Then and Now
Sindhi Theatre - Actions and Directions
By Arun Babani
Theatre or play or drama, in its origin, was associated with ideas rather than presentation; with substance rather than style. A play was meant to provoke; the ideas contained in a stage performance were later to be discussed, debated, torn apart. A play essentially was supposed to be experimental, radical, which brought new and fresh vision, albeit half complete, which was to be completed by the audience, the critics and public. A play like 'Waiting for Godot' instigated a whole new movement of fresh ideas, which were labeled as the 'theatre of absurd'. Closer home, in India, the plays of Vijay Tendulkar, like 'Sakaram Binder' and 'Gasiram Kotwal' were followed by a movement of radical realism in theatre. In this sense the new vision is of utmost importance, the style and presentation only secondary to the ideas which were brought in focus for people to imbibe and change the old mindsets. In this light the theatre becomes a powerful medium for change and progress of society's values and ideals.
Sindhi theatre, since partition, has suffered from multiple fractures in its slow and steady limp towards final extinction. With a notable exception of few plays of S. P. Menghani like 'Yaad Kanda' and Madan Jumani's 'Lado ain Ladee', there has always been a lack of original Sindhi scripts which tell the story of essential Sindhi culture. The post partition Sindhi playwright has largely concerned himself either with borrowed western concepts, unrelated to Sindhi culture and its unique problems, or, he has been busy translating and lifting ideas from Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali stage. This lack of original Sindhi plays written by Sindhi playwrights is the first major hurdle in the long list of problems that have plagued Sindhi theatre since partition.
During the first two or three decades after partition there was fervent theatre activity all over India, although with local colours and issues. All India Sindhi Drama festivals were organized every year in which as many as 15 to 20 Sindhi drama troops took part with prizes and medals being awarded at the end. But 80s onwards theatre suffered a stroke. Advent of T.V., Sindhi schools closing down and an upsurge of English education are some of the factors responsible for this setback to Sindhi theatre. But except Hindi theatre, these problems were faced by most of the other Indian languages, and their stage. Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi theatre too went into hibernation. With the growth of television the theatre couldn't keep pace in terms of budgets and style. Theatre all over India began to look like a poor cousin of T.V. and cinema. It was here that theatre needed to look beyond style and presentation and offer an alternative form of a forceful communication tool for ideas. But it failed. What most artists did was to switch over to T.V. and follow its style. That more than nailed the theatre in India in general and Sindhi theatre in particular. Although the plays with original ideas to educate and change are still around they are a small whisper rather than a loud roar.
Dwindling audience, unwilling sponsors and shortage of stage artists are some of the factors that are cited for such a sorry state of Sindhi movement since the 90's.
At the turn of the present century three new Sindhi presentation have revived the hope for the Sindhi stage. All three are notable in the sense that they are original and address unique Sindhi identities. Koshi Lalwani's 'Jaag Sindhi Jaag', Vashdev Nirmal's 'Amma Jo Pingo' and Mohan Gehani's 'Sindhu Dhara' are recent offerings on Sindhi stage, dealing with Sindhi issues and are presented with lavish production values involving song, dance, music and moving images. This is a welcome sign and looks like Sindhi theatre is going in for a revival based on true Sindhi values and vision.
Changing Voice of Sindhi Poetry
Poets and poetry is a state subject. Historically as well as in the modern world, poets have been supported by kings and governments. Poetry has been looked as a way of enjoyment by superiors, but never as something to be believed or taken seriously, or as something to be lived by. Poets, along with philosophers and mystics have had no 'use' as such for the common mortals, except as a way of entertainment to be relished at free times left after running the affairs of the world. And so poetry has had no buyers. This has been the case of poetry of all ages and periods and contemporary poetry has not been an exception to this rule.
Perhaps keeping in line with tradition, two separate volumes of post-partition Sindhi poetry are being brought out by two different government departments. One is being put together by National Book Trust of India, to be edited by Dr. Moti Prakash, and the other is by Central Sahitya Academy, to be edited by Dr. Prem Prakash. Both volumes feature over 50 post-partition poets from India.
Writing on the post-partition Sindhi poetry, eminent poet and critic, Vasdev Mohi writes : - “In the first 15 or 20 years after partition, due to severe economic problems faced by the Sindhi community living in refugee camps, Sindhi poetry became highly progressive in its voice. The Sindhi ghazal of this period concerned itself with the daily problems of life, so much so that the ghazal of this period carried the seed of a truly revolutionary spirit.” Besides the economic struggle, Shri Mohi cites another possible reason for Sindhi poets becoming rebellious during these times, “in those days many Urdu revolutionary poets were active in Mumbai, great poets like Kaifi Azmi, Sardar Jafri, Sahir Ludhianvi and so on. So perhaps Sindhi poets were influenced by this progressive movement taking place in Urdu poetry;” he says.
Some of the great Sindhi poets of those times were Parsram Zia, Sugun Ahuja, Khialdas Fani, Krishin Rahi, Hari Dilgir, Prabhu Wafa, Narain Shyam, Lekhraj Azir, M. Kamal, Arjan Hasid, Arjan Shaad, Arjan Sikayal, Moti Prakash, Vashdev Nirmal and so on. All these poets wrote protest poetry of the first order. Writes Mohi, “this was the period when the poet presented himself as the hero, like Mansoor or Socrates, and he mentions them with pride.” This was a period of helplessness and a lack, and these feelings reflected in the poetry of those times. Also the memory of motherland Sindh was very close to their hearts, and so a lot of poems of these times are on the subject of the beloved land – Sindh.
As the times rolled on, all through 70's, 80's and 90's, the subjects as well as style of Sindhi poetry went through radical changes. As the community began to take roots in Indian towns and villages and as the socio-economic life of the community improved and became secure, the content and style of Sindhi poetry too went through a slow and steady metamorphosis. The voice of the next generation of Sindhi poets came to be heard and appreciated. New names with new experiments and subjects, language and idiom were discovered. Some of the big names of the 90's and beyond are as follows : Shrikant Sidaf, Vinod Asudani, Khemal Mulani, Dholan Rahi, Harish Karamchandani, Rashmi Ramani, Gope Kamal, Laxman Dubey, Prem Prakash, Vimi Sadarangani, Indra Shabnam and so on. “During this period many new techniques in language were invented. 'How' it is said, has become more important than 'What' is said. Rising from the earth, this new Sindhi poetry has used terrestrial as well as celestial objects to express feelings and emotions” writes Vashdev Mohi.
Today's Sindhi poetry has many new voices, while some old voices continue to hold forth and guide the new movement taking shape. While the dwindling readership and a lack of patronage continues to mar the growth of Sindhi poetry, yet the real poets are never bothered with sponsors and supporters. Real poets only need true listeners that appreciate and encourage their art.
Since ancient times till now poetry has been regarded as the occupation of the chosen few with the highest caliber, the finest mind. And since it has no tangible use Plato wanted poets to be thrown out of his kingdom. This may be the reason poets and poetry are regarded next only to mystics and spirituality because the subject of both is nearly the same – Man and his life. Both, a poet and a mystic search for the secrets of existences. A poet expresses his findings as an art and a mystic as religion. Many traditional mystics like Kabir, Mansoor and Meera wrote in verse. Seen from this perspective some Sindhi poets too have touched visionary heights and created timeless poetry. Their efforts and struggles will not be wasted, and coming generations will learn and imbibe the heights reached by these 'rascals' of the souls.
Sindhi Short Story since Partition
The Short Story as a valid branch of Literature came into focus only in the previous century, whereas Novel, Drama and Poetry are centuries old. The short story as a form of art is relatively a new development in the world of literary creation and has only recently been accepted as an important part of literature.
In India the short story came to be written at the beginning of 20th century. Premchand in the north and R. K. Narayan in the south are some celebrated names in the Indian short story genre. In Sindhi the short story began to be acknowledged before partition in Sindh, but it was only in the late 50s after partition that the true Sindhi short story began to take shape and be heard. Today one can count upto about 50 or 60 short story writers in the community with half the number being prolific and important Sindhi short story writers.
The National Book Trust of India has brought out a selection of Sindhi short stories after partition edited by late Dr. Motilal Jotwani, the volume contains shorts stories by 38 Sindhi writers. In his brilliantly written preface Dr. Jotwani writes : “I don't divide stories according to whether they are old, new or modern. For me it is important to decide whether the story is good or bad one.” These 38 eminent writers belong to various age groups, ranging from old to young to dead, and the stories fall under different periods and genres of writing. There are a few labels of short stories world wide like Progressive, Romantic or Modern. To understand them in the perspective of Sindhi short story let us sketch out a brief history of Sindhi short story since partition.
In the period between partition 50's to about 2005, Sindhi short story has undergone three or four major phases or movements of thought. For instance first two or three decades of 50's, 60's and 70's are called progressive period of Sindhi literature including poetry, plays and short story. During this period the community was wrestling with harsh realities of camp life, surrounded by poverty and squalor. This was also the post world war II period and Marxism as an alternative form of thought and politics was on the horizon world over. In Sindhi literature this phase is represented by the Trimurti of Sindhis – Uttam, Malhi, Kirat. Other important names of this generation who wrote protest literature were Sundri Uttamchandani, Gobind Punjabi and so on. The subjects and characters of their stories were the poor and helpless looking at the falsity and perversion of rich and mighty. Frequently there are the visions of new society, with the old being rebelled against. A call to overthrow mighty rulers through revolutionary zest are common in these writings. This 'Taraqipasand' phase lasted upto mid 70's when we can see a change in attitude of Sindhi short story writers.
The next phase roughly labeled as the Romantic or Idealist phase is also represented by another Trimurti of Sindhi literature, namely, Mohan, Guno, Lall. This movement too had its influences from the western world of ideas. From existentialism, from Freudian and Jungian ideas, stories began to look within for answers for human predicament. The hero of these stories wants to analyse, understand and experiment with life. Love and sex for the first time became the object of enquiry. Equality between sexes and open discussions are the hallmark of this period of Sindhi writing.
Around 90's and beyond a third phase began in Sindhi short story writing labeled as new story or modern story or non-story. This phase continued the effort of previous romantics and went deeper into psyche and spirit. This phase is marked by freer imagination resembling and bordering on the spiritual. Shyam Jaisinghani and Namdev Tarachandani are some of the exponents of this period.
After or along with this phase there is a new genre taking shape that of Mini Story. In the west it is known as the short-short story. This carries a small tiny experience or character and quickly in a few lines says it's say. In Sindhi Thakur Chawla has produced many mini stories with some success.
Apart from these broad labels, there are a few short story writers who may not fall under any of these groupings, yet they have been successful in producing excellent short stories. Writers like Lakhmi Khilani, Kala Prakash, Hiro Shewkani, Narain Bharti, Harish Vaswani, Indra Vaswani and so on have written commendable short stories.
The present volume, edited by Dr. Jotwani is an excellent collection that features most prominent short story writers in the Sindhi community and will serve as a collector's item.
Sindhi Social Organisations
At the risk of stating the obvious and repeating a cliché the truth is that our community is a displaced and scattered lot. With Sindhis spread over the length and breadth of India and abroad, joint and collective gatherings are difficult to organize or attend. Inspite of the difficulties, Sindhi community being a social lot, many melas and gatherings do take place throughout the year where the community meets to enjoy, discuss and understand each other. Here Sindhi social organizations can, and do play a very important role in bringing Sindhis together on a common platform to attempt an understanding of the issues and problems facing the community as well as to celebrate and enjoy together.
Immediately after partition, around the mid fifties Akhil Bharat Sindhi Boli Ain Sahit Sabha was formed. This was an all India body comprising of writers, artists, educationists and generally people from all strata of life who joined together to unite and fight for the political and cultural rights of the community. Last year, in 2007, the Sabha celebrated fifty years of its existence with pride. Later many other big and small socio-cultural organizations have been formed. With small variations, the agenda has been the same for all of them :
• To promote Sindhi culture, language and the arts.
• To bring together and unite the community for common goals.
• To help strengthen the community's youth, women and poor brethren.
• To find and promote Sindhi talent.
All these goals are worthy in themselves, considering the fact that we as a community neither have a state or stake in the governance of the country.
Some of the notable social Sindhi organizations are :- Sita Sindhu Bhavan, initiated by late Prof. Ram Punjwani. This organization, over the last few decades has been instrumental in promoting young and fresh talent, especially the singers and musicians. With two events being held every month Sita Sindhu Bhavan has grown in leaps and bounds. With Shri Thakur and Paro Chawla being at the helm of Sita Sindhu Bhaven it also offers cash prizes, medals and awards to artists from every field. It is known to be a breeding ground for young talent from all over India.
Then there are two or three other organizations with similar goals and operations – Shanker Lalwani's 'Suvidha Foundation', Ram Jawhrani's 'Sahyog Foundation' and Nanik Rupani's 'Priyadarshini Academy' fall under this head. The common feature among all these social organizations is that they organize yearly award functions to appreciate talent in Sindhi and non-Sindhi community. Another common feature among them is that they are all a one-man show, with other posts being filled by friends as dummies. While Lalwani's Suvidha organizes a yearly 'Cheti-Chand' mela, inviting T.V. personalities and putting up lavish sets, Jawhrani's Sahyog Foundation too puts up a show every year to award talent from every field.
One more organization in publishing and production happens to be Jairam Rupani's 'Aseen Sindhi'. This again being a one-man organization, has over the last decade or so produced a fine Sindhi Magazine in English and a yearly production of Sindhi variety programs which have been quite a success in the community. Mr. Rupani is a good showman with original ideas and is willing to do hard work with sincere efforts.
One branch of Sindhi social organizations is the Sindhi Panchayat, many of whom are active all over India. In Mumbai there is the Lokhandwala Sindhi Panchayat with Bihari Shehari as its president, The Goregaon Sindhi Panchayat headed by Puran Jethwani. It is believed by some, panchayats do more sincere work than socio-cultural organizations. One reason for this may be because its members and audience live close by in one area, meet on a daily and weekly basis and therefore they appear to have better Bhaichara and brotherhood. Also, unlike social organizations, panchayats hold regular elections and emphasis seems to be on social issues such as marriage and charity rather than on arts.
Some people feel that the organizations in Mumbai and those outside Mumbai are different. Outside Mumbai, in small towns there is more work, sincere effort and good results. In Mumbai most organizations look for publicity rather than betterment of the community. Another feeling seems to be that since all these organizations are based on one man, after him the organization has to close down. So basically it is one man's passion that fuel's the set up only upto his life time.
Although Sindhi social organizations do make an effort to bring together the community on common issues, is it too much to ask whether, in the first place, so many similar organizations are needed at all? Will it not be more economical and profitable to have one big organization absorbing all these one-man societies which will have fruitful results? Let us think . . . . . . . . .
The Changing Face of the Sindhi Community
It's been 60 years since the partition. Sixty years of resurgence of the community. Much water has flown, much money been made, and many changes taken place during these eventful six decades. Some time during the eighties the change became apparent. Slowly the Sindhi language began to move out of a Sindhi's daily life. Sindhi culture, which is based on the written and spoken mother tongue, was the first to feel this lack.Sindhi values too underwent rapid transformation. The entire Sindhi way of life, as lived during the forties and fifties has acquired a new phase, a new façade, a new, totally unrecognizable mask. So then a young person of today cannot even be compared to a young person of fifty years back. The world has changed, the times have moved on, and so has the Sindhi and his Sindhiat.
It is in the urban educated Sindhis that this facelift is most visible. Go to any Sindhi college or shopping mall, or movie theatre and you'll notice this change. An urban Sindhi young person, or for that matter even a middle aged man or woman has done something terrible to herself: she has tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her name along with her age, her grey hair, and her mother tongue. This allergy to be known as a Sindhi struck Sindhis over a quarter century back. It now has taken on a rather vicious form.
After partition, about a thousand soldiers of Sindhiat made efforts to save Sindhi life and culture from extinction. But even during those early days the common folk of the community was more involved in building a house or buying a shop rather than being Sindhi.Competing in the market with the locals was a priority rather than keeping alive those horrid memories. Even today this same Sindhi, whether in Mumbai or Madrid, Delhi or Dubai is still not through with buying and bargaining, this time for his children or grandchildren.
And those one thousand soldiers? What became of them and their movements? Today Sindhi culture and language is inside institutions and organizations. A Sindhi Bhavan here, a Sindhi department there, and a Sindhi Academy here and there. Nowadays the institutions are running the show of Sindhi culture. It has disappeared from colleges, malls, theatres and footpaths, and is safe inside auditoriums and libraries. How long before these institutions are shut down for want of an audience or lack of funds is anybody's guess.
The Sindhi community is a predominantly business community with the majority of Sindhis in business. A large number are abroad, living and earning successfully. Lack of facilities for Sindhi education is a major stumbling block and the absence of Sindhi ethos and values in Sindhi homes. It has become more and more difficult to live and practice a Sindhi way of life since the milieu has disappeared with time. It is often proposed that at least the Sindhi vocal culture be saved from extinction and kept alive, but this too has its limitations and blind spots.
So how can we conclude this piece? What should we say? Hopefully a new Sindhi will appear on the horizon? Or should we proclaim with the prophets of doom that there is no hope for Sindhis? Should we say that the young Sindhi of today, without a home town and mother tongue is destined to perish? Or should we give that routine call to join hands in saving Sindhi culture,' Speak Sindhi.Be a Sindhi'? I'm afraid we have no clever conclusions to offer. Neither can we, at this point of time, foresee any major breakthrough in this matter. All we have done is to inform the elders about this situation in the community (which is nothing new).After all when the Sun sets, it sets on an old day, and when it rises, it rises on a brand new one. And the Sun never ever fails to rise.
So we can expect a new day, a new way, a new chapter in Sindhi history, which will surpass the light of all the previous Suns in brightness and clarity. No one can stop us from hoping that one day a young Sindhi kid will ask her grandpa to take her boating on the river Sindhu, or a Sindhi boy will fly a kite on Mohen-Jo-Daro!
History after all is known to repeat itself!