My father had married at the age of twelve when my mother was ten and I was born when he was only sixteen years old. Possibly that is why people had many children during those days -which I, for one, did not approve.
Schools in Tando Adam taught only upto the 5th standard, so Murij Manghnani could only complete his primary education there. His family had their own sales office in Karachi and so he obtained further education in the city of Karachi. Starting from such humble beginning he has come up a long way to the position he is in charge today. Today we have – Murij Manghnani, Businessman & Philanthropist and the Group Chairman of International Traders (Middle East) Ltd.
*How old were you, when you got married?
I am a victim of child-marriage! I recall when I was just eighteen years old, I had gone to Tando Adam to celebrate Diwali with my family. One day, I overheard my father consulting someone about my marriage and I requested him to desist from such thoughts as I intended to study further. He became furious and scolded me saying that I had no manners and should not be talking back to elders. I told him that I just didn’t want to marry at that time, and that there was nothing disrespectful in my saying so. I decided to go back immediately and packed my bags for Karachi. My mother wanted me to celebrate Diwali with all the members of our family. Later on, my father also exhorted the values of celebrating Diwali with parents, to which I replied that when parents had no love for their children, what was the use of staying back.
In Karachi, we had our office on one floor of the building and our house on another floor. One day, when I came back from school, our ‘Munim’ asked me to feed him sweets. I asked him “Why? Am I engaged or what?” He replied in the affirmative. I asked, ‘Which family?’ He said, “with the daughter of Bherumal of the Rai Saheb Jumanmal family from Tando Jam”. The engagement was followed by marriage. I was married at the age of eighteen and my wife was just fourteen years old. I should be thankful to the British government for having put some restrictions on child marriage.
*So even in those days you thought about family planning?
I got married in 1945. My first child was born in 1947 and the second in 1949. I realized that if I continue this way I will create a cricket team within few years. So, you can say that I thought about family planning even before Chacha Nehru.
*One shudders, recollecting the conditions prevailing in refugee camps during partition times, one literally starts shivering. Any such unfortunate experience?
When Rajgopal Acharya inaugurated Ulhasnagar, we were in Pushkar. We went there in 1953, by which time it had become quite habitable. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stay in barracks but in C-Block, comprising one bedroom, hall, etc. It was not such a bad accommodation, considering the circumstances.
*What took you to Dubai?
Our company used to finance Dubai businessmen and once received news that one of them was bankrupt and there were possibilities of more insolvencies . These businessmen owed us a lot and my company sent me to Dubai to settle and recover as much as possible. This resulted in my staying for about five-six months in Dubai. In the meanwhile, K. J. Chotirmal of Bombay had opened an office in Dubai and their accountant needed an assistant, and they offered me this post. I asked my employers in Bombay for their consent, which they readily granted. They wanted to shut their Bombay office in any case and were only concerned about me. So they wished me good luck and that’s how I joined K. J. Chotirmal. After about four-five months, satisfied with my work, I was promoted to the post of the manager, who was in turn transferred to their Ghana office. And since 1954, I have been in Dubai.
*Wasn’t Dubai at that time a desert?
The population of Dubai at that time was around twenty-twenty five thousand. There was no hotel and one could only get tea and biscuits at restaurants. We had to cook ourselves or starve. There were no messes, no electricity, no water, no roads and no telephones. The electric connections happened after many years, in 1960.
*Presently, Dubai is considered a developed country. Do you feel like an alien there?
No. We are very much connected with India. It takes just two and half hours to fly to India. Previously, there was no airport in Dubai and it was awful as we had to sail from Dubai to India and that took a lot of time.
*Have you established any school in Dubai?
Yes, the Indian High School, Dubai, which imparts education to some 8500 students. The land for it was given free, by the Shaikh of Dubai. I am one of its founders and have also been its Chairman for two terms.
*Recently, when you held the marriage ceremony of your granddaughter, you invited many writers and artists along with other big shots, isn’t it?
While preparing the list of invitees I had specifically instructed my son Chander, to ensure that no Sindhi writer or artist was missed out from the invitee list. We would not be able to ever face them again. If a businessman was missed out, we could always offer him our apologies.
*Can Dubai play the role of a bridge between Sindhis of India and Sindhis of Pakistan?
Such a proposal had come from Suresh Keswani around four-five years back, but the environment of Dubai was not conducive those days. However, now as Dubai is getting more liberal, we can certainly work on it. We can have a joint cultural programme in Dubai with artists from both countries.
*Physically, you live in Dubai but your spirit is known to be in India. Which organization, that promote Sindhi language and culture, are you associated with, in India ?
Since 1982, I have been associated with Akhil Bharat Sindhi Boli Ain Sahit Sabha. I have also instituted one award for the promotion of Sindhi language and I leave the decision to them on whom to confer. I don’t interfere personally. I am also associated with Sindhu Youth Circle of Ulhasnagar. They have got their own premises, but many more such organizations do not have such facility. Sindhu Youth Circle has constructed a grand building that cost six to seven million rupees. Likewise, Indian Institute of Sindhology is also working in Adipur. They have got a good school, a plot to construct the main building for the institute, and they also propose to establish a university. Presently, I hold the post of its Chairman.
*How is it that you are so close with so many active and thought provoking writers and artists?
When we were busy with earning our livelihood, these were the people who sacrificed everything for the preservation of our language, literature, culture and tradition. There were organizations like that of Gobind Malhi who with Bhagwanti Navani traversed the length and breadth of India to awaken our love and duty towards our culture through various message-oriented cultural programmes. We can never forget the struggle of these organizations and we must recognize their services and encourage them for their sacrifices and dedication.
*Can we presume that litterateurs can always count on you and you will always be there to help them?
Absolutely. Be they playwrights, musicians or writers, we must encourage them, and I will keep doing so even in future.
*Any memories about Dada ‘Dukhayal’?
When I came back from Dubai to India for the first time in 1957, I learnt that my in-laws had shifted to Gandhidham. Dada Dukhayal also lived there. I specifically took one tape recorder with me and recorded some poems of Dada Dukhayal during my conversation with him. Slowly and gradually, we became close to each other.
*What about your relationship with Ram Panjwani?
We celebrated his 70th birthday lavishly at Jai Hind College in Bombay and we planned to celebrate his 75th birthday in Dubai. When I went to his house to hand over the visas for Dubai, I was told he was not at home. When I returned later in the evening I was informed that Dada Panjwani was no more!
*Our younger generation feels inferior calling themselves Sindhi. What can be done in this respect?
I think we have crossed that hurdle. Sindhis have excelled in every field in India as well as abroad. Now everyone holds us in high esteem and so why should we have any inferiority complex? But yes, we have to save our basic Sindhi values and for that we should heed the pleas of Dada Jashan Vaswani. He exhorts that Sindhis should not forget their mother tongue and that we must speak Sindhi, at least in our homes. Other Sindhi saints can also impress upon the Sindhi populace to talk in Sindhi and in this way we shall certainly be able to preserve our spoken Sindhi.