We come across diverse people in society, most of whom ensconce themselves within their own selfish spheres of interest and remain restricted within their boundaries, considering family and children as their entire universe. There are also some who keep themselves detached from worldly responsibilities and seek God by renouncing the world, while some make full use of their potential and talent only to enter the rat race and strive for success, self-glorification and self-gratification to be amongst the cream of society. Amongst such is one great personality – Mr. Lal Hardasani, who, since 1972, has made Hong Kong his home. Initially he struggled a lot in the foreign land but ultimately managed to carve a niche for himself amongst the world’s few great Sindhis. He has dedicated his entire life to the service of Sindhi language, music, culture and community at large. He has made his mark in the insurance sector, while his family deals in silverware. I can say without any hesitation that Lal himself has a heart of pure 24 carat Gold !
To begin with can you throw some light on your origins in Sindh.
My forefathers were initially Zamindars in Shahdadpur and then moved to Hyderabad. My grandfather, wanting to do something different, sold off his land and started 4 – 5 different businesses but unfortunately lost all his money. My father came to Bombay at the age of 16 and worked for Rijhumal Brothers in the Silk Bazaar, after which he joined his maternal uncle Gianchand in his silver business in 1937. Interestingly that firm, Vishindas Gianchand exists even today. My father was a partner until his death in 1976. His honesty,sincerity and business acumen helped him become the leading silver merchant in Bombay at the time. After his demise, my brothers started their own silver business in Zaveri Bazaar in the name of my father, Deepchand Sons. Today we have 3 silver stores in Bombay – at Zaveri Bazar, Bandra and Khar. All my brothers were in this business. Since I was not interested in my father’s business, I went abroad.
But you were born in Sindh, right?
Yes, I was born in Hyderabad, Sindh. I was just 6 months old when we left Pakistan and came to India during Partition. Since my father was already in Bombay, even prior to the Partition, we didn’t face any difficulty during the Partition days. We lived in Dadar and I completed my matriculation at K. G. Khilnani High School, a Sindhi Medium school.
How and why did you relocate yourself in Hong Kong?
I went to Jai Hind College to study Science as I wanted to become a Doctor. After Interscience I could not get admission in the Medical College, so I left studies and joined my uncle in his export business in Bombay. I was always keen to go abroad, and in 1969 my uncle sent me to Hong Kong on a business trip. During my 6 – month stint in Hong Kong, I became very attached to this place and my ambition was to settle there one day, which I finally did in 1972. During that time there were quite a few Sindhis there already. In my estimate there must be about 15,000 Sindhis in Hong Kong currently. I feel that even at that time there were as many Sindhis here.
Are the functions organized in Hong Kong primarily Sindhi functions, or are they organized jointly by all Indians?
Mostly all Indians jointly celebrate the main festivals like Diwali, Holi, Janamashtmi etc. As far as Sindhi functions are concerned, our Sindhi association founded by Notan and myself, organizes Cheti Chand Mela on a grand scale where we invite artists from various parts of India. This is organized on the eve of Cheti Chand in a five star hotel. On Cheti Chand day we also organize the Bahrana Sahib in the Hindu Temple.
For those staying in India, it is easier to preserve their language and culture, but you’re in a foreign country and trying to preserve your culture by organizing various tasks and programmes is quite commendable. With which Indian institutions or organizations you are associated?
I am a Trustee of Indian Institute of Sindhology in Adipur (Kutch). I am also a Trustee of the Artists Welfare Association, Mumbai. Here too I am a Trustee of the Hindu Association which manages the Hindu Temple.
Dr. Jawhrani: It is very unfortunate that we haven’t paid much attention to our artists and litterateurs. The artists whom you invite here from India are just a handful and every now and then the same ones are invited. Don’t you feel that much more needs to be done?
In the olden days, the Kings and Emperors used to take care of artists. They used to offer them suitable and respectable positions in their courts and take care of their livelihood. But nowadays it is not so. Today it should be the duty of businessmen, who are quite well off, to financially help our artists, musicians, singers and literary scholars. What kind of performance can you expect from the artist who works for the whole day to earn his livelihood and just practices his art in his spare time? He won’t have the time to innovate and think of ways to improve his skills and art. We always keep complaining that so and so artist is always singing the same old songs. Now should he pay attention to his livelihood or to the progress and improvement of his art? I strongly believe it is the duty of every capable Sindhi to give back to our community in some form or the other, be it in cash or in kind. The community, language and art will progress only when everyone contributes. Some can contribute cash while others can contribute their time. This is somehow lacking in us.
Can vocal culture play a contributing role?
It can play a very great role, especially in places outside India where reading and writing in Sindhi is just not possible. Our vocal
culture can be highly beneficial and we are trying to integrate our youth into it.
You mentioned that about 15,000 Sindhis reside here. Similarly in other parts of the world too, a substantial number of Sindhis reside. Do Sindhis settled outside India face problems with matrimonial alliances?
In Hong Kong we haven’t faced much of this problem. This is because most of the marriages here are love marriages. The youngsters mix and mingle with each other and choose their own life partners. However, one section of the International Sindhi Sammelans is usually dedicated to the youth so that they can meet and get to know each other. But here in Asia I don’t think there is any problem.
Do inter-caste marriages also take place here?
Yes. My own son has married a Punjabi girl. Out of the 15,000 hardly 15 – 20 are married to local Chinese. I am a very optimistic person. I am of the opinion that our Sindhi language and culture will never die. It is said that how so ever dark the cave, just a small spark is enough to expel the darkness. A revolution has already started and I am sure in future this will be successful and bring immense light to our community. Our community and Sindhyat
will remain alive forever.
It is said that when we were asked to quit Sindh, we were promised rights similar to all the other communities here in India. But after coming here we realized that we didn’t get the same rights. How can NRI’s like you help us achieve this?
In my opinion, as citizens of India Sindhis have all the rights that are enjoyed by other communities. But as you know because our community is mostly a business community, not much attention has been paid to bureaucracy or politics. We have many businessmen amongst us but no bureaucrats. The government is run by bureaucrats.We must encourage our children to appear for Indian Administrative examinations and enter this field. The next thing is to have a political lobby. Today in America there is the Jewish lobby which has a great influence over American Politics. Similarly, we too should pay some attention to this.
Other communities get funds for promoting their languages. On 26th January a tableau representing every community participates in the Parade. They have their nomenclature on the currency notes. Can NRI associations demand that the government do something for their Sindhi brethren in India?
For this we need guidance from India because we do not know whom or which department to approach in the government. Neither do we know exactly what your requirements are. If you guide us we can definitely make all attempts to help. I had read somewhere that in the past this demand for including the nomenclature on the currency notes was put forth before the government and it was felt that the demand was justified.We were asked to decide on the script – Arabic or Devnagri. Unfortunately we were not able to come to any agreement in this matter and it has been kept pending since then.
There has been one more demand since the past few years that we Sindhis be accorded a stateless government. What do you feel?
This is a good proposal. But for that we all have to be united and work together. We are forming small institutions individually and separately making various demands from the government. But if our efforts are collective then it is possible for us to succeed in getting these demands accepted by the government. We have many leaders in all the states, but we have fewer followers.
Moreover, we don’t have any centralized leadership. Until we don’t bring about this change in us, it will be very difficult to get any of our demands fulfilled by the government. Jai Hind!
You are absolutely right in your belief that if Sindhis unite – history can be created.
I sincerly hope that the Global Sindhi Council brought into existence by the Mumbai Sammelan will not only unite the Sindhis in India, but from all over the world.