RAM PANJWANI, THE ARTIST
By Prem Matlani
Struggling nations need strong personalities to look up for guidance. History discovers such personalities and they carry forward history alongwith them. History has many such entities but very few leave an indelible mark on it. The land of Sindh has been fortunate enough to produce stalwarts who have enhanced the glory of their motherland. Ram Panjwani is one of them.
He was born on November 20, 1911 in Larkana. He finished his matriculation at Larkana and was lucky to have the company of Sai Kishinchand (Bewas). The latter heard him singing the poem 'Sabh kan tunhji sarah' which pleased him greatly as it was penned by Kishinchand (Bewas) himself. Later on, Ram Panjwani became Sai Kishinchand's spiritual son. Sai Bewas used to say that Ram Panjwani would prove to be a voice of deaf 'Bewas'.
Ram Panjwani joined 'Chandka Amature Dramatic Society' which was founded by Sai Kishinchand (Bewas). Panjwani used to perform diverse characters on stage which made him an excellent artist. Panjwani always looked up to 'Bewas” for guidance in every field while 'Bewas' was more than willing to provide him with a helping hand through various fields of the artistic world.
Ram Panjwani got himself admitted at D. J. Sindh College, Karachi for further education and he took active part in the cultural activities of the college. He was highly adept at oratory and once, when he was addressing a college gathering on the topic of 'Sai Bewas, A Person and his Poems', Prin. Butani was so much impressed with his thorough knowledge of the subject and style of presentation, that he decided then and there to offer Panjwani the post of lecturer at his college, once his studies were over. Panjwani's meeting with Butani in 1929, changed his life forever and he describes it in these words, “Had I not been chosen by Butani I would have been nowhere”.
Dada Panjwani had utmost love and respect for Dr. Hotchand Gurbuxani too. It was irony of fate, that although Gurbuxani was a Ph.D. from London, he was denied the post of Principal of D.J. Sindh College, Karachi, and instead Mr. Narain Butani was appointed after Mr. Shahani and Gurbuxani was given the deanship of Arts faculty. It created bad blood between Gurbuxani and Butani. The college was in disarray and Prin. Butani, in order to rectify it, called for a meeting of the teaching staff where he put this question before them as to what ails the prestigious institution of D.J. Sindh College. To which, Ram Panjwani bluntly told him, that the groupism was solely responsible for the sorry state of affairs. He, himself was apprehensive of his employment as each one of the teaching staff was affiliated to one or the other camp and he being a neutral person feared that the sword of damocles hanging over their head may fall on him any fateful day. He said, “You yourself and Dr. Gurbuxani are responsible for all these problems. I don't know, when, I am going to be sacrificed at the altar of egos of you two people and everyone of us is trying to take shelter within one group or another.
It looked as if the obituary of Panjwani was about to be written, but Prin. Butani being a kind hearted person liked his foresight and rather patted him on the back and declared that henceforth they would be friends forever.
Once, Dr. Gurbuxani wanted to stage a play 'Neki Badi' written by Mirza Qalich Beg, in the college but Panjwani insisted on any play based on the heroines of Shah Latif which pleased Dr. Gurbuxani most. He insisted that Panjwani himself write the play 'Moomal Rano' which was later completed with dialogues and songs within three days.The play was duly staged at the Frere Hall and proved to be a huge success. The play was also published and someone opined, that Lalchand Amardinomal Jagtiani should write down its foreword, to which Dr. Gurbuxani himself offered to write it down. Panjwani felt highly indebted to Gurbuxani's goodwill gesture. The forward included a sentence, which is reproduced here-in-below:
“God bestows all of artistic abilities on very few people and I can very well claim that Ram Panjwani has entitled him to be counted as among them by writing such a nice play of 'Moomal Rano'.”
Still India was not free from the shackles of British Empire, as Panjwani had come to Bombay and stayed at 'Gyan Ghar', Khar. Mahatma Gandhi had also come to that house in the car of Dada Gyanchand Motwani. Gyanchand requested Panjwani to sing a song as Mahatma Gandhi had himself wanted to hear him. Panjwani sang:
“Moorkh Man Mat Bhool, Bachpan Toone Khel Mein Khoya Aur Jawani Neend Mein Soya Ab Yeh Burhapa Kaise Roya, Rona Hai Fuzool Moorkh Man Mat Bhool….”
Mahatma let out a big guffaw and said, if bachpan and jawani had left them, they could enjoy their old age the most as only that was left with them. He also invited Motwani to come to Juhu and bring Panjwani alongwith him. There, Mahatma advised him to sing in his own mother-tongue. Mahatma said, “You sang in Hindi at Gyan Ghar and probably you would sing here also in Hindi but it would be better if you sing in Sindhi, as everyone should have love for his mother-tongue. Children should get education in their own language. Though, I write in many languages but I think only in my mother-tongue.”
This episode changed Panjwani and he dedicated the rest of his life in the service of Sindhi, his mother-tongue. Suddenly, there was Partition and Ram Panjwani had to come to Bombay. Mr. T.M. Advani, Prof. T.G. Khubchandani, Nihchaldas Himatsingh and Ram Panjwani were of the view, that Sindhis should have their own college in Bombay. Keeping this in mind, they approached Mr. B.G. Kher, the then Chief Minister of Bombay with a request to have a plot at Marine Drive to erect a college for Sindhis. Mr. Morarji Desai, the then Revenue Minister had some reservations against Sindhis and he flatly refused to accede to their request. Sometime after that, Morarjibhai fell ill and these very Sindhi people went upto him enquiring about his well being, which left Mr. Morarji Desai highly impressed and when he recovered he immediately ordered for the allotment of a plot at Marine Drive for a college for Sindhis.. A befitting college was constructed on the site which is presently known as Jai Hind College.
Once, Balraj Sahni, the well known film actor opined at a public function in Ulhasnagar, that Sindhis should promote their mother-tongue and Ram Panjwani was more than willing to work towards this objective. He used to roam the length & breadth of India and present plays & songs in Sindhi to raise the spirit of Sindhis, who had to face the hardships of migration and rehabilitation in alien lands. His efforts inspired others too, as there was literally a mushrooming of Sindhi drama companies which led to the firm footing of Sindhi drama in India.
Ram Panjwani was a common factor in literally each & every Sindhi film produced in India. He was not only responsible for writing and singing, but he even acted in many of them. To name a few, there was Ekta, Abana, Bhagat Kanwarram, Jhulelal, Ladli, Sindhu-a-je Kinare and Ho Jamalo. Ram Panjwani was also bestowed with Central Govt's Sahitya Akademi Award for his book 'Anokha Azmooda' in 1964. He had been the Head of Department of Sindhi at Jai Hind College since its inception. When the University of Bombay established its Sindhi Department in 1974, its first Reader & Head was also Ram Panjwani from which post he retired in 1976.
He had cordial relations with many personalities of Bombay filmdom. Once, he received a phone and the person at the other side of the line said, “Ram Sahib, I'm Rafi!”
“I know only one Rafi!”
“You are right. Its me. I have a request for you!”
“I am all ears.”
“I want to cut a Sindhi record, provided you direct me.”
“I dare not, but I would love to serve you!”
“If you accede to my request, I can convey it to the music company Polydor”
Panjwani immediately replied in the affirmative. At the time of recording, Rafi received Panjwani with utmost respect and told him that Sindhi poetry represented the message of sufis & saints and he wanted to propagate the same throughout India. When Panjwani told him about some of the typical voices of Sindhi language, Rafi replied that he would give it a try and at least it would provide the young Sindhis an impetus to speak Sindhi, even if it was not perfect as he knew it very well that young generation of Sindhis avoided speaking Sindhi. An L.P. containing eight Sindhi songs was recorded after a gruelling exercise. When Panjwani complimented him on its completion, the latter replied “It was all due to your blessings!” Think of it, a world renowned sangeet samrat, the only Mohd. Rafi had the guts to acknowledge the best wishes and hardwork of Dada Panjwani but alas he didn't live much as that humble worshipper of God immediately left this mortal world for good as if he just wished to complete that Sindhi L.P.
To sum up about Dada Ram Panjwani as a person, it would be sufficient to say that he played the role of a rosary joining every section of Sindhi community. In the twilight of his life, when even his health didn't permit him to come to different shows, he continued with his work of propagating Sindhi music & poetry through various cultural and literary meets. At last, on the fateful day of March 31, 1987, he bade us goodbye and became one with the Creator.
Dada Ram Panjwani wanted to make Sita Sindhu Bhavan, the epicentre of Indian Sindhis, but alas he couldn't see it flourishing in his lifetime. His death was mourned by various dignitaries, like the then President of India, Giani Zail Singh, Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi, Swami Gangeshwar Anand, Dada Jashan Vaswani, Swami Shanti Prakash, Swami Ganeshdas, to name a few!