Understanding the psyche of different generations
by - Sunder Iyer
The partition and the subsequent miseries faced by the displaced Hindu Sindhis led to an atmosphere where the struggle for survival naturally took precedence over the passing of the cultural lineage. Sindhis got scattered across the country and later the world and are today recognized as a global community. The hurt resulting from the injustice of a few politicians thirsting for power thereby leading to the largest mass-migration ever in History, stirred the community as a whole to go all out and re-establish themselves. Today nearly half a century later, a reasonably large portion of this community has established themselves as successful entrepreneurs in India and abroad. But in this race for economic leadership, regrettably, culture took a backseat. A culture that has been handed down successfully through generations over 5000-odd years seems to have come a cropper in the last 50 years. Result – Majority of today’s Sindhis are not even aware of their rich culture and heritage.
Cultural identity of every commune is passed from one generation to another. It has been mentioned time and again that one of the major bane for the community in its struggle for cultural survival, is the lackluster enthusiasm being reflected by the younger Sindhi members. The current day Sindhi youngsters have only heard from their parents and grandparents about the rich history associated with their homeland. They are not fully aware of the rich ancestral lineage that they belong to. The reason for the same is primarily due to the fact of having no land associated with them directly. Having settled in various parts of the world they have adapted to the cultural practices of the local region. Therefore, it is not surprising when one hears the current day Sindhi youngsters posing questions such as, “What is our culture? Who are Sindhis? Do I need to know my language? If I am a Hindu then why is there an Arabic Sindhi script?” These youngsters should be given a patient hearing and should be informed about their rich and glorious past. The interest in them needs to be kindled. After all, the youngsters are the flag bearers of the community’s culture.
In the current circumstances, the community is flanked on one end by the older generation of today who unfortunately had to witness the miseries involved with partition and ever since have been whining that they have been displaced from their beloved homeland, and on the other end by those who have been born and brought up in a cosmopolitan society in Independent India and unfortunately know very little or absolutely nothing about their glorious past. In such trying circumstances, the community is staging the fight for culture survival, where the need of the hour is that members from both these generations have to come on the same side of the fence.
In an attempt to generate further interest from members of all generations and add some impetus to the struggle of cultural revival, Sindhishaanmet up with a Sindhi family living in the Sindhi township of Ulhasnagar near Mumbai. The Matlani family in Ulhasnagar is a perfect example of a joint family that still co-exists in today’s materialistic world. Housed in a three-storey building, are three flats where Shri Sajandas Wavanmal Matlani and his three sons, Chandiram S Matlani, Lakshmandas S Matlani and Gopaldas S Matlani, who along with their sons and grandsons reside together under one roof. On a fine Sunday morning, Sundar Iyer caught up with the highly hospitable Matlanis and spoke to one member from each of the four generations, in an effort to understand the psyche of the members belonging to different generations, their pride on being Sindhi and their views on how Sindhyat can survive.
The opinion of each member from every generation matters very much during the current struggle for survival. What follows hereon are their views on issues ranging from the perils of partition to the furtherance of the language and culture.
The discussion began with Mr. Chandiram, member of the older generation expressing his views that the community has come a long way since the days of partition. He said, “We Sindhis have put in a lot of hard work and have literally slogged for the first twenty-five years after partition. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that after having to bear the pains of partition, no other community could have achieved so much progress. In comparison to our earlier, forlorn and penniless state, the community has made money and prospered.” But in the same breath, he categorically expresses, that there is still a significant large number of the Sindhi population, approximately 50 per cent, who are living in sorry conditions. At this juncture, the young and vibrant, Vijay Matlani adds, “It’s a misconception that Sindhis are all well-off. Yes, there has been a comparatively large proportion of the community, who with their hard work and dedication have risen steeply in financial status. But, what is important for people to realise is, that they are not the only Sindhis. In my very own township of Ulhasnagar, there are still many people living in barracks. Though, it may not be as bad as during the days of partition, it is no haven as such. There are lots of Sindhis who are still struggling to make ends meet.”
Chandiram further adds on the subject of partition, “We belonged to an undivided India that attained independence from the British. But when we realised that the country was being divided on the basis of religion, we were all hassled. The whole of Sindh was handed over to Pakistan, a state created for Muslims.”
Sajandas adds, “Partition was a huge peril for the whole community. We got separated from our very own people. Earlier too, Sindhis have had to leave their homeland on many occasions because of the atrocities by the then Mughal rulers. But they returned back to their homeland. We thought that partition too would be temporary phase. We presumed that the riots instigated by a few politicians would soon subsided and the region would once again be united. Btu our destiny played a different game. It was not in our fate to return to our homeland. The process of migration began in October 1947. People started leaving out of fear for their lives. But the riots largely affected the people at the settled townships and cities. In Sindh, there was a sever flood in 1948. Many villages literally got swept away. This too led to the mass migration. Though, the majority fled Sindh because of the riots, the floods only further aggravated the worsened situation.”
Chandiram reflects, “Sindhi Hindus got separated from their homeland. But though the other communities got some portion of land, we were left stranded. Sindh had its boundary with India at Kutch. Two or three divisions should have been given to India. But, it was not to be in our destiny. But because of the hardships imposed on us by partition, the community had the resolve to strive harder and attain success at all costs. This is one reason why the community has been successful at large.”
Suddenly the 29 year-old remarks, “The community has grown up purely on its own self. The authorities have not provided us with much help.” Chandiram nods in agreement. Vijay continues, “Though we are a minority community, the government has not given us all the benefits of a minority community. Despite the government failing in fulfilling any of its earlier assurances to the community in giving us necessary amenities and recognition, we have contributed in so many fields to the country and succeeded too.”
Chandiram adds, “We don’t have political strength. Hence we don’t have any political bargaining power. We are scattered across all parts of the country and from a small part of the national population. Presently, we contribute with our monetary might to help local politicians during the elections, but still the same people don’t offer us much support. Our NRI community sends in large donations to the country. They must put the added pressure on the government to help local Sindhis attain their rights.” Vijay remarks, “We haven’t yet achieved many of our basic rights even half a century after Independence. He attributes vote-based politics as one of the main reasons for the diminishing identity of the community. If we were a bigger vote bank or formed a significant number in the Indian population, then we would have achieved much more.”
While generating their views on the subject of culture having taken a backseat during the past half-century, Chandiram states, “During the past many years, the decline in the usage of the language, the excess influence of local traditions and the decreasing knowledge about the vast culture have all together led to the current unfortunate situation where we are fighting for cultural revival.” Not necessarily agreeing to the statement that members of his generation didn’t lay too much emphasis on culture and tradition while being occupied in activities that revolved around their financial resuscitation, he justifies, “When you are struggling for your basic amenities, you are not thinking about culture. But I do concede that we have been negligent to some extent. Once we were reasonably established, we could have once again stressed on the importance of culture to our children. We must take responsibility for their limited knowledge about our rich culture.”
Further stressing on the topic, he says, “Unfortunately for us, the current day youngsters don’t follow all customs of the community. With time, the duration of all religious festivities reduce, and thus slowly and slowly, the customs just disappear. The youngsters should be more enthusiastic in following such customs with which they can retain their identity.” He further adds with a slightly sorry note, “Though there are many initiatives from various forums, they have been largely unsuccessful in attracting the youngsters.”
Vijay responds, “it is unfortunate that the youngsters don’t gather in huge crowds for such functions which highlight our glorious history and culture.” He concedes, “I myself don’t attend many of these events. But I will now try and emphasize the importance of such festivities to my friends too. There certainly needs to be a larger influx of younger members to the events happening at their respective venues.” But on the same note, he adds, the events have to be refashioned in such a way that it attracts the youngsters to come in large numbers. The community must keep in mind the quality of the programmes. The quality of all cultural programmes must be improved. He emphasizes, “The need of the hour is to repackage our cultural programmes.” He cites an example by stating, “I know that there are Sindhi ballets that highlight most of our earlier folklore held at most Sindhi gatherings. What the community must realize is to package it aptly. They must hire the services of a recognized heroine / dancer, such as Hema Malini, even ask a Lata Mangeshkar to lend her voice to the Sindhi folk songs and then invite people for such performances. Then, I feel it will draw attention amongst the younger members and they will flow in numbers for all the religious / cultural festivities. There also must be s Sindhi TV channel that provides programmes on Sindhi culture and history. A satellite Sindhi channel would help the local members and our international members immensely.”
Chandiram adds, “People should always be on the lookout for opportunities to get-together with other members in the community. We should try and have Sindhi neighbours. We must use weddings as an opportunity to know our customs and rituals better. All Sindhis must practice Sindhi weddings in the complete way.”
Sajandas remarks, “All the members need to participate in all religious festivals. Chetichand is an opportunity for the community to come together as one. I remember, in Sindh the main Jhulelal temple was situated at Bukhur near Sukkur and a grand celebration used to be organized. The celebrations used to last for 2-3 days. People from all parts of Sindh used to come together for this auspicious Mela. There was an amazing spirit visible in everyone.” Chandiram as a representative of the older generation observes, “Because of our scattered presence, the community couldn’t celebrate the festival like it was being done earlier. The government does not provided us with a holiday and thus even on one of our most important religious festivals, we have to spend our day at work. However, despite the scattered presence these festivals are being celebrated. But, there is a growing sentiment within the community that the various associations / individuals who oragnise such festivals are always trying to be one up on the other. Considering the current situation, I feel there must be one central Chetichand celebration across the country. Suppose Delhi is the Headquarters, then the festival must be celebrated in a large scale in this region where people from all parts of the country conglomerate. There must be one main central organising committee, which must take the lead role in organizing this grand mela, and the committee must be properly classified and represented by members from the organizations of the various sub zones such as the various Talukas, Districts, City and State.”
Vijay adds, “The fact that there are various organizations working for the cause of cultural revival is a healthy sign. But the success of the same would be directly related to willingness amongst the members of the community. But I personally feel, if the various forums unite and work as one for the promotion of the same cause instead of working separately, then they would yield more satisfying results. The community should unite as one and work towards common goals.”
While trying to get their feedback on the essence of the mother tongue for the promotion of one’s culture, Sajandas exudes extreme dissatisfaction at the reducing influence of the language within the community. He says, “The language needs to be extensively used by all members at every opportunity. My grandchildren don’t know to write in Sindhi. I am angry with my children for not emphasizing the need of knowing to read and write in one’s mother tongue. It must be the responsibility of parents to converse in Sindhi at home so that the children pick up the same. My grandchildren speak to their children in English. Thus with limited use of the language we are creating a hurdle for ourselves. At least, the situation must arise where every member can speak Sindhi at one’s home. Sindhi literature must be purchased and members must try and read various works, poems and other literature in the form of Sindhi newspapers and magazines.” He portrays extreme optimism and states, “I am sure Sindhis and Sindhi language will always survive.”
Chandiram citing an example on how the language can survive, mentions, “We were about a dozen Sindhis who had once been to a government office with a plea. During the course of the meeting we realized the meeting was not going on as per our plans, and exchanged our views within ourselves in our mother tongue and then came out with a perfect response to the authority without him understanding what transpired between us. Thus, the community can use their mother tongue as a code language and communicate in Sindhi amongst a group of people who are alien to the language of Sindhi. Similarly, in Sindhi we use a short hand written script known as “Hatvanki”. Some businessmen maintain their accounts in Hatvanki. It’s an advantage, as not many know it. Frequent practice of this could be used for ones personal interests, but the language can survive. Efforts have to be made and there must be a mass movement to save the language.”
Sajandas remarks, “The Balochis don’t have a rich language, but they still speak their mother tongue. They don’t even have a script. Similarly, members of all the other communities know their mother tongue. We must lovingly talk to our youngsters in Sindhi. We must enlighten them about the richness of our language. I don’t speak to my grandchildren and great grandchildren in Hindi / English / Pushto or any other language. I speak to them in Sindhi even though they may not necessarily understand me in the hope that they will slowly and steadily pick up the language.
Master Hunar Suresh Matlani, great-grandson of Sajandas and grandson of Chandiram is a four year old who like many others of his age has limited knowledge about his native language or the culture, and unfortunately does not realise what he is missing out on. When asked about his knowledge of Sindhi he responds with a sly smile on his visage, “I don’t know the language Sindhi. I study in an English medium school. I can talk to my parents, my cousins and friends in Hindi or English. Its only my grandfather who speaks with me in Sindhi and now I somewhat understand what he says. I sometimes also answer him in broken Sindhi.”
When Vijay was informed about the danger that looms large over the community, he says, “I would lay emphasis on my children learning to communicate through the mother tongue. That helps in keeping the bond between them and the culture. I will take the extra initiative to make sure that my children and me speak in Sindhi. My grandfather teaches me to write in the language. It will help me because my business is maintained in Sindhi. Though, I read slowly now, I am picking it up. I believe that every youngster should make it a point to primarily converse in Sindhi, at home and at every opportunity.”
When asked to comment on the script, Sajandas says, “Ideally the usage of the Persian script would be better. But all the same, I don’t have anything against the usage of Devanagri script, as long as the language of Sindhi is alive. Members must make it a point to learn Sindhi either in Arabic or Devanagri.” He expresses extreme optimism when informed about the dying language. He says, “I have complete belief and faith that the Sindhi language will not die. We must ensure that the community uses every function or opportunity to help the youngsters converse more frequently in Sindhi.”
Chandiram says, to address the problem, “The various Sindhi associations and Panchayats who have an impression on individual members and the community on the whole must take a lead in spreading the usage of the language. There must be a leader who can lead this mass movement. It must be made compulsory for all youngsters to know first spoken and then written Sindhi. A proper management type organization, a social management that is influential must be created to work for this cause. A certain sense of fear must created by this management and shun those members who don’t adhere to the set principles.”
Shri Sajandas referring to the current identity crisis remarks, “It is our destiny that we find ourselves in such precarious situation. We can’t change our destiny but we can certainly change what is in hold for the community in the future. But he believes someone will emerge as the leader of the masses. He will be there to sacrifice and help promote and preserve the culture. It is the responsibility of those members who are doing well to contribute towards this victory.”
On the topic of losing identity, Vijay assure, “I should not lose my Sindhi identity. Even though English is a predominant language, the essence of Sindhi must primarily remain within the community. One must follow Sindhi customs and rituals, during weddings and all other religious festivities. I will personally make it a point from now to help the community in this fight for cultural survival, by encouraging my friends to learn Sindhi, speak the language at all given opportunities. I will try and put in their mind the advantages of learning Sindhi as an additional language. Overall the community and its younger members in particular must realise the pride in being a Sindhi, considering its unmatched cultural history.”
The future certainly seems to be bright. There is lots of hope. The optimism exuded by Sajandas epitomizes his belief that the community and its language shall survive at all odds. The solutions suggested by Chandiram personifies the willingness and determination that members of his generation must adopt to succeed in this battle for cultural survival, while Vijay expresses hope to walk hand in hand with his older generation and make sure that the community, with its culture and language is passed on from generations to generations. The fight for survival would be half won if the community would have more people of each generation who are in congruence with the views expressed by our three representatives from each generation. With younger generation determined to contribute, the older generation keen on making up for its earlier flaws would it then be long before the members of the community swell with pride and remark, “I am proud of my ancestral lineage. I am a Sindhi.” The ball is in your court.