THE SIXTEEN ANNA TRUTH
A ROADSIDE STORY
By Arun Babani
A man met me on the road and put this rather innocent looking question to me : “How can a Sindhi, whose every nerve, fibre and gene speaks of business and money, how can such a man, such a community speak of the Arts, Poetry and Literature? Is there any sense the community finds in drama, cinema and hungama?
The question hit me like a thunderbolt. I could see it carried a spark of truth; many events, witnessed in the past fifty years of being a Sindhi, passed through my mind in a flash; the papad seller from Ulhasnagar, those illegal buildings there, the pattice maker who drives a Mercedes, the wholesaler, the golden tooth, the gold chain, and the diamonds on the throaty women, the white hand bags, the white shoes, oh my God, I began to feel dizzy. The man, now facing me, was waiting for a response. How, how can such a community, totally seeped in the culture of Gold and everything golden claim an artistic and literary heritage for itself?
“Yes”, the man continues “I salute the Sindhis for their acumen, for their hard work, their wealth. But, I just cannot buy the concept that Sindhis can have an insight, an ideology, and intelligence for anything else.” I know Sindhis. I am one. I know this man is talking sixteen anna sense. But yet I cannot come to terms with this harsh reality that Sindhis as a community have not, have never ever been serious about Arts and Literature!
“Yes”, the man went on, “I can give them full respect for their religion and religious attitude. Their free thinking, broadmindedness, free of ancient rituals, with some real good Gurus and Saints. But, Literature? Poetry? Theatre? Cinema? That's not part of their curry-chawal, no sir, not at all.”
I keep watching the man dumbfounded. I have no words to describe the state I am in. I personally know over a dozen of Sindhi writers, poets and playwrites. All their names and faces flash pass me like a dumb consolation. But this man is far too strong in his sixteen anna truth. I want to shake hands with him for shaking me out of a dreamy consolation. Yes yaar, I want to tell him, true, absolutely true. How can a Sindhi, the profit maker ever become a Sindhi the playwrite? Yes, true. Very true.
“Yes,” the man continues, “I can understand Bengalis in the arts, or even Tamilians, or even Maharashtrians, all working-class cultures; they produce some fine literature and cinema. But Sindhis? Never heard of ONE, I say just one Sindhi artist with a national presence. Show me just one Sindhi artist who lives by his art alone. Just one Sindhi artist whose work is translated nationally. Why? It is inevitable. Sindhis can write account books, not short stories.”
I waited for him to stop. But he continued. I lit my Marlboro to gain some artificial confidence. “You see sir, its simple. Literature and Fine Arts don't fall from the sky. They are the product of roots a person or a community inherits. Sindhis have a long tradition of boat trade and commerce coupled with a sizeable tradition of Sufism. Arts and literary pursuits, or for that matter, scientific thinking just hasn't crossed their way ever in their history. They don't have that blood needed for ideas. So sir, how can you expect a Sindhi to tell you a good story? Yes he can give you plenty of his trade secrets. Not only you can't expect a Sindhi to be a good writer, you can't even expect him to be a good reader either.”
There on the big, wide trafficked road, my eyes shed a tear and opened wide enough out of a dream: a dream to become a Sindhi writer. This man had given me a diamond sutra: Don't venture into the wilderness of your words. Be a true Sindhi. Don't even try. Do anything else. Anything. Like frying pakodas on the footpath. Or sell a nine yard saree to an American. But please, for God's sake, don't even dream of writing in Sindhi. Otherwise your boat will sink under the dead weight of your own writing. And what's worse, nobody, no Sindhi will even notice you're not around any more!
P.S: And The Nobel Prize For Literature/Gyanpeeth Award/Birla Fellowship goes to…..Somebody else….Somebody far, very far from Sindhis….Naturally!!
Allah…SORHAA ANNA SACHH!!