Short Stories >> Vichoro >> Yearning For A Habitat
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
"Leela, I'm liking this sight very much today."
Controlling her laughter Leela said, "What sight?"
"Arey this sight before us, which we are seeing. It looks as if our whole Sindhi Nagar, all five camps have lit up in these lights and appear as a unique settlement floating on a dark ocean".
"Wah! You would have become a poet if you were given an opportunity".
Devan replied sadly, "But God made me a grocer!"
"So what? Even I who had taken training in classical singing in Pune and could have become a famous singer. But you grocer cast such a spell on me that I got married to you and came from Pune to Sindhu nagar. Inspite of it I'm happy". "Now atleast your brother-in-law has offered you a grand job of a receptionist in his hotel. What prestige you Jacombadi have! 'Mrs Leela Devandas.Receptionist in 3Star hotel'! How can you then not be happy?"
"Even you are the owner of ‘Leela Bhandar' Mr Devandas Manganmal! But just tell me why did you call me Jacombadi? I'm born and brought up in Pune. Only my ancestors had migrated from Jacombad during the Partition".
"Do you know that my people migrated from Karachi? Amma used to say that even a one-eyed boy from Karachi would be able to get a beautiful bride from Jacombad".
"You are talking as if the people of Karachi were very important and the beautiful girls of Jacombad were ready for offer".
"Of course! In front t of the Karachi people those Jacombad were considered villagers. We were considered urban".
Winking Leela said, "Now on the contrary I look urban and you are looking a villager.
"Oh yes, now that you are going around with red cheeks and lips, applying powder and all that, naturally your caste must have changed now." "Uh Huh. Now leave aside these taunts. Let's speak about this sight. Yes I too like this sight very much. That is why every Saturday I insist on coming to this hillock".
"Even I get freedom from the smell of papads and pickles coming here".
There are so many perfumes at home, why don't you use them? You will get free of the smells at home and at the shop".
"That was in the beginning when I got to know you. Now I find it a waste of money".
"Waste of money? I wouldn't spend a penny on such things. When the rich NRI Sindhi ladies come in stay in the hotel and when I go to deliver the papads, masalas and pickles to them they become my friends. These gifts are from them. I on my own never spend thoughtlessly." Putting his arm around her Devan said, "Yes, True. You are my worthy wife".
Leela said, "And that tape recorder that I got had been given to me by a passenger at cost price. Our son Gagan hit it with a stick and the repair costed me more than the price of the tape recorder.."
"I know. Gagan thought that you were depriving him of love by singing along with the tape recorder. So he hit it thinking of ending the source of the trouble".
Putting her arms up and yawning, Leela said, "I wish there was a system that everybody got a job close to home so that the poor children did not have to long for their parents".
"I think we have almost reached somewhere. My shop is doing well and within a year or so I shall make you leave your job. How the poor little kid clings to you when you return and when you are late in the night he almost dozes but never sleeps".
"Yeah, occasionally when I miss the fast train then it is troublesome. Never mind tomorrow being a holiday we will get Gagan from Amma's house. I will take him around the whole day. Tomorrow an NRI Sindhi lady is coming home with her son".
"To see Sindhu Nagar".
"Are you joking?"
As if in a dreamy state, Leela said, "You see when they called for Sindhi items like Swanjaro, Budani, Patasha etc; they asked which city of Sindh does Sindhu Nagar resemble?. Had I seen Sindh I would have answered. So I showed them a dream".
"One day Lord Indra from Heaven was upset with his consorts. He dismissed them from heaven and told them that they would be miserable. They challenged Lord Indra and told him to send them to the filthiest place and they would convert it into a heavenly place. Indra Lord, without thinking, immediately directed them to Kalyan camp where there were potholes, no street lights, and was inhabited by wild, black dirty animals. The barracks resembled horse stables…But these people worked so hard and made the city so beautiful that one is shocked. Our Sindhu Nagar is like heaven. Both the mother and son insisted on seeing Sindhu Nagar.."
Devan laughed and said, "How strange! So they will come and see this heavenly place tomorrow? You are too much Leela. First of all these foreigners will not be able to tolerate the buses, rickshaws and crowds and secondly the crooked and dirty roads".
"Why are you saying this? Sindhu Nagar is transforming place. Men and women in every household are doing some or the other work. There are so many skills here which are cheap and beautiful. It is also known as Mini Japan!"
Devan was quiet. They both came down the hillock after a while. There was quiet around.
The next morning after a bath, Devan said, "I have to get some collection work done. I should be back in a couple of hours. In the meanwhile you get Gagan back from Amma's house and prepare something for the guests. When I come back we shall take the guests to Siroo Chowk, Nehru Chowk, Jhulelal temple, Sadhu Vaswani Park and Birla temple".
There was activity in the house when the guests arrived. Leela had made the pink cheeked Gagan wear a navy blue dress. When the child folded his hands and greeted Shyam's mother saying "Jai Sindhi" she was thrilled. She gave many chocolates and toys. The kid too was very happy with the toys. Shyam's mother also presented Leela with a sari and told her to wear it just now before going out. When Leela refused to accept the gift the lady told her. "You did well to invite us here. I can see Sindh in every part of this city. The auto rickshaw driver was also born in Sindh and we asked to take us around. Hence he showed all the shops on either side of the markets, factories, schools and cinema halls. The poor fellow was not even taking the fare. He was saying that other foreigner Sindhis rarely come here. "You have come and seen our Sindhu Nagar, we are very happy". Leela this is the love of Sindh. It is not seen in foreigner Sindhis".
Leela said, "Don't mind my saying Ammi. Sindhis from foreign countries don't come here and if they have to meet their relatives living here in Sindhu nagar, they call them to their hotels in Mumbai. And they gift them such clothes that one looks like a cartoon in those clothes in Sindhu Nagar".
Shyam quickly asked, "Why so?"
"You have seen the conditions of the roads here and in such an environment among the simple people wearing such clothes looks very awkward".
Thinking something, Shyam said, "Looking at outside countries and looking at the conditions here feels very strange. Generally Sindhis are hard working and it won't take them much time and effort to keep the city clean. But somebody should take interest.."
Leela laughed and said, "What can be done. Such a magician has not reached here so far".
"I don't think so. The Sindhis living abroad remember Sindh too much and they are also quite rich. How they must not be coming here?" "Brother, if a single migratory bird comes and sits on a branch will the whole garden start blooming?" Leela said
"Leave aside the foreigners; there is not even a single local bird that has a thought of blooming the garden".
"There are many people with proposals but there are others who start pulling them down. Thankfully it's the efforts of Sindhis who have made this city hundred times better than what it was".
Shyam said, "I think one can transform this city into a new Sindh. Then Sindhis from all over the world can come and have a glimpse of this new Sindh".
Devan arrived at that time. After the introductions Devan asked, "What were you saying about seeing new Sindh?"
Leela answered, "This brother Shyam says that Sindhu Nagar should be transformed into a new Sindh so that Sindhis from all over the world can come and experience the new Sindh. But I'm saying that how can flying birds, only by their desires make the garden green?"
"No no sister, I'm suggesting that we need to think about it seriously. After all we Sindhis after having earned lakhs and crores abroad and are not able to transform Sindhu Nagar, then it is like roaming around all the gardens of the world while your own nest is in shatters".
Devan was looking at Shyam in amazement. Shyam's mother said, "My Shyam has a thought since a long time that the Sindhis are being driven out from foreign countries quite often. That is why it is important for them to have some nesting in India.."
"And looking at your Sindhu Nagar I feel that if there is any habitat to be made in India it has to be this Sindhu Nagar only".
Shyam's mother continued, "Driving around the city for so many hours today I have seen the shopkeepers and buyers as well as sellers all talking in Sindhi. The hoardings are in Sindhi, Sindhi newspapers in people's hands. I also heard some Sindhi marriage songs on the way. I really felt that after years I have reached Sindh".
Leela happily said, "Now we too know what Sindh was all about".
Shyam's mother said excitedly, "If we had lived in Sindh up to today, our Sindhwarkis would have changed the face of Sindh. You should have seen how they had built Hirabad. It was actually called Paris.."
"But Ammi don't you feel that the story of Lord Indra which I told you is true?"
Devan started laughing.
"You are laughing? You just tell me that the condition of the city that was before has now improved or not? You are just laughing" Shyam said, "No no. Where heavenly Goddesses live that place will resemble heaven isn't it?" Every one burst out laughing. Growing serious Shyam said, "I also travel for my business to many countries around the world, but I have rarely seen humble and hardworking people like Sindhis".
Devan said, "Sir I agree that we Sindhis are hardworking, but how are we humble?"
"By humble I mean that we sacrificed our motherland during India's freedom and did not utter a single word. We quietly left our habitat and came away".
Shyam's mother felt sad and her gaze went back to somewhere in the past.
Devan said sadly, "Yes you are right. We are humble that although we have built this habitat resembling the one in Sindh but we have not been able to get it named Sindhu Nagar from the government".
Everybody grew silent and sad. Throwing the toys aside Gagan caught his father's hand and said, "Let us go out roaming no".
Devan felt a sob in the child's voice. He picked him up and embraced him to his heart.
- Translated by Arun Babani