A Refugee from Sindh

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December 1935. The powerful sound of Shehnai reverberated around the whole central Sukkur in Sindh while the giggles and laughter could be heard throughout the lane of the decorated red brick haveli. After all it was Saagri of Ishwari, the only daughter of Vedumal Dansinghani.

Drinks were being served in glistening brass glasses along with various Sindhi delicacies. Ishwari sat amidst groom’s family, in the courtyard on the centre of a Persian carpet, adorned in floral jewelry with a coy smile. After prayers, henna and lada the ceremony came to an end. The following day was the wedding.

While Vedumal got busy distributing gold coins and ornaments to baratis, his neighbours were gifting equally beautiful and rich ornaments to Ishwari. After all Vedumal had always helped them. He had so many helping hands that he didn’t miss his wife except during Kanyadan and Bidai.

Even servants were gifted gold. He finally bid adieu his loving daughter and the barat with a heavy heart. Yet he was contended, for the groom was good and he knew that his daughter-in-laws will fill the emptiness created.

Time passed and with much pomp and show, he got two of his elder sons married. The other two were still small.

While poor suffered under British Raj and landowners had to pay enormous taxes, Vedumal was not affected. The trader in grocery items kept flourishing. The difference was just that of buyer’s community.

“Let the boys learn to work now and the brides takeover the kitchen,” said Amma one day to Vedumal.

“Rejoice Amma! Let them enjoy their life. I will teach them slowly. I don’t think I ever enjoyed with Chandra, she left me so early,” Vedumal said with wet eyes.

1947

“Why should I leave Sukkur? This is my ancestral haveli, I was born to die here,” said Vedumal vehemently, picking the hose of his hooka and sitting on charpoi while discussing Indo-Pak partition, in the courtyard with his neighbours.

“I might go, in case the scenario turns really bad. I read that we should carry the papers of our property and we will get compensation,” said a friend Chudhamal.

“But all our muslim neighbours are such great friends. I don’t think this place will ever get into trouble,” said Vedumal after a sip.

“I heard that Muslims from India will mainly settle in Sindh, Multan and Punjab as these three provinces will face maximum exodus of Hindus,” said Sadhuram.

Another one month….. and the newspapers were filled with riots in pockets of Punjab and Sindh. Multan was picking up slowly.

Amma couldn’t imagine leaving her land and left for her heavenly journey one morning. This was the first time Vedumal felt alone, after all Amma was the pillar of this family.

“I am leaving for India this week,” Sadhuram informed on Amma’s barwan. “I met a Muslim family from Rajasthan, they have given me papers of their property and we have decided to exchange.”

Hardly a fortnight…… Chudamal bangs Vedumal’s door, one night, “A huge conspiracy! Bhau! Read this! My in-laws have been killed in Karachi by their friendly Muslim neighbours. Sita is distraught and we have decided to flee. Will you accompany?”

“How can I leave? Behind my bed lie so much of cash and gold boxes. How will I carry them?” thought Vedumal but he understood that he would have to take a step fast. Almost all his friends had left Sukkur and some who hadn’t, lived in far off towns.

“Why are you so late Ajmal?” asked Vedumal from his helper, the first one to arrive, the following morning.

Bhau! Please go!” Ajmal folded his hands with tears rolling down his dusty face. “I have been forced to report the number of Hindus in this lane. They are planning to either kill or force them to adopt Islam.”

The next morning, Vedumal packed almost every precious thing he could. Rest was donated to Ajmal and other helpers and some was buried under the tree in his courtyard.

“Who knows? We might come back if the situation improves,” he said.

With aching heart, he left for India with Chudamal’s family. They somehow managed some space to sit in a carriage of an over loaded train which took them to Delhi.

“The food is horrible. I can’t eat this, Baba,” said his youngest son in the refugee camp.

“Just wait for a few days, we will shift soon,” Vedumal said with welling eyes.

As he wiped his tears with a small angocha he saw Ghanshyam, a client’s son, who was studying under a lamp.

“Ghanshyam!” he called loudly, “What are you doing? How long you have been here? Where’s Baba?”

“I am studying to secure a job. Baba is in camp no. 5. We’ve been here for about 20 days,” he replied.

“I am grateful! I have secured a job,” said Chudamal one evening. “I will rent a room and shift.”

“Wah! Mubarakan!” Vedumal smiled, “I will also rent a house. We can’t live here to wait for compensation.”

Vedumal sold some gold and took a house and shop on rent. He also started looking out for products, to start his trade afresh.

“I should be grateful that no one can rob me of my experience and contacts,” he started asserting to himself.

Without much of business their gold stock was vanishing and the family shifted to a single dingy room.

“Once we get compensation, at least house will be sorted but government is too slow. Ah!” he said often.

“Baba, don’t worry, we will make sindhi papads and sell,” said Chaya and Gopika chimed while Vedumal’s tears rolled down his wrinkled face.

A year passed….

“Chaya, take out the property papers tomorrow. Most probably, we will be allotted a plot,” said Vedumal, after the dinner.

Everyone suddenly cheered up and heaved a sigh of relief.

“Baba!” screamed Chaya, the next morning.

The tattered property papers were shredded by rodents in the box.

 

Haveli : Mansion

Sagri : A pre-wedding sindhi ritual where bride is adorned with floral jewelry

Lada : Sindhi Sangeet ceremony

Barat: groom’s wedding procession

Barati : relatives of groom in the procession

Kanyadaan: a wedding ritual when the bride’s father handover the girl to the groom

Bidai: The time when the bride leaves her parents for the groom’s house

Hookah : a tobacco pipe with tube

Charpoi : a small bed frame used in India strung with tight ropes

Barwan : 12th day ritual after a death

Bhau : Elder brother

Angocha : a small thin towel

Mubarakan : congratulations

Sindhi papad: papadoms made of urad dal

***

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The above story is an entry into the writing event(Feb. 02nd – 20th) hosted by ArtoonsInn: #PullTheRug #UniK-3

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Ritu Gulabani

Artoon

Ritu A Gulabani is an author of an inspiring and relatable book “From Caterpillar to Butterfly” and a mother of two young boys. An ex-Banker and a certified lecturer, her work has been published at many platforms. When she is not busy with her kids, kitchen or daily chores, she is reading, writing or concentrating on self-improvement which includes yoga, meditation, tasty healthy recipes and do it yourself stuff.
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