FOR A CHANGE IN THE HOT SEAT
Having seen on “Sindhi Sarvech” all the interviews of stalwarts from the Sindhi community conducted by Ram Jawhrani, telecast on Doordarshan during 2005 and having had the privilege of publishing “Global Sindhis” based on these interviews the thought that the interviewer himself has never been interviewed struck us at SINDHISHAAN.
His own journey through life spanning 6 decades has not been revealed, nor has anyone delved into his psyche to unveil his emotions – his highs and lows; his moments of joy and disappointment; his apprehensions and fears; his longings and desires; his unfulfilled dreams if any . . . . . . and so on.
On the occasion of the release of his book 'Global Sindhis' on 13th September 2009 SINDHSHAAN seized the opportunity to coax him into giving us an exclusive interview and we are glad to reveal the noble, ever helpful, patient, serene and spiritual side of his personality along with shortcomings and drawbacks if any, as he perceives in himself.
Butani : At the outset Ram, how do you feel being on the other side of the table facing questions instead of firing questions?
Jawhrani : But this is a good thing. Change is the rule of life, sometimes on this side of the table and sometimes on that. Presently, the reins are in your hands!
Butani : So lets begin. First of all, where were you born?
Jawhrani : I was born in Sindh, in the village of Ratedero, which is in the district of Larkana. When my elders moved from Sindh I was only 6 months old, hence I have no memories of Sindh. What I have been told is that my ancestors in Sindh were landlords, had hundreds of acres of land, and many mansions. They had a flourishing business of foodgrains and textiles which had to be abandoned.
Butani : When did you come to India?
Jawhrani : I was born in December 1947, and around June or July 1948 we came to India. In the beginning we took refuge at Ulhasnagar in the military camps which used to be called Kalyan Camp in those days.
Butani : It has been said that Sindhis went through harrowing times at Ulhasnagar. Did you too face difficulties?
Jawhrani : Our elders did face innumerable difficulties. Those who used to be rulers at one time and had never stepped down from their horse driven carriages had to toil hard to make a living. Plus the barracks which accommodated them were in extremely unhygienic and dilapidated conditions. They had been used earlier to house the lower class personnel of the military, and these princely people were offered those dirty, stinking places to stay. Moreover, everything over there used to be on rations - foodgrains, clothes and even medicines.
Butani : Did you personally face any difficulties during your early years?
Jawhrani : Personally I didn't face any real difficulties as such. The only thing I experienced were some moments of fear and apprehensions about security and safety on account of activities of some anti-social elements due to absence of proper administration and civil amenities like roads, lighting on roads and other basic necessities. For sometime there was hooliganism, and an atmosphere of fear existed, which I myself witnessed. There were certain areas like Heera Ghat where people would not dare to go on that bridge after sunset because of forlorn and desolate conditions.
Butani : How large was your family? And what were the financial conditions?
Jawhrani : Financial condition, by the grace of almighty was okay. Our elders had brought some cash with them. Sensing the situation and without wasting much time they invested well. The rich and affluent of Sindh who came here did take some time to adjust. Many felt, that we had so many servants working under us, how can we go and serve someone else? But my elders realized that if we don't work, we shall not be able to survive. So they established their textile shops in Japani Bazaar in Ulhasnagar and in 1962 they shifted their business to Kalbadevi in Bombay.
Butani : Who all were there in you family?
Jawhrani : My family consisted of my parents, grand parents, my sister and myself.
Butani : Where were you educated?
Jawhrani : I studied at Jai Hind Academy school in Ulhasnagar. Principal Nathani was instrumental in preparing us to face the ups and downs in life. I passed my matriculation examination from National School at Vithalwadi. Both these schools, belong to the Hyderabad (Sindh) National Collegiate Board.
Butani : What was the medium of education in those schools?
Jawhrani : Sindhi. Arabic Sindhi.
Butani : When your elders established their shop here in Bombay, did you shift to Bombay?
Jawhrani : Although we established the shop in 1962, we shifted to Bombay only in 1980.
Butani : And what about college?
Jawhrani : Initially I went to Jai Hind College. The timings of the college used to be from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and thereafter I used to go to my shop.
Butani : So you used to travel daily to college from Ulhasnagar?
Jawhrani : No. Along with the shop we also had two more offices here in Bombay, which also had good lodging and boarding facilities. So sometimes I used to stay there and sometimes go to Ulhasnagar. I have also obtained Masters Degree in Sindhi from Bombay University, just a few years back.
Butani : Did you ever get the opportunity to visit Sindh?
Jawhrani : I haven't got the opportunity to go to Sindh. But I am quite anxious to go to Sindh and bow my head in reverence to that auspicious land which has been praised all over and where my ancestors lived. Whenever I get a chance I shall definitely go.
Butani : Did you join your family business while studying?
Jawhrani : My father and grandfather were already handling the business, and I too joined them. Moreover I didn't have any leisure pursuits, either in Ulhasnagar or in Bombay. Even till date, at the age of 62, I am not a member of any club. I don't have any hobby besides watching films. Most of my time is spent in business and with my family. So since my college days, whatever spare time I got was used for social service.
Butani : Were you always helpful and friendly even during college days or this nature developed later?
Jawhrani : In any human being good qualities are there from birth, they don't develop suddenly overnight. The friendly and helpful nature is there since childhood, acquired from one's family and upbringing.
Butani : What kind of social activities were you involved in during your college days?
Jawhrani : We had a Sindhi Circle in college those days. Prof. Arjan Shad and Prof. Ram Panjwani were in charge. Prof. Arjan Shad used to conduct the morning classes between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., while Prof. Ram Panjwani conducted the day classes after 10-00 a.m. During my association with Prof. Arjan Shad, I felt that I should take up writing. So I started writing short stories for the annual college magazine. One more thing, which I am disclosing for the first time, is that Prof. Arjan Shad used to encourage me to participate in college dramas and I did act in one or two dramas. I also used to participate in other extra curricular activities of college. At that time I wasn't aware about social service, but I did assist in whichever way I could at college level and amongst friends.
Butani : What social activities did you take up after college?
Jawhrani : Soon after college, maybe in 1969 or 1970, I along with 4 - 5 of my close friends, like Hardas Makhija, started a Friends' Circle in Ulhasnagar. The main objective was to distribute free books amongst poor students. There was one Shanti Nagar in Ulhasnagar where about 80 destitute ladies lived, who were either widows, extremely poor or had been left to fend for themselves by their families. We friends would pool in funds from our pocket money and donate blankets during the winter season, and also provide kitchen utensils to those old ladies. This way having observed poverty and misery from close quarters, the desire for social service grew stronger within us.
In 1973 I was invited to Shanmukhnand Hall in Bombay by “Rajnigandha Institute” as they wished to honour me for my charitable activities. S. P. Mandelia was the Chief Guest. Ten other persons had been selected from Bombay for the awards besides myself. They were Sachin (Marathi films actor), Sarika, and some industrialists. There I met Mr. Umakant Bajpai of “Ashirwad.” This institution used to present Film awards. During those days only two organizations gave film awards, one was Filmfare and the other was “Ashirwad.” I joined “Ashirwad” in the capacity of vice chairman and thereafter became its Chairman for 5 years.
I soon found my interest diminishing in film awards, although everyone enjoyed the awards, and the company of film personalities and other celebrities. I was not satisfied with restricting my activities to presenting film awards only. In 1984, the President of Bombay Sindhi Cloth Merchants Association, Mr. Gurdasmal Awatrai approached me to organize a fund raising show at Shanmukhanand Hall, for collecting funds for the marriage of poor girls. I agreed and as I was already well connected with the film industry approached Anu Malik for the function along with his brothers. They were new in the film industry those days. They agreed and said that they would bring their entire team along with other playback singers. So in 1984 we organized this programme named 'Sindhi Sangeet ki Shaam, Anu Malik ke Naam.' Anu Malik came with his two brothers, and an entire team of well known playback singers and other celebrities from the film industry. We had invited Chandrika Kenia, the then Education Minister as the Chief Guest. During that function we honoured 11 Sindhis, who were doing a great job in the field of Social Servce, like Nari Gursahani, Hashu Advani, Nanik Rupani, Hardas Makhija, Jhamatmal Wadhwani and others. We collected approximately Rs. 8 lakhs from that function. In this way I came close to our Sindhi community. My association with Ashirwad Organization enabled me to connect with non-Sindhis, but after this programme I came close to the Sindhi community also.
Butani : Did your involvement in social service affect your business? Did your father have any objections?
Jawhrani : Well, neither my father nor family ever object. And fortunately our business was well set and settled that there wasn't much difficulty in devoting time to social activities. By the grace of God our business was flourishing day by day. I used to devote time firstly to my family and business, thereafter only during free time I pursued these social activities. As mentioned earlier I am not a member of any club, till date I have never had the inclination to play cards, neither did I like the idea of going to clubs for drinks etc. and I devoted this time to social activities.
Butani : Were you married at that time?
Jawhrani : I got married in 1970.
Butani : Did your wife ever object to your devoting a great deal of your time to social activities?
Jawhrani : May be sometimes she might have not felt good within, but she never objected and always supported me in all my endeavours.
Butani : When and how did you establish Sahyog Foundation?
Jawhrani : During the interval of “Sindhi Sangeet ji Sham”, Chander Manghnani suggested that since I was so active and interested in the social field I should join Friends of International Sindhis and Priyadarshini Academy which were the other two active Sindhi organizations those days. I have known Chander since school days in Ulhasnagar. We studied together till S.S.C., thereafter he went to Bangalore for further studies while I came to Bombay. At his suggestion I joined both these organizations.
I joined Priyadarshini Academy as General Secretary and to announce this appointment a function was organized at Dayawanti Tikamdas hall, where Bombay Sindhi Cloth Merchants Association, Friends of International Sindhis and Priyadarshini Academy also honoured me. The Chief Guest was Mr. Govindrao Adik, who was the secretary of Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee. Mr. Ashok Advani who was the President of Hyderabad (Sindh) National Collegiate Board at that time, was the Guest of Honour. The function was conducted by Ramkishin Advani and Tahilram Azad. Ramkishin Advani called me and told me “Look, you are doing such a fabulous job, devoting so much of your time, spending your own money, why don't you start your own organization to fulfill your aspirations.” I said, “Dada, suggest a name”, he replied – “Sahyog.” Then in the month of September 1985 it was decided to name the organization Sahyog Foundation. He asked me do you understand the meaning of Foundation. I replied that it is our duty to work hard and some day we might reach where the big foundations are today. He said you are absolutely correct. He said, we should begin by donating tri-cycles to the handicapped persons. The next day I opened an account with the bank in the name of Sahyog Foundation and signed the cheque book and handed it over to Ramkishin Advani. I informed him about the sum of money in that account and told him that if any handicapped person approaches him, he could give the requisite amount. That's how the saga of Sahyog Foundation began.
Butani : What have been the other major achievements of Sahyog Foundation?
Jawhrani : When I saw that I was getting immense co-operation, I thought of distributing free sewing machines to needy women. As I had good relations with the film industry, I approached B. R. Chopra. In those days, his T.V. serial Mahabharat was at the peak. I told him that although the cost of the sewing machine was only Rs. 700/- that machine would enable a livelihood of Rs. 700/- per month for a lifetime. He liked the idea and agreed. I asked him to request Lata Mangeshkar to distribute these sewing machines. He called up Lata Mangeshkar. She said, “Your machines and I just come to distribute them, doesn't sound correct to me. I will buy the machines and let them be distributed under the banner of Sahyog Foundation.” I said that this is one of our first tasks, and we must do it ourselves. So this idea of inviting Lata Mangeshkar didn't work out. Then Mr. Chopra suggested that I take the whole team of Mahabharat for this donation programme. A small function was organized, and at the hands of artists of 'Mahabharat' the machines were distributed.
Thereafter a new building of Jhulelal school was under construction in Ulhasnagar. They said they wanted to organize a fund raising function to collect funds for their new school building and wanted the Mahabharat team to participate. Once again I approached B. R. Chopra, to send his team to Ulhasnagar where a show would be organized and we could honour all these artists. He agreed. About 8 – 10 cars left from Hotel Sun-n-Sand for Ulhasnagar, and the show was organized in Jawahar Talkies. About 10 lakhs of rupees were collected and that Jhulelal School is functioning quite well. So I think this is also a kind of social service where I could contribute in a small way to such noble causes.
I had good relations with Sunil Dutt since 1980. Once he told me that the drug menace was becoming a huge problem day by day and something had to be done. I agreed. In 1990, I organized a function 'Savera 90', where the lighting of lamp was done by Dharmendra, the Chief Guest was Mr. Chagan Bhujbal, the then Mayor of Bombay, Guest of Honour was Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was the Cultural Minister at that time, Mehro Bengali was also invited, who was the Vice-Chancellor of the Bombay University, as I wanted to involve students in this movement. Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Rahul Sur, who was the Chief of the Narcotics Cell and the dynamic Sheriff of Bombay – Nana Chudasma were also invited. Along with them about 55 film stars participated including Govinda, Chunky Pandey etc.
Butani : Who arranged to get all these film stars?
Jawhrani : Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani. He has been associated with Sahyog Foundation right from the beginning. When I was going along with him to invite Dharmendra, I mentioned to him, that I was desirous of conveying a message of 'Savera – a drugs free dawn', a morning free from the menace of drugs. He liked the idea and readily agreed to co-operate. Seeing the success of this programme, the Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University wrote to me that a similar programme should be jointly organized with 5,000 students from the University. She said that they would provide the space, auditorium etc. So I organized 'Savera 91', where the lighting of lamp was done by Jeetendra. All the members of the Narcotics Cell participated, Mr. Yusuf Merchant who was fighting this battle against drugs, was one of the guests of honour. That programme was a tremendous success. In that programme a play 'Subah mein hi Shaam Hui' was presented. The message conveyed through this play was that once a person gets into the habit of drugs, he dies that very day, and only the last rites for his physical body are conducted later on. This play was also very successful and ran for many shows later on. We had also organized one show at Prithvi theatre.
Thereafter, again Sunil Dutt encouraged me and told me that the message for National Integration was the need of the hour. I said that if the subject is of National Integration then it should be a huge grand function. So I booked Andheri Sports Complex for the event, in 1993. Under the Chairmanship of Mr. G. P. Sippy, a committee was formed for the event. Right from Amitabh Bachan to Zeenat Aman everyone confirmed their participation along with the who's who of Bombay. The event was supposed to be held on 14th of March but on 12th the bomb blasts occurred in Bombay and we had to postpone that event and after sometime we organized it at Birla Matoshree. Mr. P. C. Alexander, the Governor of Maharashtra, the Sheriff of Mumbai, and other stalwarts also participated. The event was named 'Hum Ek Hain.' This programme was repeated the following year also, where folk dances of all the states of India were performed, including Sindh, Punjab, Haryana, Orissa, Gujarat etc. In that programme, for the first time I had introduced, Raju Srivastava, today's well known stand up comedian.
Butani : Did Sahyog Foundation involve itself with other sectors besides the film industry?
Jawhrani : During that time I came in contact with non-Sindhis like Nana Chudasma, Sunil Gavaskar, Dr. B. K. Goyal, Sudha Chandran etc. In this manner many more started getting associated with me. A meeting was arranged at West-End Hotel, to decide on the future course of action. It was decided to form various committees. It was decided that Nana Chudasma would be the Chairman of Social Committee, Dr. B. K. Goyal of Medical Committee, Vilasrao Deshmukh of National Integration. In this manner 15 committees were formed. It was decided that these committees would function independently and whatever assistance was needed would be provided. It wasn't a huge Trust like that of Tata or Birla, but for example, if someone had a budget of Rs. 2 lakhs and had been able to collect Rs. 1.8 lakhs, the balance Rs. 20,000 would be provided by us, so that their work gets completed.
The next decision was that other than getting sponsorship for the events, no other funds would be collected, but would be pooled from our own pockets, and everyone contributed. It was further decided that every committee would give an award. To decide on the deserving recipient, it was decided to publicize our event all over India, asking for nominations for the respective fields. Mr. Vivek Goenka, who is the Chairman of Indian Express and son of Ramnath Goenka, supported us in this task. He carried advertisements, in all the editions of Indian Express, for three days seeking nominations for the awards. In the first year we got about 12 -13 thousand nominations, then about 14 thousand the next year and so on. After segregating, the nominations would be sent to the Chairman of each respective committee, who would decide on whom the award had to be conferred, and his decision was final.
During the process of selecting the appropriate persons for the award we came across very astonishing persons from all over India. I will tell you of one such person who had no bones in his body. His body was just like a mass of rubber. In spite of such a handicap he still runs a school for the handicapped in Tamil Nadu. There was Dwarko Sundrani, a Sindhi, doing social service in Gaya. He showed us a cassette he had recorded, depicting the utter poverty of that region, where the people plucked leaves from trees, ground them, added sugar and made a meal. They also killed rats for consumption. He was doing social service in such abject poverty stricken areas. He had also been associated with Vinoba Bhave. We invited such people and honoured them with Sahyog awards. We also honoured Bhagwan Gidwani, who has written 'Return of the Aryans', which has created ripples all over the world. He came all the way from Canada to receive the award.
We also honoured Shanti Awedhna Ashram, which is in Bandra. When we approached them for their requirements they asked for white cloth, pain killing tablets and tea powder. When we expressed our surprise, they replied that every four hours or so, a person dies here. At least one person dies daily, so we need the white cloth for their last rites. All those who come here are always in great pain, so we need pain killers and their condition is such that they are unable to eat anything, hence we have asked for tea powder. When I heard this, I felt like saluting them, because they keep those cancer patients, who have been turned down by the hospitals and their family members. They take good care of such patients during their last few moments of life. It is a very neat and clean hospital and I was astonished by their service towards humanity. In this manner we have tried to honour different kinds of people from society, like in sports we honoured Narendra Hirwani, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and many others who had earned a name for themselves in sports. In this manner more and more people started getting associated with us and we kept moving forward.
To Be concluded in the next issue SINDHISHAAN Vol. 8 issue 4