Interview with Lal Hardasani
by Ram Jawhrani
Sindhi Sarmayo by Ram Jawhrani highlights the selfless efforts put in to promote SINDHI language, literature, culture and heritage, along with information about their personal achievements.
We come across various people in society. Generally, most of them ensconce themselves within their own selfish spheres of vested interests and remains restricted within its boundaries, considering their own family and children as their entire universe. Some keep themselves detached from worldly responsibilities and seek God by renouncing the world, while some make full use of their potential and talent only to enter the rat race and strive for success for self-glorification and self-gratification and of being amongst those on the top. There are also some who waste their entire life trying to acquire name and fame. But there are also a few, who while shouldering the responsibilities of family and household, achieve financial success while simultaneously working for the welfare of the community, language and society at large, making their God-gifted lives sublime.
Amongst such few there is one great personality - Mr. Lal Hardasani, who immediately after partition moved to Hong Kong. He struggled a lot initially in the foreign land and managed to carve a niche for himself amongst the world's few great Sindhis. He has dedicated his entire life to Sindhi language, Sindhi music, Sindhi culture and the Sindhi community at large. Having made his mark in the insurance sector, while his family deals in silverware, I can say that Lal himself has a heart of pure 24 carat Gold.
R. Jawhrani : To begin with can you throw light on your origins in Sindh.
L. Hardasani : First of all I welcome you to Hong Kong and thank you for taking my interview. To answer your question – our ancestors were landlords in Shahdadpur in Sindh. My grandfather, wanting to do something different, sold off his lands, went to Hyderabad and started 4 – 5 different businesses but unfortunately lost all his money. My father came to Bombay at the age of 14 or 15 and worked for Rijhumal Brothers in the Silk Bazaar. Thereafter, he joined his maternal uncle Vishindas Gianchand in his silver business in 1937. Interestingly that firm, Vishindas Gianchand exists till date. My father was associated as a working partner till 1976, when his uncle expired. After separating in 1976, we started our own jewellery business in Zaveri Bazaar in the name of my father, Deepchand Sons. Today we have 3 silver showrooms in Bombay - at Zaveri Bazar, Bandra and Khar. As you know all my brothers are in this business. Since I was not interested in my father's business, I went abroad.
R. Jawhrani : But you were born in Sindh, right?
L. Hardasani : Yes, I was born in Hyderabad, Sindh. But I was just 6 months old when we left Pakistan and came to India. Since my father was already in Bombay even prior to the Partition, we didn't face any difficulty during the Partition days. We first came to Baroda along with our close relatives and every weekend my father used to take the Friday night train reaching Baroda on Saturday morning. After spending the weekend with us, he used to take the train back on Sunday night and be in Bombay on Monday morning. Later he found this travelling very tedious and around 1949, we shifted to Bombay. We used to stay at Dadar and I pursued my education also in Dadar. I completed High school at K. G. Khilnani High School, which was a Sindhi Medium school. I was a brilliant student during my school days and Sindhi was my favourite subject. Master Karnani used to teach us Sindhi and he encouraged me a lot. I had mastery over Sindhi grammar and ever since I have a lot of interest and love for the Sindhi language. Even today I receive various Sindhi newspapers, magazines, books etc. from different cities in India which I read early morning at 6:00 a.m. and honestly I enjoy reading them. Therefore till date I am very good at speaking, reading and writing in Sindhi.
R. Jawhrani : It is very nice to know that you wake up early and read Sindhi books, while others usually read religious books like Geeta, Quaran and Bible at that time. This clearly shows that you are very interested in you culture and heritage. How and why did you relocate yourself in Hong Kong?
L. Hardasani : I was always very keen to go abroad. My father's maternal cousins had an export firm by the name of Pohumal Kewalram Sons, which incidentally is still in existence. I joined them as an export assistant and retired as an assistant manager in 1972. Their company, here in Hong Kong, was handled by their brother in law. They sent me here on the 15th of August 1969 on a six months assignment to dispose unsold goods that had accumulated over time. That was the first time I came to Hong Kong. After 6 months I went back to India, and got married in 1970. In those days there was a re-entry permit valid for one year and if you had to get your Visa renewed you had to go back to Hong Kong within a period of one year. After my marriage in November 1970, I went for my honeymoon in December to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and this way my Visa was automatically renewed. During my 6 months stint in Hong Kong I had become very much attached to this place. The city was neat and clean, no government restrictions and it was a safe and secure place, and my ambition was to settle here one day which I finally did in 1972.
R. Jawhrani : How many Sindhis were there in Hong Kong at that time?
L. Hardasani : During that time also there were many Sindhis here. In my estimate there must be about 12,000 – 14,000 Sindhis in Hong Kong currently. I feel even at that time there were an equal number of Sindhis here. This is because on 21st September 1969 when the visa rule was implemented here many Sindhis came here. Prior to that there wasn't much restriction on visas. I feel that during that time the floating population was much more than what it is today.
R. Jawhrani : Are all the Sindhis here well off? Are they more into business or service?
L. Hardasani : I feel 80% of the Sindhis here are into business and are quite well off. The remaining 20%, who work in retail shops, however lead a hand to mouth existence. This is because expenses here are quite high. The rentals for commercial and residential premises are very high and hence their savings might be nil.
R. Jawhrani : Do all the Sindhis here meet often? How are their relationships?
L. Hardasani : Here Sindhis have good and cordial relations with each other. There are many associations here and many functions are organized. A lot of social life is also seen here.
R. Jawhrani : Are the functions that are organized here primarily Sindhi functions, or are they organized jointly by all Indians?
L. Hardasani : Mostly all Indians jointly celebrate the main events like Diwali, Holi, Janamashtmi etc. As far as Sindhi functions are concerned, our Sindhi association headed by Notan and myself, organizes Cheti Chand Mela on a grand scale where we invite artists from various parts of India. This is organized on the eve of Cheti Chand in a five star hotel. On Cheti Chand day we also organize the Bahrana Sahib in the temple.
R. Jawhrani : Does the younger generation have as much passion for Sindhyat? Do they attend these functions?
L. Hardasani : Very few of them attend these functions. But we are trying to integrate the younger generation with us.
R. Jawhrani : But if they refuse to join, then all these functions and programmes will be restricted to your generation only. What about the future?
L. Hardasani : I am an optimistic person. I don't think that all these functions and programmes will end with our generation. The family values and traditions which we have received from our elders, are being passed onto our children. Maybe they haven't got an opportunity to come forward. I do feel that in future when the opportunity is given to them they will surely handle this responsibility to the best of their ability. This is because they have much more facilities and are more educated than us and have also travelled much more than us. So I feel that these traditions will continue. Maybe their ideas might be modern and different from ours. This happens in every century and change is inevitable. There will be some additions and some subtractions. One good thing that I have noted in youngsters today is that they are trying to converse in Sindhi with each other. I feel this is quite a success. If our youngsters start speaking Sindhi now, then in the future its outcome will definitely be good. This will lead to love for the language and community. Also the youngsters here are very friendly with each other and united. Most of them are in the same line of business. During the day time they may compete with each other in business, but in the evening they will socialize and have dinner together.
R. Jawhrani : You also appear to be attached to India. You keep coming to India quite frequently as you have your brothers and sisters residing there. In India too, to preserve our language, culture and heritage many activities are being undertaken, which you must have witnessed and attended. Do you feel that whatever is being done is enough or much more needs to be done?
L. Hardasani : I feel that whatever is being done in India is quite good. Everyone in his own humble way is trying to do something or the other for the cause of Sindhyat. But compared to facilities available to you over there, I feel that much more can certainly be done.
R. Jawhrani : For those staying there, it is home and they have to safeguard and preserve their language and culture. But your staying in a foreign country and trying to preserve your culture by organizing various tasks and programmes is quite commendable. With which Indian institutions or organizations are you associated?
L. Hardasani : I am a Trustee of Indian Institute of Sindhology in Adipur, Gandhidham. I am also a Trustee of Artists Welfare Association along with Thakur Chawla and Bhai Murijmal Manghnani. I am a Trustee of Lok Sur of Bhagwan Chawla. Here too I am a Trustee of the Hindu Association through which we manage the Hindu Temple. We try to help the associations who are into the cause of Sindhyat in India. We also try to discreetly and without any publicity help Sindhi artists who don't have any source of income or are not well off.
R. Jawhrani : It is very unfortunate that we haven't paid much attention to our artists and litterateurs. Even in sports the deserving do not receive any encouragement from us. For example the cricketer Narendra Hirwani, who was in the Indian Cricket Team for some time could have surely gone a long way – had he received some sponsorship and backing, like the other communities do for their sportsmen. Likewise there are brilliant students who want to go abroad to pursue higher studies – who deserve scholarships. The artists whom you invite here from India are just a handful and every now and then the same ones are invited. Don't you feel that much more needs to be done?
L. Hardasani : In the olden days, the Kings and Emperors used to take care of artists. They used to offer them suitable and respectable positions in their courts and take care of their livelihood. But nowadays it is not so. Today it should be the duty of businessmen, who are quite well off, to financially help our artists, musicians, singers and litterateurs. What performance can you expect from the artist who works for the whole day to earn his livelihood and just practices his art in his spare time. He won't have the time to innovate and think of ways to improve his skills and art. We always keep complaining that so and so artist is always singing the same old songs. Now should he pay attention to his livelihood or to the progress and improvement of his art. Therefore it is the duty of every Sindhi Businessman to pay back to our society and community, in some form or the other, – be it in cash or in kind. The community, language and art will progress only when everyone contributes. Some can contribute cash while others can contribute their time. This is somehow lacking in us. I am not trying to boast about it but Notan and I are doing this to the best of our abilities.
R. Jawhrani : This is not a question of boasting. Infact the younger generation will be inspired by your example.
L. Hardasani : You just spoke about brilliant students. I would like to mention here that about a year and half ago, Satish Rohra sent me an email stating that a brilliant Sindhi girl in Nagpur, who had stood first in the Nagpur University wanted to go to London for higher studies. He requested me to help her. Now a person like Satish Rohra would not recommend anyone who was not deserving. He has no personal motive in it. So I called a few of my friends and kept this proposal before them. The girl was not poor but not rich enough to afford the Rs. 10,00,000 to Rs. 15,00,000 for a course of just 6 to 8 months. We got together and gave her that amount with the clear understanding that when she finished that course and started earning she should gradually return the amount so that we could help other deserving students with that amount in similar fashion. Today that girl has completed her course successfully and is working for a big company in Bombay. From April onwards she has started repaying the amount we gave her.
R. Jawhrani : Now since the topic of work and employment has come up, we have many capable and deserving youngsters in India who wish to go abroad and earn their livelihood just like you. Is there scope for such youth over here or in other countries around here like Indonesia etc?
L. Hardasani : In Hong Kong there is not much scope. This is because after the takeover by China, most of the business houses of Hong Kong have shifted their main operations to China. All the goods are being manufactured in China and are exported from there. In China land is cheap, rentals are low and so is labour. The bosses like to stay here and handle finance etc. from Hong Kong. So from a job point of view there is little scope over here. But from a professional point of view there is good scope in Hong Kong. Even today many Indians hold very good positions in Banks, Insurance and Shipping companies etc. In China the salary scales are very low and there is a problem of acquiring a visa. Dubai is one place where many Sindhis have settled although nowadays the fiscal conditions are not good and even there they aren't adding new employees. But as soon as the conditions improve I feel there is good scope in the Middle East. Africa is also a developing continent where Sindhis in oil and other businesses are doing quite well. According to me Africa has a bright future, and I feel there is ample scope and opportunities for youngsters from India there.
R. Jawhrani : After quitting Sindh have you maintained any links with it in any way?
L. Hardasani : No, I have no link with Sindh, but I was very much interested in visiting Sindh. About 7 years ago, I visited Sindh in a group consisting of seven friends. Kishin Notandas took us to visit Saint Sadhram Sahib. We visited Sindh during the Warsi of Saint Satramdas along with 2 others - Ashok Odhrani and Suresh Galani from Dubai. I visited Karachi and Hyderabad – the place of my birth. I tried a lot to find our house, but couldn't since a lot of development had taken place. While moving around in Hyderabad I saw Talak Chaari and under it I saw a hall named Khudabadi Amil Panchayat Hall. I went inside and was warmly welcomed by the Sindhis who were sitting there. Then, as we moved forward we saw a bungalow that had the symbol of Swastika Ganesh. We went inside and came to know that a Sindhi Memon doctor resided there who had his clinic on the ground floor and his residence above. We met him and he informed us that this bungalow belonged to Bhai Partap who settled Sindhis in Gandhidham. He showed us the full bungalow. There was a huge hall on top where there were built in showcases, silver chairs, silver tables etc. There were separate rooms, entrance and toilets for guests. Even today that bungalow has been preserved well. We experienced very good hospitality in Sindh.
R. Jawhrani : We have great Saints in our Sindhi community who are deeply revered and in whose memory many temples and Darbars have been built. Lakhs of people visit these holy shrines and temples. Do you think that saints like Sadhram Sahib and others can play a role in preserving our language and culture?
L. Hardasani : They can play a very big role. Dada Jashan Vaswani has come to Hong Kong innumerable times, in fact almost every year. He always advises us not to forget our language and to speak with our children in Sindhi at home. For conversing in any language one doesn't have to go to school, as one has to for learning to read and write. Today Sindhis in various parts of the world can fluently speak the local language of that country. This is because we have that talent. But we are shy to speak in our mother tongue. For this the children alone can't be blamed and we parents are equally responsible. It is our duty to teach Sindhi to our children. We should encourage newly wed couples to speak Sindhi with their children right from the beginning. Other languages like English, Chinese etc. can be learnt at school and college. Sindhi language can be taught only at home.
R. Jawhrani : Can vocal culture play a contributing role?
L. Hardasani : It can play a very great role, especially in places outside India where reading and writing in Sindhi is just not possible. Our vocal culture can be highly beneficial and we are trying to integrate our youth into it. We have tried to conduct Sindhi classes, but after a few months they are usually closed down. We haven't given up trying, though.
R. Jawhrani : You mentioned that about 14,000 - 15,000 Sindhis reside here. Similarly in other parts of the world too a substantial number of Sindhis reside. Do Sindhis settled outside India face problems with matrimonial alliances?
L. Hardasani : In Hong Kong we haven't faced much of this problem. This is because most of the marriages here are love marriages. The youngsters mix and mingle with each other and choose their own life partner. What I have seen is that the Sindhis residing in America face a lot of problems in this matter. This is because a girl born and brought up in America cannot adjust to India or any other part of the world. Similarly, if they try to arrange a marriage alliance from India then there is a big problem of getting visas for the U.S. Therefore one section of the International Sindhi Sammelans is usually dedicated to the youth so that they can meet each other and marriage alliances made. But here in Asia I don't think there is any problem.
R. Jawhrani : Do inter-caste marriages also take place here?
L. Hardasani : Very few. My own son has married a Punjabi girl. Out of the 14,000 – 15,000 hardly 10 – 12 must have married local Chinese.
I am a very optimistic person. I am of the opinion that our Sindhi language and culture will never die. It is said that how so ever dark the cave, just a small spark is enough to expel the darkness. A revolution has already started and I am sure in future this will be successful and bring immense light to our community. Our community and Sindhyat will forever remain alive.
R. Jawhrani : It is said that when we were asked to quit Sindh, we were promised rights similar to all the other communities here in India. But after coming here we realized that we didn't get the same rights. How can NRI's like you help us achieve this?
L. Hardasani : In my opinion, as citizens of India Sindhis have all the rights as are enjoyed by persons of other communities. But as you know because our community is mostly a business community much attention has not been paid to bureaucracy or politics. We have many businessmen amongst us but no bureaucrats. The government is run by bureaucrats. We must encourage our children to appear for Indian Administrative examinations and enter this field. The next thing is to have a political lobby. Today in America there is the Jewish lobby which has a great influence over American Politics. Similarly, we too should pay some attention to this.
R. Jawhrani : Other communities get funds for promoting their languages. On 26th January a tableau representing every community participates in the Republic Day Parade. They have their nomenclature on the currency notes. Great personalities from our community like Master Chander or Dr. Satish Rohra are not honoured by National Awards by the government. A lot of funds come to the coffers of Indian Government from Sindhis like you, staying abroad. Can NRI associations demand that the government do something for their Sindhi brethren in India?
L. Hardasani : For this we need guidance from India because we do not know whom or which department to approach in the government. Neither do we know exactly what your requirements are. If you guide us we can definitely make all attempts to help. I had read somewhere that in the past this demand for including the nomenclature on the currency notes was put forth before the government and it was felt that the demand was justified. We were asked us to decide on the script - Arabic or Devnagri. Unfortunately we were not able to come to any agreement in this matter and because of this, the matter has been kept pending since long.
R. Jawhrani : You mean to say that the lack of facilities and other rights are due to our own weakness and shortcomings?
L. Hardasani : Yes, I definitely feel so. Even the Urdu speaking people don't have a state of their own, but they have their own TV Channel which has been provided by the government.
R. Jawhrani : Many facilities have been extended to the Urdu speaking people. They have their own University while we don't have a Sindhi University. They have been granted Urdu Bhavans and crores of rupees are given to them to promote their language. There is a Lalit Kala Academy established in Delhi which sends artists abroad from all the communities. But during the past 60 – 65 years none of our Sindhi artists have been sent abroad. Even on Radio, the amount of time that is given to Urdu far exceeds what is given to us. We are not against Urdu but we are quoting this just for the sake of comparison. Even on Doordarshan we are not allotted that much time as is being allotted to other communities. Keeping all this in mind is our demand for a separate piece of land justified?
L. Hardasani : Ram, I don't think that this demand of ours will ever be met. Today, if you go to see, we don't give a permanent place in our home even for our own brother. How can we expect that any state will share its land with us. And if at all even if we get some piece of land, like Ram Buxani had tried to get Andaman and Nicobar sometime back, I don't think that Sindhis who are already well settled all over will again go there to re-settle themselves.
R. Jawhrani : There has been one more demand since the past few years that we Sindhis be accorded a stateless government. Like in Delhi there is Maharashtra Bhavan, Gujarat Bhavan, etc. even we should be given a similar Bhavan from where our government will function. What do you feel?
L. Hardasani : This is a good proposal. But for that we all have to be united and work together. We are forming small institutions individually and separately making various demands from the government. But if our efforts are collective then it is possible for us to succeed in getting these demands accepted by the government. We have many leaders in all the states, but we have less of followers, as all want to become leaders. And moreover, we don't have any centralized leadership. Till we don't bring about this change in us, it shall be very difficult to get any of our demands fulfilled by the government. We ourselves are responsible for the decline in the use of our language. After coming from Pakistan some leaders felt that our script should be Devnagri while institutions like Akhil Bhartiya Sindhi Boli ain Sahit Sabha felt that it should be Arabic. I feel they were right in demanding the Arabic script, as all our rich wealth of literature is in the Arabic script. But some of our leaders, due to their own selfish egos tried to promote Devnagri. Due to this young mothers, whose children were born here in India, were confused whether to teach their children the Arabic script or the Devnagri script or to teach them English. In the beginning, in almost all the cities Sindhi schools were established. In Bombay alone I feel there were 10 to 15 Sindhi schools. This confusion regarding the script led to the decline of our Sindhi language.
R. Jawhrani : Nowadays English and our national language Hindi have become compulsory. Added to this is the language of the state in which we reside like Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi etc. So our children are burdened with learning 4 languages i.e. English, Hindi, Sindhi and the language of the particular state. And again they face the problem of script in the Sindhi language. Any suggestions?
L. Hardasani : We keep telling our children about Sindhis not being united etc. But this is prevalent in all the communities in varying proportions. Our community is not bad at all. We have to inform and educate our children regarding the good and positive points of our community. I haven't seen a peaceful community like Sindhis anywhere in the world.