Author Saaz Aggarwal speaks of her Sindhi legacy and how through her book, she has tried to fill in History’s blanks on what happened to her people during Partition
After the 1947 Partition, thousands of Sindhi Hindus sailed from Sindh, Pakistan for Indian shores. Author Saaz Aggarwal’s mother, Situ Savur was then 13 years old. Once on Bombay’s soil, the community began life and trade again, settling into a new culture while rarely speaking of the one they’d left behind.
Sixty-five years of silence later, Saaz spoke with her mother about her memories of Sindh. It led to conversations with many others from her mother’s generation, the collection of which makes Sindh - Stories from a Vanished Homeland.
Through personal narratives of headline events, the book fills in a missing piece in India’s official Partition history. In Coimbatore to launch Sindh at an event organised by Coimbatore Art and Theatrical Society, Saaz spoke with author Shobhana Kumar about the book’s writing and the Sindhi Hindu community in India today.
From myriad sources
Sindh is Saaz’s eighth book and follows a scrapbook-like structure with short first-person accounts interspersed by family photographs, maps, newspaper clippings, poetry, recipes, excerpts from research papers and quotes by academics.
“While my mother’s story represented a well-off class of people, the others I interviewed, spoke of life in rural Sindh, the Arya Samaj and RSS movements, and the rehabilitation process in India’s refugee camps,” says Saaz.Their individual lives pointed to historical facts which the interspersed anecdotes supply, besides providing visual relief.
Sindh’s partition history is different from the well-recorded, violence-ridden Punjab and Bengal stories because while those states were physically divided, Sindh went entirely to Pakistan. “Rivers of blood didn’t flow in Sindh but the people’s migration stories tell of the drastic cultural change they underwent,” says Saaz.
The book opens with Situ talking of a Sindh where children flew kites all year round because it never rained. The first time she saw an umbrella was in the Bombay monsoons. “Her story made me realise just how much of a new world ‘India’ was to my mother. At Partition, they told her ‘We’re going to India’ but for her, Sindh was already ‘India’,” says Saaz.
Despite the sea-change, few Sindhis spoke of their past culture, few young Sindhis know their mother tongue today, and by and large, the community is shrouded in the Bollywood stereotype of loud, money-minded businessmen. “Tracing their history, however, shows that once in India, they focused on making a living for themselves. The richer Sindhis helped the poorer ones settle. It was a community that looked forward, but in the process lost their past,” says Saaz.
Saaz’s research partially explains why letting their culture go came easily to the Sindhis. “The capricious river Indus ran through their lands and it changed course often. One day, you’d be by the river bank, the next, you’d be flooded. Their surroundings created a people prepared for change,” she says.
Saaz’s research also paints a forgotten Sindh where secularism was upheld and spirituality mattered more than religion. Burial sites of religious leaders were places of strength and were sacred for all regardless of individual belief. “The generation that migrated to India, however, lost this secularism because Partition polarised the Hindus and Muslims into ‘us’ and ‘them’. My mother too believed this way,” she Saaz.
The book, however, revisits an article published by Situ which writes of how visiting Muslim neighbourhoods after the Bombay riots changed her views: “I looked into their eyes and I saw a familiar expression. It was the same fear that my parents had during Partition, not knowing what their future was going to be.”
The publication of Sindh took Saaz to the Karachi Literature festival where Oxford University Press launched her book. She also visited the land of her ancestors with her mother. “There I met a socially conscious young generation who knew their cultural history; Sindhi Muslims who still remembered and missed the Sindhi Hindus who migrated,” she says.
Moreover, she visited a village with over 4,000 Hindus where the elders said they never left during Partition because their tribal chieftain promised them safety and fulfilled it too.
She concludes, “It proved to me that all you need for peace between two communities is good governance.”