburb of Malad, because his friends and their families would be there on that day. The sad part is that not only both these Chetichand Melas coincide with each other on the day and date, but their timings are also similar! Now, if I have to be at one place then that will be at the cost of the other. I don’t know what to do?” This feeling is one that cannot be restricted to the lady alone. There are many others in the community who echo her feelings.
What does this tell the members of the community? Is this setting a right precedent? Can the community continue to turn a blind eye to this? Will such an act help in uniting members during the current hour of crisis, when the community is facing the prospect of cultural extinction? Is this how we put our foot forward in our struggle towards cultural survival?
The presence of so many grand melas within the confines of one particular zone certainly does not augur well for the community, which is looking at standing together to overcome the cultural crisis. Haresh Mirchandani, a well-known and respected Sindhi media personality reminisces, “Until a couple of decades back, the whole of Bombay celebrated one grand, large Chetichand Mela. This mela used to be organized at the Cooperage grounds, close to Churchgate railway station. The entire Sindhi community of the city used to throng there in thousands and it used to be an occasion etched in our hearts and memories. But, if my memory doesn’t fail me now, then somewhere in the mid-70s these grand celebrations of the annual Chetichand Mela came to a grinding halt and suddenly vanished out of the list of Sindhi celebrations.”
It certainly is not very difficult for an average Sindhi to understand the reasons behind this division and fragmentation on the way these melas have started spreading across the city. For a community which over the years has been known for its opulent practices, it should come as no surprise that there exists huge levels of dissent especially amongst the various social / non-social organisation and individuals who organize large scale melas commemorating the birth celebrations of the Sindhi messiah, JHULELAL.
Abhishek Asrani, a young Sindhi lad from the eastern suburbs of Chembur, not far away from the suburb of Ghatkopar, makes an innocent remark and leads the discussion to its logical conclusion. He states, “Honestly, I don’t find much difficulty in understanding the organising of different melas in faraway different parts of the city. I mean, though one commong mela would be ideal, I still can live with the theory of different melas at different corners of the city. But, what certainly baffles me is the fact that in a Sindhi zone like Chembur-Ghatkopar, where until a few years back there was only on mela, the past couple of years have been witnessing two or three melas. I get seriously confused and don’t know which one to attend and which one to skip.” An apt example of the undoing of the age-old cliché, ‘The more the merrier.’
It is indeed disheartening to see certain sections of the community (read different organisations or individuals) trying their hand in the game of one-upmanship and organising many melas in the same city coinciding to the tee with that organized by the other. It seems that their only motive is to upstage the other and emerge in the eyes of the community as the organisation / group that succeeded in drawing the maximum numbers to their zone.
At a time when most members of the community are short of answers to explain their true identity to the younger generation and themselves, the festive occasion of Chetichand mela presents an opportunity which comes as a blessing in disguise, wherein Sindhi members of all generations come together on a single platform to celebrate and offer their thanksgiving to the Sindhi deity, who has since his arrival, helped and aided the community overcome the most difficult of times. Thus, the importance of the Chetichand festival for any Sindhi living in any part of the world simply cannot be undermined.
“Chetichand melas are not an occurrence of the recent past, and have been continuing as a tradition since a very long time,” says a Sindhi octogenarian living in the city of Mumbai. He further recalls, “I remember, when we were children, we used to all throng to Bukhur district, where one of the prime Jhulelal temples is situated. Likewise, Sindhis from all over Sindh used to gather at Bukhur to offer their thanksgiving to Jhulelalji on the occasion of his birthday and there used to be this one large mela like feeling and every one used to camp in Bukhur for 2 – 3 days together. This mela certainly exemplified the feeling of unity and oneness amongst all Sindhis as members from distant corners of Sindh came together to partake of the festivities.”
At a time when the community needs to portray its unity, such an occasion provides an apt platform to convey to the world that the Sindhi community is one. It shall stay together and fight together to acquire its basic political and social rights. No external or internal medium can shake this unity of the community and proving testimony to the same would be by taking a cue from the past in organising one grand Chetichand Mela. All organizations can come together under one umbrella organisation and jointly organize the festivities of Chetichand. This most certainly, shall add more colour to the occasion and also serve the true purpose of Chetichand and could be considered the beginning of a new dawn on one full moon day. The earlier the better, is what every Sindhi must be feeling.