Uprooted from His Motherland Sindhand back in Java, Baba, my father started all over again. He expressed his feelings in one of his poems,
“Far from my Jeejal, my Mother Sindh,
here I am in the land of my Foster Mother.
Now, She nourishes this unfortunate son
separated from her natural Mother…”
Attached to the Divine Form of Shri Krishna and his message delivered on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Baba was an Advaita Vedanti at heart. For him, the Form and the Formless were not different: “Ice is solid, water is liquid – both can be seen. But, steam evaporates, now seen, now no more. Three different forms, different feels, but essentially one.”
It was this philosophy that expanded his vision of Sindh and Sindhu. His Jeejal, Mother Sindh, was not limited to man-made boundaries and borders, “She is everywhere, I see Her, I perceive Her presence in the waters of Bengawan Solo. She is Ibu Pertiwi, Prithvi Maa.”
Ibu Pertiwi, Prithvi Maa, Mother Earth – this is how we Indonesians refer to our Motherland. Mataram, Mother, this is how our nation-state was referred to in the ancient times, as acknowledged by Soekarno himself, one of the founding fathers of the present state of Indonesia.
Both the Sultan of Yogyakarta, His Highness Sultan Hamengkubuwono the Tenth, who is also the Governor of the special territory; and the Sultan of Surakarta, His Exalted Majesty, King Paku Buwana the Thirteenth trace their roots back to the ancient dynasty of Mataram – The Mother.
Bengawan Solo is a River on the Banksof which the city of Surakarta, popularly referred to as Solo, flourished. This is where my parents lived and I was born.
In the culture, customs, traditions and lofty values of the Surakartans Baba recovered his Sindh and Sindhi Sabhyata, Sindhu Samskriti – the Sindhi Values and Philosophy of Life. They resonated with each other.
He was convinced that, “We are one. Not only Hind and Sindh are one, but this entire region. We have the same common cultural, civilizational, and spiritual roots.” Now, when I remember this, I am amazed at his conviction and intuition. In those days, the common narrative was that Indonesia, nay, the entire South East Asia imported Hinduism, Culture, and etcetera from India. The satellite pictures to prove the absurdity of such theory, as also the new genre of researchers and historians were yet to arrive on the scene.
Towards the Mid 1960s,my sister and Baba went to India for the first time, the “wounded civilization” as the great author and Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipul would refer to post partition India.
He met his sisters and their families in Delhi and Ajmer, my mother’s cousins in Mumbai, then Bombay, and Lucknow. And, some members of extended families from both my parents side in Ahmedabad and elsewhere.
He was sad, very sad, when he saw most of Sindhis then being treated as second class citizens. The rich were termed as sharks, borrowing the term from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Added to the expression were words like Kanjoos Makkhichoos – helplessly and hopelessly misers.
They were being constantly reminded of their status as sharanarthi, refugees having no land, no state of their own. Many were jealous, envious, “They play all kinds of games, that is why they have become so rich in a short time. Just the other day they were still living in the refugee camps.”
Indeed so. Not Too Long Ago they were still in the refugee camps, but with their purusharth – efforts and skills – they did not remain as sharanarthi or refugees for long. They did not ask the Government of India for any special status or reservations, although they had the right to do so. They were uprooted from their homeland to ensure some other parts of India remained with India.
Many Sindhis he met had dropped the famous -ani suffix from their surnames to hide their Sindhi identity. He was very unhappy with what he saw.
Back in Indonesia, he was actively involved with the different chapters of the Indian Association both at the local Solo as well as regional Central Java levels then serving hundreds of Sindhi, Punjabi, and Gujarati families.
When the First President of India Rajendra Babu visited Solo, Prime Minister Nehru visited Yogyakarta, or for that matter any Indian dignitary visited Central Java – along with Shri T.D. Kundan from Surabaya, East Java; Jivatram from Semarang, Central Java, and Pohumal Tolani from Solo, Baba Tolaram would always be in the frontline serving the VIPs. So, he made quite a few important contacts in India.
He Discussed the Plight of Sindhis in India with his acquaintances in the Indian Foreign Service, including some prominent Sindhis. But, they were busy “assimilating with the Indian society”, which he did not disapprove of, “that is commendable, but to the point of losing our Sindhi identity, it does not make any sense to me” – those were his words.
He was surprised to meet a prominent Sindhi politician, who was not comfortable conversing in Sindhi. He had gone to see him to discuss the situation in Gujarat, where most of the Sindhis then were not even considered as proper Hindus, since “they ate meat” – well, not all – “and, they write in Arabic Script”.
Fish and lamb were part of common Sindhi diet, athough they had some self-imposed discipline: Monday is the Day of Shiva, so vegetarian; Tuesday is Hanuman Day, vegetarian; Wednesday is the day to develop buddhi or intelligence, so vegetarian is desirable; Thursday is the day of Guru, non-vegetarian is definitely no, no, no; Friday is the day to eat fish; and, of-course Saturday and Sunday were meat days in the sense that one was free to choose.
For Most Gujaratiswho were vegetarian from birth, the Self-Imposed Sindhi Dietary Discipline was not only funny but also “non-Hindu, how can you even think along those lines, today vegetarian, tomorrow not.”
Sadly they did not care to read the history and understand how invaders had forced a foreign script upon the Sindhi language with an intent to loot and rule.
Baba’s interactions with both the Sindhis living in Ahmedabad and Gujaratis there saddened him extremely. Back in Solo then, there was only one Gujarati family amongst the tens of Sindhi families, and they all lived happily, harmoniously as one big family. No discrimination, no holier-than-thou attitude.
The Indians in Indiaalso had no knowledge whatsoever about the Indian Gurus visiting Indonesia and other countries in the South East Asia and the Far East. Until well into 1970s they would be solely hosted by the Sindhis and Punjabis.
There was no discrimination whether the visiting holy man was a Marwari, a Gujarati, a Sindhi, a Punjabi Hindu or Sikh, a Bengali, a South Indian – they were men and women of God, and they all deserved the same reverence.
There were no expatriates then and very few Indian companies from India. Those who spent for India and the Indian causes were local Indians. They had the resources to do so. Remember Subhash Chandra Bose, the Netaji and his Indian National Army? I keep that story for our next episode….
Broken-Hearted, Baba Came Back to Indonesia. He was silent for quite some time. He did not discuss his visit with my mother and grandmother, his mother.
It was much later when he told me the cause of his silence, but added: “They were ignorant. They had no idea of history. We all are one. One family, one civilization… My consolation was the fact that I did not meet any refugee as such.
“In Ajmer I met many poor Sindhi families, but not a single beggar. They all worked for their living. No job was menial. I was proud to see them as Purusharthi, True Workers. And, I am very sure in no time their purushartha, their efforts would bear fruits.”
And, he was right…. Sindhis are no longer sharanarthi. Their purushartha, their efforts have, indeed, borne fruits, and in abundance….