Volume - 1 : Issue - 5

Published : Oct. - Dec. 2002

Group : Personalities


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Definition of a Sindhi Woman

By Sabita & Arun Babani

A woman is the first Guru of the family and the child. She can mould the child the way she desires.

Advertising Guru Mr. Alyque Padamsee has revealed a secret about the Indian housewife; on being asked the logic behind the Liril soap ad- the one with a woman under a waterfall; he said “In our research on the Indian housewife, we discovered an amazing fact of the housewife being so tied up each moment of the day that she often calls herself ‘an unpaid full-time labourer of the house’. We further discovered that the only time she really experiences a sense of freedom from her tiresome chores is when she is in the shower. That is the time that an Indian woman really freaks out.” The Liril girl in the waterfall or at a public fountain is an example of a woman enjoying her freedom, free space and time. Women loved the ad and the Liril ad campaign become History.

This ‘not a moment of my own’ syndrome is experienced by women all over, and a Sindhi woman is no exception to this. Her life centres around nurturing the family, taking into account the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of both young and old. She has to fit into the multiple roles that a good woman is expected to perform : - ‘feed and nurture like a mother, work efficiently like a slave, provide wise counsel as a minister, and entertain in bed as an ‘Apsara’ In spite of all these efforts in performing the various roles the Sindhi woman seems to be happy and contented.

One of late Mr. Mohan Kalpana’s short stories carries a comment; - “if the woman of the house is moral, the entire household, including husband, children, in-laws, tend to be good, honest and successful individuals.” Such an insight is based on the observation of Sindhi households. It is the woman who is the main pillar that shoulders the day-to-day as well as larger issues like illnesses, marriages, education and other crucial matters. According to Principal Ms. Tulsi Notani “A woman is the first Guru of the family and the child. She can mould the child the way she desires.”

Being a Guru to her children does not necessarily imply strict and rigid rituals, or path-poojas; although a Sindhi home is religious in the sense that Gurus and Saints are respected, and prayers as well as ‘fasting’ are common phenomena. In a modern day Sindhi home there is always place not just for ‘Jhulelal’ or Guru Nanak, but also for Ganesha, who is worshipped by many during the Ganesh Utsav, Sai Baba, whose Thursday Kirtan and Fasting is observed by many Sindhis, visits to the church for Novena, not to forget the visits to Tirupati for Balaji Darshan and Vaishnodevi yatras.!!

A Sindhi woman imbibes in her children the true spirit of religious tolerance in the real sense of the term. Such a progressive outlook of life is reflected in many areas and spheres of the woman, especially in her physical appearance.

Gone are the days of being uneducated and clumsy in attire. Today’s woman has developed a sense of adaptability to the existing fashion trends. Whether single or married, she is equally at home in saris, salwar-kameez, shirts, pants, skirts etc.

“The concept of the traditional Sindhi woman is entirely different from the Sindhi woman you see today in the towns and cities.” Says Mr. Kirat Babani, author and well known social commentator. “The Sindhi woman of pre-partition Sindh was homely and rural sort of a person. Her head was always covered and she did not step out of her four walls; and if at all she did, it was always in the company of an elder or a male member. But today’s Sindhi woman is a completely changed version. This is so because she has been given an equal status and freedom as her male counterpart. Hence in many cases she has become bold and overconfident to the extent of being shrewd and immoral.”

I like my Bahu to be well dressed and up-to-date. The world has changed, and I should keep up with the times.

Such a dramatic change in the life style of Sindhi women is clearly evident when Mrs. Lata Ramani is seen shopping for small spaghetti tops at Linking road, for her daughter-in –law, who has two children. Mrs. Lata says; “I like my Bahu to be well dressed and up-to-date. The world has changed, and I should keep up with the times.” A similar observation has also been cited by leading fashion designer Mrs. Neeta Lulla who has a large Sindhi clientele. According to her the Sindhi women are fashion conscious, practical in their approach, and always open to new ideas and trends in clothing. The Sindhi woman then, by and large has kept pace with the times, a fact reflected in her entire life style - marketing, shopping, dressing etc. She has adapted effortlessly to the modern technological advancements, and is comfortable as well as well-versed with mobiles, computers, kitchen gadgets, and information technology. This is in total contrast to the pre-partition days when the woman only looked after children and home. Often she gave birth to eight or ten children and spent her entire life catering to their well being, tirelessly slogging for the family and husband.

According to Prof. Miss Popati Hiranandani “A great change has come about in the Sindhi woman’s life. Her style, behaviour, her thinking, her living, her entire being, and the very fibre of life has undergone a metamorphosis.” She attributes this change to the fact that today most of the Sindhi women are working and earning a livelihood, thus giving them opportunities to venture out. This in turn has affected her food habits, dress sense, cooking styles etc.

Way back in Sindh a girl was and is still considered a ‘Nyaareen’, which mean ‘the little goddess’, and a ‘Nyaareen’ was considered equivalent to a hundred Brahmins. On special auspicious days she was gifted with ‘Kharchi’. And never is a girl allowed to touch the feet of her father, mother or elders, as is the custom in many Indian communities. Respect was always paid to her by in-laws, and she was referred to as her husband’s ‘Dharampatni’, later the ‘Ghardayari’. The woman never called her husband by name, but it is a pleasant surprise to the younger Sindhi generation to know that the husband too often called out to her as ‘mother of so-and-so (Shankerma or Kalluma…).                                                                 

Hence, in effect, what is observed is that the Sindhi concept of a ‘good and marriageable girl has gone through a tremendous change. Whereas in the olden days a ‘good girl’ would mean homely, simple, moral; but today the same thing means fair, good looking, westernised, smart and sexy. This highlights approximately three stages in the definition of a Sindhi woman: - the simple, homely lass on the banks of the Sindhu river, the struggling refugee as result of partition, and the sensibly smart modern woman.

However ,the older Sindhi women, born in Sindh carry on the Sindhi tradition even today; they train their daughters in cooking Sindhi food, dress-making, and general Sindhi sanskaras. But, today the concept of joint family has disappeared, giving way to the nuclear family where a young woman generally goes out to work in an office, or shops in the market, or even attends all-women kitty parties, and so on.

Opines Mr. Kirat Babani “social disintegration that Sindhis as a community went through, because of partition, is responsible for the Sindhi women becoming fashion conscious and superficial. In Sindh they had substance, here they have only style. For instance, when we came to India, Sindhi women by and large preferred to talk in Hindi or even in broken English rather than Sindhi, her mother tongue.” Indeed it is true that the partition was responsible for the death of the Sindhi language and culture, besides a lack of Sindhi periodicals, books and Sindhi schools. This resulted in Sindhi taking a back seat in comparison to English and Hindi- the dominant languages in independent India. Of course one more factor that can be attributed to this death is the absence of the mother tongue in Sindhi homes.

A Sindhi woman seems to carry this unconscious burden today. But, like all normal human beings a Sindhi woman too has shades of grey. Although she has a small world of her own home and family, she is equally comfortable in larger community and social settings. She has proven beyond doubt that she can be successful as a housewife as well as a career woman, or even a socialite.

It is a known fact that a Sindhi woman has proved to be the backbone of the family, especially during distress, taking upon herself the cudgels of the family, and overcoming hurdles. The Sindhi women entrepreneurs of Ulhasnagar are a living example of such a lot. This is a quality that makes a Sindhi woman face challenges with magnanimity and grace. She is a fighter and an escapist is indeed rare.

Contrary to what the pessimists believe about the fate of the Sindhi language and culture, the Sindhi woman belongs to the small optimist group, who tries to do her bit for the community, breathing life into the dying culture, preventing it from becoming extinct, because she believes that there is light at the end of the tunnel!!