ROOTS or SUITS?
By Arun Babani
Today, in 2012, 65 years after partition, huge effort in the community has built up to save Sindhiyat from extinction. But, go back these 65 years, and think, who was responsible, to a large extent, for such a critical condition of the culture today? The answer surprisingly is very obvious: Sindhis themselves! Let us go back in a history and try and understand this.
I have spoken so many elders still living who actually witnessed this slow erosion of the community’s health. They put it all on, ‘newly begotten reaches of the Sindhis’. In those early year of the 60’s and 70’s there WERE schools and colleges for Sindhis. There WERE books, plays and even movies made by Sindhis. There WERE even cinema halls and auditoriums. But Sindhis wanted something else. They wanted prestige. They wanted high lifestyle that suited and matched millions they minted the Hong Kong and Dubai. And Sindhiyat suddenly looked to them like their poor country cousin. Sindhi woman particularly, I’m told, took the first wrong step by choosing to appear modern and fashionable. And Sindhi and Sindhiyat did not come up to their expectation of being polished and sophisticated like their other, non-Sindhi kitty partners. The result was a cruel but clear shove to Sindhiyat in order to welcome firangi friends!
Wedding became the first to feel the change. A lady from the Taj group of hotels told me, “I force my Sindhi guests who come to book marriage venues, that along with all the international cuisine, please also arrange for the Sindhi food, but they refuse point blank, saying, nothing of that dirty Sindhi for us!”
Then names and surnames were the next to be camouflaged. Everyone knows of Shyam becoming Sam and Hari turning into Harry. Slowly Sindhi bhasha and culture become down-market and Sindhis struggled hard to hide themselves and their desi look behind their ‘Naqli Shaan’, a play by SP Menghani of those days that ran to hundreds of shows.
Next in line was the loss of language. Speaking in Sindhi suddenly was a big no-no. English or even Hindi was hep and happening.
Migrating from villages and towns of Sindh of those days to Mumbai and other cities of India was a big culture shock. And when in less than three decades the Sindhis also stood shoulder to shoulder with other rich Indian communities there was a crucial difference – Hidden inside was a sense of guilty and shame, against which today we struggle to revive the ‘Sindhi Pride’.
After attaining to hi-life the Sindhi Bhau realized the price he has had to pay to get there. His grown up sons and daughters, studying in the US universities are at a loss when question by the authorities about their mother language. And those youngsters ask our Sindhi Bhau about their home town and home address.
Life has come full circle. After the wealth making it is now the time to go for root searching and ancestor adopting. The hi-life that the Sindhi woman was after arrived but at a price tag. How could she know then, that in order afford an imported lipstick, one day she will have to search for her mother tongue? Cruel history, but worse mistakes, wrong steps: Latest fashion won over ancient culture. Prestige appeared juicier than heritage. Suits smarter than roots!