THE BLOG

The Sindhis of Sindh And Beyond

As I sat there, on that dreaded dentist's chair with my mouth wide open, and subject to poking, and prodding by a myriad tools, gizmos and devices, my polite dentist tried to distract my attention away from the pain. She tried to make polite conversation.

Having noticed my last name, she asked if I was Sindhi. Now, as an Indian, if your last name ends with the three letters ani, the odds are fairly high that you are indeed going to be Sindhi; that is you are going to be from a community that finds its origins and traces its roots back to the Sindh province in what is now Pakistan. For someone not from that part of the world, for her to know and point out correctly my origins and community was actually quite impressive! It probably showed more knowledge and a keen sense of observation on her part than any great acknowledgement or global recognition of the Sindhi community.

I nodded yes that, I am indeed Sindhi and more importantly express my surprise at and acknowledge her impressive knowledge/powers of observation. After all, we are not that well known a community; we have never aimed to conquer the headlines or been at the forefront of the news. I mean, how many notable Sindhis can you really name in the world or in history that have grabbed people's attention? The name Acharya Kripalani from India's independence fight would ring a bell in some people's mind, but he too faded away into oblivion shortly after the British left the country. Who else? Sabir Bhatia (remember, the guy who created Hotmail?) - But where did he disappear off to after that? In today's day and age, LK Advani (Yikes!), Ram Jethmalani (Yeesh!), Tarun Mansukhani (who?), Aftab Shivdasani (again, who?), Sakhrani (not yet, but maybe in a few years' time) are names you know and have maybe, just maybe, heard in India, but wouldn't really call famous. Perhaps you know the Bhuttos from Pakistan, but it's simply a handful -- a small group that you can probably count on both hands, and that's about it.

In addition to never being a community that has sought the headlines, we've also never been a big community. According to India's 2001 census, there are only slightly a few more than 2.5 million Sindhi-speaking people in India. On the basis of that statistic alone, if it did exist today, a Sindhi nation would rank #140 in the world, behind Lithuania (~2.89m people), Albania (~2.89m people) and Jamaica (~2.72m people). However, there are also apparently another 55 million or so Sindhi speaking people in Pakistan and countless others dispersed around the world. Add those together and we would leapfrog ourselves to be among the top 25 nations of the world on the basis of population alone.

Yet, there is no country called Sindh, and there probably never will be. It will always just be a province in the current country of Pakistan. And so, when my dentist asked me where 'home' was, I very matter of factly said, India. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but she followed it up with "So you don't really have a homeland of your own? There's no real Sindhi country you can go back to?" "No", was the prompt response. "We don't really have a country that we can call our own" came the quick response. For me India was always home and there was no other option or alternative to that.

I added, " We are a peaceful people; when the time came, we chose not to fight for our lands, but instead to do what was in the interest of our families, our people... we picked up and left." I remember my grandfather telling me many years ago that when they left their hometowns in Sindh, they left with no belongings, but two things in mind: (i) that this was temporary and they would return to their homes some day; and (ii) if they didn't, the Sindhis were enterprising enough to set up their new homes and build new lives for themselves and their families wherever they went.

They followed the motto of 'live to fight another day', even though they were probably never intending to fight. Sindhis may not be brave in the warrior sense of the word, but they were brave enough to face their circumstances, face the challenges thrown up by their migration and yet overcome it... they were just brave in a different sense of the word. Rather than bravery, Sindhis are known for their enterprise and business sense, things that have served them well over the years.

Much like the Gujaratis of India (another Indian community known for their business sense and enterprise), the Sindhis found themselves and their kin spread around the world, from Canada and North America, down to South America and all the way across to East Asia - Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Manila. And wherever they went, they established a global, well-knit community whose members were well connected. They set up businesses by connecting with -- you guessed it -- other migrant Sindhis! They applied the art of networking very successfully, well before any business school or MBA program had probably even coined that phrase.

It was a skill that was seen across the vast majority of Sindhis that had established themselves in these business centers. So while the Gujaratis went to the UK and Africa and bought up motels or corner shops, the Sindhis set up businesses (import-export, like we used to call it), trading with their cousins, friends and family in everything from spices, to clothing, electronics and other sundry items. If you didn't go set up your business, then you ended up going to one of these countries to work for a Sindhi who ran one of these businesses. Sindhi parents were not shy about calling in that favor with a distant relative to ensure that their son got a job and some exposure in this foreign land.

During all these years, there may have been a yearning for a homeland, a desire to return to a place they could call their own, but the Sindhis never raised a peep or let the world know about it. Hell, while India was being divided up into smaller states on the basis of language, the Sindhis didn't even ask for the creation of a New Sindh in India. They were happy to just have a place they could call home and get on with it. They just did what they always do and blended in.

And maybe, just maybe therefore, it shouldn't be that surprising that my dentist knew of the Sindhis! And so even though she may not have read about a famous Sindhi in the newspapers, maybe at some point in her life she was surrounded by a whole bunch of people with funny last names, all ending in 'ani', sporting massive amounts of bling and offering her copious amounts of Johnny Walker. Whatever it is, no matter the stereotype, I am proud to be one and am proud of everything that has been achieved by Sindhis around the world.! And proud that even though we choose not to, we are still recognized and are able to maintain our little corner in this world.