24 June 2014

Unbordered Memories by Rita Kothari

Unheard stories

I first came across this book when I was writing my book Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland
I was writing my book with the keen awareness of the lack of documentation about the Hindus to whom Sindh was once home, a fairly large community now living all over India and in many parts of the world, but by and large firmly faced away from their past and almost entirely disconnected from their roots. To find this collection of short stories, originally written in Sindhi, was like finding treasure. 
These stories give a glimpse into life in Sindh during, just before and just after Partition, and capture customs, habits and the inaccessible ways of life of a time gone by. For the Hindus who left their homes, life has moved on, and it’s not just the place that they lived in that they no longer have access to but also their close-knit community that has had to scatter far and wide. Everything has changed. In refugee camps and new settlements, we see what happens to people whose language nobody understands, and whose abrupt homeless condition is viewed with indifference. 
This narrative I understood, and I found it gratifying to read about the real and fictional instances this book presents. One that I found moving was the studio photograph a family went to have taken, not knowing when they would all be together next. Accustomed to shrugs and a philosophical attitude towards their estrangement from homeland, I found the emotional fabric of this book most refreshing.
To me, the most fascinating stories in this book were the ones which take us into the Sindh of yore and show us how closely integrated the Hindus and Muslim Sindhis were before Partition caused its breach. It was a shift in which religion rooted in spirituality transformed into religion arising from ritual. Just a few months after reading this book, I started experiencing for myself, time and time again, the intrinsic one-ness of the Sindhis of Sindh and those of the diaspora.
There are thousands like me who would find this book precious for the period of history it captures so well. But even to others less emotionally invested, the stories are engaging and elegantly presented. Some follow a crisp reporting style, others are poetic and self-indulgent. I felt this book was a brilliant translation because it is written in good-quality English and also manages to convey nuances of thought which are indigenous to the Sindhis, both the diaspora settled around the world as well as those who remain in Sindh.