By Prem Chand Sahajwala
SINDHI IS one of the many Indic languages and it has gone through many phases of ups and downs in the histories of pre/post-partition India and Pakistan. Sahitya Academy (government of India) organised for the first time a two-day seminar of interaction between Sindhi writers from India and Pakistan on March 17-18, 2008, at its academy auditorium, 35 Ferozeshah Road, Mandi House, New Delhi. Prominent Indian Sindhi writers, led by MK Jetley, vice chairman, Sindhi Academy (government of Delhi), gathered to discuss many literary aspects of the Sindhi literatures on both sides of the border with prominent Pakistani writers like Dr Fahmida Hussain, Taj Joyo, Ayaz Gul, Imdad Hussaini, Shoukat Hussain Shoro among others. The event became more significant than usual, looking at the current phase of comparatively better relationship between India and Pakistan in spite of years of bitterness, wars and the agony of the partition. Several other literary enthusiasts were also present in the seminar as audience.
Welcoming the guest writers from Sindh (Pakistan) in the inaugural session presided over by SS Noor, A Krishnamurthy, secretary, Sahitya Academy, remembered the immortal classical names like Shah Abdul Latif (C 1689 – 1752) and his 20th century incarnation – Sheikh Ayaz (1923 – 1997) – who put Sindhi language on the world stage by their Sufi literatures. Shah Latif was the unique mystic Sufi poet who felt an interior link in every breathe with the creator, like any Sufi saint and, would say:
“A thousand doors and windows too,
the palace has, but see,
wherever I might go or be,
master confronts me there”
His poetry had the content of divine music. Krishnamurty said that Sindhi was the language that developed in Sindh much before partition and many legendary poets like Sami, Sachchal Sarmast, Hamal Fakir, Dalpat Sufi and others evolved the language and literature through talent and perseverance. Indian’s Vasdev Mohi, the programme convener said that in this seminar the Indian writers were seeking to present Sindhi literature of India while their counterparts from Pakistan were there to talk about their respective literature in Sindh and the Sahitya Academy would encourage such seminars in future. In his speech, Jetley gave an interesting account of the efforts of Indian writers to continuously hold meetings and seminars with the writers across the border. He said that while up to the partition, the Sindhi literature was the same on both sides of the border; it began changing afterwards. While the Indian Sindhi writers initially expressed the agony of partition and the problems of refugees who came from Sindh, many Sindhi writers of Sindh expressed with equal passion the agony of the Mohajirs who went from India to settle in Pakistan. For examples legendary Sindhi poet, Parasram, who migrated from Karachi and died in 50’s, would depict the struggles of Sindhi refugees in Ulhasnagar in his own interesting way, sometimes mixed with touching sarcasm. He would say to the struggling Sindhis in a Ghazal:
“Offer tea and soda to any one who comes to your drawing room,
It’s not good to let anyone go without offering him to eat something”…
Or, he would pen down another Ghazal as satire on the bribe seeking officers who helped refugees settle by applications to the claim offices:
“If you get soda drink soda, if you get whisky drink whisky,
Always get ready and just enter some or the other drawing room!”
Jetley referred to the Ayub Khan era of Pakistan when four provinces of West Pakistan were merged into “One Unit” and nobody could separately mention Sindh Baluchistan North West frontier province (NWFP) or Punjab. The army regime suppressed literature; if any one wrote letters without naming West Pakistan as the province in the address, the letters were torn and thrown away. In spite of that, efforts were always made by India’s Sindhi authors to somehow hold meetings with the Pakistani side from time to time. He referred to the “Sachchal Conference” held in Sindh in which 20-25 people were invited but only six could reach. In the presidential address of this welcome session, Noor, talked about the proximity between Punjabi and Sindhi literatures and languages.
The welcome session was followed by sessions on various branches of literature like criticism, novel, and short story, the most evolved branch being poetry, which required three separate sessions for ghazal, poetry and the new poem. Some prominent writer from either side chaired each session. Papers were read by one writer from each side of the border followed by two reviewers, with a discussion subsequently carried out by some other prominent writer.
In each branch, however, it was felt that as said in the Welcome Session, the speakers were giving an account of various literary movements or ups and downs in their own country and not a satisfactory level of exchange of books prevailed between the two sides for thorough evaluation.
The branch that came under criticism more than others was the branch of “criticism” itself by speakers of both sides. Dr Fahmida Hussain, professor of criticism at Karachi University and the author of 13 books gave year-by-year account of the books published on criticism but lamented that not sufficient genuine criticism has been written. The view was echoed by Rita Shahani, a senior writer from Pune regarding criticism published in India so far. She also raised the question whether as certain critics project only sex dissatisfactions constitute what we call existentialism? Dr Fahmida interestingly referred to the two greatest Sindhi poets of the world, Shah Latif and Sheikh Ayaz with due regard but also felt that most of the research and criticism remained focused on these two, resulting in eclipsing of several other prominent names that deserved attention.
Underlining the most peculiar problem of the uprooted Sindhi community in India, Lakhmi Khilani referred to some touching short stories like “Sarhad Je Hun Par” (“On the other side of theborder” by Krishin Khatwani) and Mitia Ji Mahak (“Fragrance of Soil” by Lakhmi Khilani). He said, “Many short story writers who have visited Sindh to see their place of birth and meet their Muslim friends of childhood are grieved to see the present condition of Sindh, which they had left behind sixty years back. In the first of the above two stories, the main character – Chander – who has come to Sindh after 30 years to find out his house in company of his childhood friend Prof Saleem roams in the streets of his home town and the ruins of “Mohan Jo Daro” (ruin of the Indus civilisation, which means the “Place of the Dead”). He feels that it was, in fact, his search for his own “self” that was rooted in this soil. In the later story, the elder brother who has converted himself to stay behind advises his younger brother who has come to visit him from India to stay here in his own native land and be the part of the family to rehabilitate his estranged “self”, and thus, shares the responsibility of paying back his dues to his mother land”
(To be continued)