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Saturday, 19 June 2010

81 year-old-Sindhi Immigrant shares her story

I see her everyday sit by the window and greet every passerby. Her wrinkled face shows the lines of pain. Sita is eighty one years old and is quite happy to find a listener in me. She has many stories to tell and remembers them quite vividly. I sit cross legged, across her and try to listen to her. Her speech is not clear and many times I have to ask her to repeat to understand what she has to relate.

Sita Chatpar was eighteen years old when the partition took place. She remembers the day, when 500 Muslim sardars had barged into her aunts’ magnificent house but they were not able to spot them because all family was hiding under the beds. She talks about the time when curfew was imposed in the city and they sat in darkness fearing violence. On the day of exodus, she and thousands of other Sindhi families boarded the four-storey streamer, to escape the tortures back home. Conversion to Muslim religion was mandatory or else all those who chose to be Hindus had to leave the country. It took them four days to round the trip in the overcrowded streamer, they were off loaded at Mumbai docks and were accommodated at Sindhi refugee camps at military quarters, Kalyan. For three years, she stayed in inhuman condition, sharing the big hall, sub-divided by flimsy curtain. They shared one bathroom amongst fifty families. They were provided with food-ration and blankets. After three years, they moved to a rented house and she took up the job, first as toffee wrapper in a sweets factory and later in the Bajaj electrical company, assembling electrical parts till the company closed down. She , then moved into her married sister’s house to live the rest of her life, helping in the house-hold chores while her brother-in-law (doctor by profession) supported the family.

Life was not easy in Pakistan too. Having lost her father at a very early age, Sita could not pursue her studies after class seven as she was expected to contribute to house hold expenses. She and her six sisters, along with their mother and grand-ma worked during the day, machining, stitching clothes and gowns and other handicraft items which they later sold to the stores. But her face lights up when she talks fondly about Pakistan, where she spent her childhood. She remembers the wide and spotless roads that were cleaned with soap and water twice a day, the market places like ‘Mithidhar’, Kharodhar’, Zori bazar, Khato Sadar, Kagzi Bazar, etc. where she would take her merchandise to sell or go for shopping. She remembers the restaurant where they sold delicious cooked mutton, Tandoori rotis, bhajiyas and dahi wadas. She remembers the Sukhdev Haveli Mandir that she would visit on religious days. They celebrated all kinds of festivals like Holi, Diwali, satto, etc. On Rakhi days, a pandit would come to their house and tie rakhis to all the girls in the house.

The visit to a film was a luxury event done just once a year, there was no radio in the house, the women spend their time singing hymns at the temple where they assembled regularly. At the age of fourteen, her friends were married off to men thrice their age. But Sita never married and has worked to support herself all her life. Presently she lives with her niece and is well looked after.

When I asked her what advice she would give to the youth of today she said that one should not waste too much money on useless items and saving for the rainy day was very important, it is important to be educated in life and have some set goals.

Never leave the comfort of your own home and live a dependent life, she added.

PS: This post was written for “Beyond Sindh’ a tri-monthly magazine published from Hong Kong for which I write regularly. Beyond Sindh magazine delivers the latest topics of interest to the Sindhi Diasporas of today, covering our past, present and future.

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