From a Different Perspective
By Arun Babani
Letter writing is a branch of Art, Journalism and Literature. Some of the more famous letters compiled and published are: Jawaharlal Nehru's letters to his daughter Indira, Sigmund Freud's letters to his daughter Anna Freud, Van Goghs' letters to his brother Theo, Osho's letters to his disciples. Recently the doyen of Sindhi literature, Kirat Babani published a collection of letters written and received by him.
Sindhis, incidentally are writers of long letters. Being a scattered community, the only form of communication they could indulge in was letter writing. They tend to write long and lucid letters to each other, sharing news and views about the community. Every occasion calls for a letter. From over written post cards, to inland letters to lengthy sheets of note-pads, they lovingly spend time thinking and writing their letters. Every letter received by anyone in the community deserves an equally long reply and that too urgently! When a book is published by a Sindhi writer, and sent to fellow writers, there follows a barrage of one-liner acknowledgement post cards, “I've received a copy of your book, will write more after reading . . . . .” or, when an award is announced in favour of a writer, again there are congratulatory post cards by the dozens. Amazingly, Sindhis don't seem to let go of the letters received by them. They tend to preserve them hoping to read them again on another occasion. Even Sindhis having telephone facility, still prefer to share in long hand. Perhaps they express better in writing as it becomes part of their Literary exercise!
My friend Dilip Bhavnani told me that he went to watch Koshi Lalwani's 'The Awakening' along with his wife and mother. While he liked the film, laughingly he said that the three of them were the only audience in that suburban theatre!
Ms. Lalwani has scored a point by becoming the first Sindhi film producer in decades to release her film in theatres. Fine. But the stark question that she must soon face is, where is the audience? Ms. Lalwani is lucky. She's affluent. She has money to blow simply to score a point. But then what of the Awakening? The film is based on the stage production “Jag Sindhi Jag”, VCDs and DVDs of which are already available. So what point is Lalwani making by taking this poor business decision? We can only sense one reason. Ms. Koshi Lalwani is in love with herself and her image of an enterprising Sindhi Producer or else she wants to enter some Sindhi Book of Records. We are only too happy to grant her that privilege and watch her next step while she looks up her balance-sheet! Jag, Koshi, Jag!
According to a recent survey, a new quit India movement is taking place in the country. 50% of IIT graduates are leaving India every year. 20% of Medical graduates are leaving India every year. India ranks 2nd among the countries exporting people to the US. India is No. 1 in exporting students to US, 90% of who never return. There are 20,00,000 Indians living abroad.
Indians, educated middleclass Indians, just don't seem to be able to cope with pressures of Indian conditions. The corruption, overcrowding, insecurity and pollution are too much for them to take. They see their future in India as bleak as ever.
To be sure, Indians including many Sindhis, have been migrating since many centuries to countries like Africa, Southeast Asia, Fiji and the Caribbean in response to the demand for cheap labour. After the oil boom of the 70s, many semi-skilled Indians migrated to Gulf. But now the migration seems to cut across class, age and professions. From students to professionals to businessmen, Indians are migrating in a big way to countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U. K. and U.S. This “brain drain” according to some is a good thing because, “the brains are being taken out of the drains of India!”
Sindhis have always been a migrant community. Even before partition, much earlier from 18th century onwards Sindhis traveled to distant parts of the world in search of good life. As they say one migrant creates another migrant and so a vast number of Sindhis live abroad since generations.
Cleaning my father's study the other day, I came upon an old worn out thick file of legal documents. On the top of the file was written : Kirat Currency Notes. Curious, I opened the first page. A typed letter dated 09/04 from Advocate Ram Panjwani faced me. It said : We have a file relating to the currency notes. Please write to us about the future course of action, if any. We are in the process of destroying old files. If we do not hear from you in the next 30 days we will destroy the file. Going through the file I slowly discover what it is all about : Akhil Bharat Sindhi Boli Ain Sahit Sabha had filed a case against the Union Government and Municipality as early as 1961 to teach Arabic script as against Devnagri in schools. Later in 1970 Sabha approached advocate Ram Panjwani to fight another Sindhi battle. To include Sindhi script on Indian currency notes. Which meant this file in my hands was born in 1961 and today in 2008 it is lying dead in a drawer waiting its fate! Curious, I slowly read through the pale, brittle pages of official jargon. Questions : What was the status of currency notes before partition? Were other Indian Languages inscribed on it? A postal order dated 1913 carried the Sindhi script on it along with other Indian languages, then why not currency notes? From what I could gather from the replies given by the then Finance Minsiter Mr. Manmohan Singh's office was that they have also received another demand from another Sindhi camp to the effect that Devnagri is the official Sindhi script and so the currency notes should carry Devnagri words . . . . . . As usual Finance Ministry's reply was, the matter is under consideration.
But what I could not gather was that why was this agitation stopped? Under what circumstances? At whose behest? Mr. Kirat Babani is too old to know. So, should we finally destroy the file? What say O Sindhi. . . . . . ?
Like all human communities Sindhis too have their share of good and bad traits, but through my life I have observed the Sindhi's marked penchant for boasting! Yes, Sindhis are high on boasting and low on humility.
Most Sindhis whether in public life or private moments feel it necessary to prove their superiority by over-indulging in this harmless habit. Of course today the times are of I, Me and Myself, and unless you don't blow your own trumpet nobody will notice you. But what I observe about Sindhis is that they are indiscriminate and compulsive boasters. A Sindhi will try one-up-manship even when it is not an occasion for it, say with a cab driver or an office peon. They tend to expect Salaams wherever they go, expect to be at the centre of events wherever they happen to be!
Psychologists have found that the habitual boaster is an insecure and frightened person. He / She feels left out and small by his nature. This may be the result of some childhood unhealed wound. His self worth seems to have suffered a severe stroke during his growing years and stayed on with him till date. To avoid facing and healing the wound a person starts boasting and playing holier-than-thou. Basically this malfunction arises from lack of love. A boaster has not received love and attention and he / she seeks it by boasting, by proving his goodness so that he will be loved. But the effect of boasting is just the opposite; a boaster invites envy and anger. Behind his back people make fun of him.
Sindhis, it would seem, have suffered partition. If that unforgettable wound has not healed then we must together find some cure to heal it. Otherwise Sindhis run the risk of being a community of boasters and takers!
To end on a happy note, recently, while cleaning my home, an exercise we do every once a while, I was reminded of a sentence from Jean Paul Sartre. He says, “The possessions possess you.” Whole of our living space is filled with things; things brought in a fit of fascination, things received from others, things picked up on an impulse. Osho says, “look around yourself, 60% of things lying about you are useless, things you can very well do without.”
Cleaning my room I begin discarding and throwing stuff. My criterion was : I have very few years left. I would give away everything I've not used in the last one year. With this yardstick, I could pick so much of 'valuable' garbage lying in my drawers, in cupboards, in passages, almost everywhere around me. Old and unused watches, books I've read and forgotten, photo albums of yesteryears, clocks that gather dust, kitchen gadgets, show pieces on the shelves, old discarded music VCDs, DVDs, clothes, and whole lot of hidden stuff.
And then the miracle could unfold : I suddenly felt light. I felt peace that I had not known in years and above all I began to feel free, a freedom beyond words, a kind of unattachment that Hindus call Sanyas, a renunciation and with that came a genuine celebration! Possessions do actually possess you, weigh you down and you become like a worm crawling under the pressure of your possessions. Encouraged by how light I felt, I began discarding the so called valuables : A huge painting stuck on the wall since centuries, old rotting gold watch of 30 years back, an over used music system. Everything began to melt before my eyes and was being transformed into an empty, pure space full of beauty and light.
I have little time left on this planet and the journey now onwards should be light and feathery rather that heavy and noisy. Perhaps my renunciation has just begun and my friend I cannot describe the cleansing that is happening . . . . . . !