Short Stories >> Bandhan >> Sindhis, scattered in bits and pieces (Sindhi thi viya Dano bano)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Chandi, the match-maker had a great sense of humour. But that day, I was shocked to see her at my door because her evergreen laughter was missing. I asked her, “Ammi! All is well, right?”
“Girl, give me a glass of water first no!” Saying this she threw herself on the sofa. She removed an imported napkin from her impressive bag, and started to wipe her face. I switched on the fan, asked the servant to get papad and water for her, pulled up a chair and sat next to her.
Chandi ammi lived in our building itself but on the third floor. So she would stop at our house on the first floor to catch her breath while climbing stairs, spend some time talking and then climb up to her house.
People often told her, “Chandibai, you are truly living up to your name, it is a really good time for your business. Now that Sindhis are scattered all over the world, without the help of match-makers like you, getting our children married has become really difficult…”
Chandi Ammi laughs and replies, “Yes, now you value match-makers because you can’t do without us. Otherwise you gave us a mere hundred, two hundred rupees. These days I get a thousand rupees for each match, in addition to sarees and gifts. Even then after all that, people insist on paying my bus and taxi fares and hand me cash.”
One day I told her, “Ammi, you only consider proposals of those people who have brought in lakhs from overseas, or those who have a small or big factory or business in India.”
She laughed and said, “My dear, who wishes to get married and go to the bankrupt? When even God did not care for them, why should I knock at their door?”
I also teased her, “That means that even God has been partial to people, isn’t it?”
Chandi Ammi was irritated. She stood up and said, “Why are you blaming God? He has been fair to everyone - given each one of us two eyes and a conscience to know good from bad. But even after that if people exploit the innocent, accumulate properties, then how can God help them?”
My younger brother-in-law retorted, “Exactly! Chandibai, what can God do? He will just go and sleep in the seventh heaven, isn’it?”
Chandi Amma drove him away, “Go away, you tiny fellow! What do you know of the secrets of God?”
My brother-in-law got so scared, he simply disappeared from there.
I felt very strange looking at the crest-fallen face of this otherwise dominating woman today. But I knew that until she had eaten the papad and drank some water, she would not disclose any secret. I waited impatiently for her to speak. Actually, Chandi Ammi was like a window to the world for me. I am always so busy with the household chores that I can hardly step out. It is Chandi Ammi who gives me all the gossip of the outside world; sometimes making me cry and sometimes making me laugh. At times, she would create a scene as soon as she entered. Hitting her knees, she would wail, “I’m stuck, really stuck…Sindhis have lost all shame! Look at their audacity! Just yesterday, I fixed a match between two families. Fruits, gold coins and dollars were exchanged. The girl and the boy even went out for a movie. Now they say they want to break the alliance!”
Every member of our family would gather to listen to her tales…They would shout and ask, “But why would they break the alliance?”
Chandibai, got up, pinching one of my family members, she said, “Scoundrel, you don’t do such a thing because it will demean me as well. One should be careful from the beginning itself. In this case, the girl broke off the engagement because the boy cannot speak French! Now the girl is born and brought up in Paris. Her mother has passed away and her father is interested in getting her a Sindhi groom. Now who will find her a Sindhi boy who can sweet talk with her in French?”
“And then?” we asked with a lot of curiosity.
“Then what? I am also well versed with the city. I found her a handsome, young Sindhi man who has worked in France. But Amma, then the girl’s father said that he is a businessman with factories of his own. How can he get his daughter married to a person who is doing a job?”
“And then?” we ask impatiently.
“Then what? I also took their case. I shouted and told them that businessmen are not born from their mothers’ wombs. These same boys who are working today will become businessmen tomorrow. And moreover, the groom’s ancestors were very big landlords in Sindh. But God help me, the girl’s father did not want to remove the veil of class, of businessmen and salaried, from between us. Finally, I had an idea and took the girl aside and asked her to shed some tears in front of her father. The girl was so instigated. She started crying so much that she made her father cry too. This is how I forcibly convinced the girl’s father. Now tomorrow we will eat the sweets at their engagement.”
We were listening to this drama with bated breaths. Listening to the happy ending, we started laughing and congratulated the match-maker on her intelligence.
Chandi the match-maker also comes home with sad stories. One day, she spoke of a Sindhi girl who fell in love with a non-Sindhi boy. He was her classmate in a convent school. She was an only child and heir to all the property. Her father had passed away early on. She was really pampered and made her mother dance to her tunes. Without making any inquiries about the boy’s background, she gave a huge dowry and got her daughter married to that non-Sindhi boy. It was only after the wedding that all the secrets came out. The boy was a gambler also, he was an alcoholic also and danced with unknown women in discos. Moreover, he neither had a job nor a business of his own. Finally, the girl managed to spend six month in his house bearing all his torture and beatings. She frequently took money from the mother. Even then, the boy did not improve his ways. Poor girl finally left him and came back to her mother. They said she would file for divorce. There were cases, there was the court involved but even before she could get a divorce she swallowed sleeping pills and fell asleep. She asleep in such a manner that she never woke up again. I just heard her mother’s cries and wails. There’s so much sorrow, so much sorrow.”
Hearing such stories upsets the entire atmosphere in our home. Today as well, looking at her sad face, I’ve understood that she has brought home some sad tale. Crushing the papad in her hands and putting it in her mouth, having some water, Chandi Ammi took a sigh of relief and then began relating the tale, “A Sindhi poet has rightly said that, he’s rightly said that Sindhis are scattered in bits and pieces…bits and pieces everywhere”
Generally, before she starts a conversation, Chandi Ammi says, “My daughter Sarla, what shall I say? Nowadays people just want money, only money.”
But today, hearing these new words, “Sindhis are scattered,” heightened my curiosity.
I told her, “Ammi. you are talking in riddles today. I have often told you that you know only a few rich families but in reality there are plenty of Sindhis who are living with great difficulties and poverty.”
“Burn the poor and the hungry! Here there is a rot in well-to-do and happy Sindhi families as well.”
Taking a deep breath she continued, “You must have seen Rami no, who used to come in her motor car everyday asking me to get her son married? She used to say “Get a beautiful angel for my son.” I hope she burns! I showed her a really beautiful girl but she told them that she wants four diamond sets as dowry. Even though her son was also interested in the girl, she refused to take anything less than four diamond sets. And look at Rami today! Her son did a court marriage with a girl from a different caste and without taking any dowry!
My jaw dropped listening to this and I told her, “Ammi, your Rami must be devastated!”
“Oh my child, you say devastated? She is absolutely devastated. She has shrunk and become like a burnt piece of clay in just four days.”
I asked, “How did something like this even happen? The boy did not seem like this.”
She said, “My dear, the boy was infuriated that he was being treated like a boy. First the girl’s family would come to see him, then his house and his store and then would begin his auction. If you want a fair girl, then pay these many thousands. You want a boy with a car, we are ready to pay the money. On top of that, his mother’s negotiations and demands about the diamonds, clothes and money.”
I said, “Ammi, but Rami has everything that a person needs. Why did she have to negotiate? If she liked the girl, then that was it. Why did she have to bring up dowry?
Chandibai put both her hands on her head, “My child, that is exactly what even her son told her. Now see how helplessly Rami is sitting and saying, ‘If I had a Sindhi daughter-in-law, she would have spoken sweetly in Sindhi. She would have called me ‘Ammi’ and I would have treated her like my daughter. She would have at least brightened up my house. She would have known all the customs and traditions. Just look at Sindhi girls - everyone envies them! No matter how much an outsider dresses up like a Sindhi, they will never look like one of us. And moreover, the closeness one feels with one’s own cannot be felt with others. Sindhis have traditions of their own…’ Rami is now screaming and crying.”
Even I felt really bad listening to Chandi Ammi’s story. I said, “Yes Ammi, Rami is right. You remember my marriage right? In Sindhis, a wedding is not between people but a relationship between two families. You saw how the in-laws during my wedding fed sweets to each other, hugged and exchanged glasses of alcohol. Aunts and sisters were singing and dancing. Guests stayed awake all night, laughing and enjoying as if the entire Sindhi community was celebrating.”
Chandi Ammi was lost in the memories of those days but I had not forgotten the difficulties we faced before that celebration. I said, “Ammi, you are right. Sindhis are all scattered in bits and pieces all over. My father also spent four years looking for a groom for me, and he grew tired of families demanding a huge dowry. He searched so many cities and examined so many boys. Finally, with difficulty, he found the right people.”
Zipping her bag, Chandibai got up. Her feet had become numb and so she kept hitting them on the ground. There was still a shadow of sadness on her face. She said, “Yes child, this is what I keep crying about - Sindhis are scattered and the passionate auctioning of boys by their mothers has completely destroyed the commune.”
“It is not commune, it is called community.”
“Whatever, I’m not educated, so commune and community are the same for me. Looking at the state of the community, I feel so sad...”
Even though Chandibai was uneducated, looking at her pain for her community deeply moved me.
- Translated by Arun Babani