ROCHIRAM KHANWANI – A SEPOY OF SINDHIAT
By Dr. Manohar Matlani
To possess love for ones language and community is but natural, but to love it with total dedication and vigour is a rare phenomenon. At a time and period, when the whole community seems disheartened at its current predicament of seeing the language fading away, there is one man whose efforts certainly raise the hope of the entire community. An individual whose efforts though at the outset may look minimal, undoubtedly have taken monumental proportions. A man whose life is but a library, and how breathes through his collection of books. Far away from the hustle bustle of urban life, in a distant corner of the crowded and congested township of Sindhunagar (Ulhasnagar), in the ground floor of a slightly dilapidated building, is the tiny but extremely important, SINDHU LIBRARY. At a time, when darkness seems to loom large on the community, Rochiram Khanwani, a septuagenarian with his noble acts comes across, as the much-needed ray of light. A librarian is how many would address him, but the underlying truth of the matter remains that he is very much a savior of the Sindhi language, a messiah for all Sindhi litterateurs, and undoubtedly a true beacon for the community.
Celebrating his birthday a day prior to that of the father of the nation, Rochiram Tirathdas Khanwani was born at Kotri in Sindh on the 1st of October 1929. But the partition of the country, led to many an unfortunate event, and like many others of his fellow community members compelled Rochiram to leave his cherished homeland, his ancestral belongings and proceed towards the uncharted territories of India. As an eighteen year old, inspired no end by the great deeds of a young Hemu Kalani, he felt deep anguish and pain at being driven out of his homeland. With tears trickling down his cheeks and a heavy heart, Rochiram left Kotri and arrived in Ajmer in central India. From Ajmer he moved towards Indore, before finally finding solace in the region Sindhunagar, known to many as Ulhasnagar. For a die-hard community soldier like Rochiram, the place is and always will be Sindhunagar, despite the failed assurances by the authorities since 1950.
At a time when others were busy struggling to make ends meet, Rochiram, a true Sindhi sepoy, single-handedly embarked upon his mission of preservation and progress of the Sindhi language. Having set up the National Library in the year 1958, Rochiram’s love for his mother tongue grew by leaps and bounds. A chance meeting with the legendary writer and litterateur Gobind Malhi in the year 1966, whom he considers as his Guru, provided him with the necessary impetus to work in the direction of his language. Since that day, he has dedicated himself, heart and soul, unto the path of serving the Sindhi language.
The inclusion of the Sindhi language in the VIIIth schedule of the Indian Consitution afte the stupendous efforts of the community on the 10th of April 1967 was a huge moral booster for this sepoy. He was so overjoyed by the due recognition his mother tongue received that since that day he decided not only to stock only Sindhi language books in his library, but also to entertain all sorts of communique’ only in the Sindhi language. A decision adhered to him till date without the slightest hitch. Testimony to this would be his initial indifferent reaction to this magazine because of it’s being in the English language. But realization dawned upon him that the objectives of his efforts and that of the magazine are the same and an innocent smile beamed across his visage, while a feeling of acceptance for the magazine was displayed.
While trying to understand his penchant for books and literature, the knowledge about a leading bookstore, operated by his forefathers’ is a vital clue. The bookshop was not only involved in the sales of books, but also ventured into publishing. His brother Lilaram Khanwani, who opted to stay back in Sindh at Kotri managed the bookshop until his last breath, and his children currently look after the operations of the bookshop. His association with the R.S.S. during the pre-partition days led to his imprisonment for two and half years in 1964, when he visited Pakistan. But despite his confinement, which resulted in his being expelled from the state of Pakistan, he was never deterred from visiting Sindh again as he considers a trip to his homeland no less than any pilgrimage.
His library, now famous under the name of ‘Sindhu Library’ is being operated from his little apartment situated at Ulhasnagar – 3. He has literally converted his little apartment into a Sindhu darshan depicting different dimensions of Sindhi culture, civilization, and architecture. In short, it wouldn’t be an understatement to state that Sindh resides in his home. The shelves of his library, house some 2200 rare and precious Sindhi books and some 1800 magazines, all stacked with such perfection that it would give a complex to many a big library. His wall are decorated with portraits of Sindhi celebrities, while the tables are adorned by various photo albums, which provide insight into the riches of Sindhi culture and heritage. These albums contain photographs of Sindhi artists, litterateurs, politicians, religious leaders etc. An album titled “Our ancestral heritage” contains photographs of Sindhi sports and old memories. The album “Visuals of Sindh” portrays marriage songs, Sindhi dances, devotional songs, Sindhi musical instrument players and Sufis rendering “Samaa”. The album “Martyrs of Sindh” contains pictures of Sindhis involved in the freedom struggle, while yet another albums has glimpses from the cities of Hyderabad, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Sewhan, Sukkur and Karachi. In all, this library provides a plethora of information to the community struggling for its identity.
Another noble act of his that shall not fail to baffle you is the sending of regular greetings to all Sindhi artists and litterateurs by the man, himself. He has maintained a diary listing the birthdays of all the great sons of Sindhi soil, and sends them birthday greetings as well as festive greetings on all Sindhi occasions. Though, the community at large may not know much about Rochiram, the litterateur and artist community would certainly know him and place him close to their hearts.
Despite the fact, that he has not source of income to supplement his initiatives, Rochiram doggedly continues in his endeavours. Though, he does not plead or ask for donations, he does not refuse any contribution, monetary or otherwise, that comes his way for reviving the glory of the Sindhi culture. In fact, such has been his greatness, that he has spent all his earnings including the over Rs. One lakh, which he received as prize money as awards. His nephews currently take care of his household expenses while he himself lives on a little cot placed outside his home, whereas his entire apartment is the library. He has executed a will saying that after his death, the books of his library be handed over to a dedicated Sindhi library, while his ashes be immersed into the Ulhas river. Rochiram certainly epitomizes the true Sindhi spirit, which never accepts defeat and fights till the very end, despite all odds. His determination and dedication to the cause of the community and its language deserve the highest accolades.