POPATI HIRANANDANI – AN EPITOME OF COURAGE
Packed with a powerful punch
By Sundar Iyer
After having witnessed life and its trials through eight long decades, this lady writer has epitomized the spirit of courage, and come out triumphant in life despite the odds. This octogenarian exemplifies the true Sindhi grit and determination. Though her growing age seems to be getting the better of her, she has not lost passion for writing and expressing her opinions on Sindhi and other happenings through various forums. Having seen the ups and downs in life, this lady made the conscious decision of not getting married for the greater interest of her family and her community. The loss of her father at a young age, resulted in her having to work at a tender age to make both ends meet. Coupled with the subsequent pains and trauma at being thrown out from her homeland, contributed towards building her character, vision, and most importantly, her never-say-die spirit.
Born in Hyderabad in Sindh on the 17th of September 1922, was very aptly named Popati, with three syllables, Po indicating her power and courage, Pa her passion to write, while Ti the tigress within her. The second oldest among three brothers and three sisters, Popati was always considered the mature one. She says with a smile, “Though I was a girl, my parents always loved me the most.” An extremely smart and enterprising girl right since her childhood, Popati did her schooling from Bachhi Mai High School in Hyderabad. Her father worked with the Forest department, and hence was frequently transferred to various parts of Sindh. She says, “As a youngster, I escaped from the clutches of death, unscathed, many a time. First as a child, when I was about three or four years I was run over by a car, but not a single scratch on me. Then as a school child, when my father was transferred to Shikarpur I fell off from the top floor of the school building. I met with a fracture to my leg, which was corrected by the local blacksmith, who was a bone mender. So much so that this black smith, who was known to our family very well, actually threatened my father that he would adopt me if he didn’t take care of me. My father totally refused, but ever since, decided to carry me along with him whenever he toured outstation to take personal care of me.”
The loss of her father at a young age was a severe blow to her and her family, as her mother had to take care of herself and her six children. This also led to Popati developing nerves of steel, as she acquired maturity beyond her age. An earning member of her family right since the age of 12, Popati remembers her father asking her and her elder brother to take care of the family. She says, “My father in his will had stated that since she has a strong heart, she should be strict with her brothers. On his deathbed, he had asked my elder brother and me to be like a father to all, but for many things Popati would be responsible.”
The hardships endured by her, early in life helped her build a strong character and develop a resolute will, which combined with her values inculcated by her parents and experiences in life, have basically sown the seeds for her style of writing. Not one to hold her opinion back, Popati Hiranandani is adored and revered by one and all, due to the fact that she belongs to the genre of people who call a spade a spade. Over the years, her writings may have antagonized many people, organisations, but not for once could you find fault with her arguments. Her strong ideal in the community’s struggle for cultural survival, her works have invariably enlightened the importance of Sindhiat. She has also managed to record through her writings the hardships endured by the community during its struggle for financial stability during the traumatic times of the partition to the current hour of cultural crisis, when the need for preserving, practicing and promoting traditional customs and rituals should be the norm. As much as she attained finesse and mastery over her skills in prose writing, she was an extremely loved and revered poetess too. She always believed that poetry came from the heart. She quotes from one of her more cherished poems titled ‘Who is Anarkali’, “I am a homeless woman, I belong to Mohan-jo-Daro which was famous for home-building, but what to do, even Anarkali, the queen of beauty was buried alive, because she was Anarkali. I am also Anarkali because I cannot be a citizen of India or a citizen of a State. I am homeless, I am Stateless.” These above lines of the poem would best describe Popati’s feelings for her community. She has been in deep anguish ever since she was driven out of her homeland, and made to take shelter in India, with only hopes and promises.
Having decided to settle in Mumbai, after an initial period in transit through various places in the western belt, she finally landed a job as a teacher in Sind Model School. She says, “Teaching was in me, as I conducted tuitions in pre-partition days for a few young students. But in Mumbai, my brother refused to permit me to work with a regular office, primarily due to the conservative thinking that existed in those days. She then went on to teach at a few premier Sindhi management colleges in Mumbai and was a member at the Board of Education of Central Mumbai.
Apart from having served a brief period as the Convenor of the Central Sahitya Akademi, she has also been a member in the ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As per a resolution of the Sahitya Akademi, her autobiography has been translated into various Indian languages for the benefit of Indian literature. An honour indeed! Over the years the lady has to her credit 64 published books, many of them have been bestsellers of the time, while a few are masterpieces. Recognized as one of the better Sindhi litterateurs of the post-partition era, Popati Hiranandani is a name that shall forever remain in the memory of every true Sindhi. Though at times, her male contemporaries decided to stay shut on issues that deserved to be brought out to the common man’s notice, Popati always stood out as she feared no one and believed in doing justice to the art of writing by presenting the facts to the community. This do-all-bare-all attitude did win her a few adversaries on the way, but it also won her the undying respect and adulation of an entire community.
Having lived her life as a spinster, she has no regrets and exclaims with a hearty laugh, “If at all I came across a man who did make me consider marriage, invariably I found him married.” But on a serious note, she explains that the only time she was supposed to get married in Sindh when she was 22, she refused because the groom’s side was asking for a dowry and the feminist in her not only refused but quipped back, “If you want me to marry your son, then you will have to pay a dowry because not only am I much more educated but more intelligent too.” She has always been in the forefront of the all socio-cultural activities of the community and has sacrificed self for the greater cause of the community. Be it as an organizer of a Sindhi function, or conducting a little session teaching Sindhi to fellow members, she has never given a second thought while serving the community cause.
But lately, age and sickness seems to be taking its toll on Popati and having the better of her. She says with a heavy tone, “My age and my sickness have reduced my mobility. I can’t travel out as much as I did earlier and my writings have reduced considerably too. It’s not the pain of illness that makes me uneasy, but the pain that this illness reduces my time for my passion.” But despite that Popati Dadi, as she is fondly known nowadays finds time to make her observations, catches up on international, national and community news, and when it demands to make her point felt, she never hesitates to respond to a questionnaire like the one on Sindhiat sent by Sindhishaan.
On a lovely pleasant Saturday evening in the month of March, sitting upright in her favourite chair at her apartment in a high-rise building in South Mumbai, was the lady who over the years has been wielding her pen as not less than a sword.
Sindhishaan represented by Sundar Iyer, Madan Jumani and Baldev Matlani met up with the legendary litterateur, Ms. Popati Hiranandani and returned enlightened, enlivened and enchanted by her enthusiasm, indomitable spirit and eagerness to see the community gets its due.
FEATURED HEREIN UNDER ARE A FEW EXCERPTS OF THE RENDEZVOUS :
You have never failed to mention the influence of your mother in your upbringing. You have spoken about your mother in ‘Muhinji Hayatia ja Sona Ropa Warq.’ Have you inherited your rebellious instincts from her?
My mother has been the major influence in my life. My father expired when I was 13, and the family moved on to Karachi. My mother was a woman with rare strength and quiet rebellious too. In those days amongst Sindhis, when the husband died women were forced to war dirty (mud dipped) clothes chaddhar. My mother didn’t think too much of such customs, and refused to wear dirty clothes and insisted on wearing only white. Widows were made to sit and sleep on the floors for 12 months, while being simple in talk and forced to stay within the four walls of the house. But, my mother found all these practices utter nonsense, and quipped, “My husband is dead, not me.” As the children insisted on being taken out, she started visiting the public gardens for a bout of fresh air, but after sunset while she covered her face due to the fear of backlash from society.
Our religious sentiments have been deeply entrenched by our mother. It was primarily due to the discipline inculcated by her strict regime, we have imbibed a good character and were prepared to face the surprise of life.
Give us a brief account of your experiences of the days of partition and the resultant migration.
As riots broke out after partition and when things at Karachi looked like getting out of control, we went to Hyderabad. From Hyderabad we (me, mother, my sisters, children), 50 women and children altogether boarded a bus to Mirpur Khas. From there we boarded a train on our way to Jodhpur. We had booked two full compartments, one for people while the other for grain, thanks to the efforts of a Sindhi philanthropist and known member. But the religious conflicts led to the members of the other community holding back the compartment with grains. We reached Jodhpur with empty bellies and no food. We found shelter in this one old Rajasthani bungalow. The very first night posed the prospect of sleeping with scorpions. The children were getting restless, and it was due to the efforts of a Rajput neighbour that provided the children with food. It was a torturous period of nearly 12 days. I remember at times hunger got the better of me, and I used to snatch a ½ roti from one and another ½ from another. Some people, who had the good fortune of getting some money back, arranged for some food too.
Our situation was so bad, that we didn’t have extra clothes to wear the next day. Hence, each day we used to wash any one garment. Soon after partition, my brother went to Delhi and he got a job. He sent us utensils, dal and cereals. In that structure we arranged five kitchens and temporary curtains were created as partition. But, I clearly remember despite all the pains and traumas, we generally had a good time in the nights, as we got together and shared jokes, riddles and generally had a laugh. Soon, my mother and me had to sell away all our jewellery, but we somehow managed to get over the situation. From Jodhpur I went to Baroda, where I met and lived with Bhai Pratap for six months and later on knowing of a vacancy to teach Sindhi in Sindh Model School, I moved to Bombay.
Please describe your feelings when you were honoured with the prestigious and most coveted award from the Sahitya Akademi.
I had not feeling of elation as such, because I thought I had deserved the award much earlier than when I received it. But all the same, I was glad that my work was appreciated.
Out of your 60-odd publications and books, can you describe any one of them as your best creation and why?
This is one of the most difficult questions for a creative professional. But, since I am never one to shy away from an answer, though I am extremely fond of all my works because they are all what I believe and close to my hear, as I think, my short story titled, ‘A wounded swan’ and ‘Ma Sindhi’ a book on poems in which I composed some folk songs, wedding songs and social songs.
Could you describe any one name from the Sindhi literature arena, whom you consider the best of all time and why?
Though there were many good writers in Sindhi and a few are legends too, I have always been particularly impressed with the works of Tirth Vasant, which have been inspiring and brilliant too. He possessed tremendous knowledge and his works portrayed the finesse in his art. I have also always liked the works of Kalyan Advani and Lekhraj Aziz.
It is fast becoming a fad to claim that the Sindhi language is facing extinction. Can you suggest a solution to save it from its tragic end?
Well, it depends on many factors. Abroad they can speak the mother tongue to some extent. I congratulate the Bhaibands for having preserved the language to some extent. I remember, once in a tuition class, I was teaching a Bhaiband girl Sindhi, and I clearly remember her mother saying that her daughter needs to learn to read and write the language, else how would she communicate to her saas (mother-in-law) and write letters. But unfortunately today things have changed. Most Amil women don’t know the worth of the language. Women have forgotten the language and sometimes I feel it won’t be too long before the language . . . . . . , but if the women regain fondness for their language, the language shall certainly survive. Nobody can snatch the language from us, but ourselves.
What do you think of the cultural revival process, and your comments on Sindhishaan and its endeavours?
Though the situation demands political clout, there are vibrations in the air, which indicate the start of the revival process, which only augurs well for Sindhis. An awakening has begun. Young men are lot more keen to know about their roots and this shall only help speed up the revival process.
When I heard about Sindhishaan, I was thrilled from top to toe. Sindhis are asleep, we need to wake them up. Sindhishaan initiatives have been striving towards achieving the same.
Your message to Sindhishaan readers.
Every Sindhi must read Sindhishaan and understand its message and be proud of being a Sindhi.