01 January 1970

Book Review: Discovering 'Sharam Booti', Rediscovering Gobind Malhi In Pakistan


Book Review: Discovering 'Sharam Booti', Rediscovering Gobind Malhi In Pakistan

The novel 'Sharam Booti' By Gobind Malhi looks back at the history of the Sindh Hari movements and more.

Rediscovering Gobind Malhi
Rediscovering Gobind Malhi Getty Images

Book: Sharam Booti
Author: Gobind Malhi, Translated from the Sindhi by Nangar Channa
Publisher: Fiction House, Lahore

A chance visit to a Progressive publisher’s bookshop located in Mozang, the heart of Lahore’s old city a few months ago led to the discovery of Sharam Booti (Sensitive Plant), a revolutionary novel written seventy years ago in the background of the struggle of the Sindh Hari Committee in the days before the partition of the subcontinent. The discovery of this classic of Sindhi literature also revealed that this was the centenary year of its writer, comrade Gobind Malhi, who was born on August 5, earlier this month. This review is thus a very belated and centenary tribute to a son-of-the-soil. 

The renowned progressive writer of the Sindhi language Gobind Malhi was born in a village named Tharushah. He began his political activities from college in 1940 and remained very active in the students union, remained close to Sobho Gianchandani and was also influenced by him. He went to jail for the first time in 1942 in connection with the Quit India movement. He joined the Communist Party of India in 1943 and was appointed the Party Secretary of Karachi in 1944. He played an active and leadership role in the Progressive literary movement in Sindh. He is counted among the founders of the eminent organization, the Sindhi Adabi Sangat. Prior to the partition of India, he became the editor of the progressive journal Nayi Dunya and like this he established the Sindhi Adabi Sangat on one hand, then on the other played a leading part in the growth of organization and literature through the aforementioned journal. He began by writing short stories and then made a name in novel, drama-writing, translation and editorship. Gobind Malhi is a grand reference of the Sindhi novel.

Gobind Malhi
Gobind Malhi

Among his works, in addition to two collections of short-stories, are more than forty novels, among which Aansu (Tears), Zindagia jee Raah Te (On the Road of Life), Jivan Sathi (Life Partner), Pyar Jee Pyaas (Thirst of Love), Man No Meet (Beloved Friend), Pakhiara Vilar Khaan Vichriya (Birds Separated From Their Flock), Sharam Booti, Chanchal Nigahen (Playful Glances), Lalkar (Shout), Ishq Nahe Raand (Love Is Not Play), Lok Aahe Bok (People Are Very Much Crazy), Desi Senna Kajhan (One Should Only Be Acquainted With Compatriots), Dehi Pardehi  Thiya (One’s Own Became Unknown), Smuggler and others are included. He played a central role in the 'Sindhi as a National Language' movement in India. He also remained the central Vice-President and General Secretary of the Indian Peoples Theatre Association.

The novel of Malhi under review was translated into Gujarati and Hindi. Among his famous translations are Mother (Maxim Gorky), Dharti Mata (Tarashankar Banerjee), Taane (Lin Yutang), Saathi (Yashpal), Inquilabi Shahrah (Aanchal), and Chandni Raat (Dostoevsky), etc. It is said that the first Sindhi translation of The Communist Manifesto too was done very much by Gobind Malhi whereas after partition the second translation was done by Rasheed Bhatti. If Gobind Malhi is considered an important milestone of the progressive movement and novel in Sindhi literature, it will not be incorrect. Malhi passed away in Bombay on February 10, 2001. 

Gobind Malhi was forcibly punished and sent into exile. From India, he remained active alongside comrade Kirat Babani, AJ Uttam and other friends. They contributed in the struggle for the acceptance of Sindhi language as a national language. The Indian constitution recognized the Sindhi language on 10th April, 1967.

Book cover pf Sharam Booti by Gobind Malhi
Book cover of Sharam Booti by Gobind Malhi

Playing his historic role in India on the base of his revolutionary and patriotic principles, Gobind Malhi kept remembering the Mehran valley, its laboring inhabitants, and their struggle. A powerful example of this is Sharam Booti. The Sindh language novel was published from India although its release was possible in Sindh years later. Now that Nangar Channa has translated Sharam Booti in Urdu it should gain a wider readership.

Associated with the national politics of Sindh and living in the Sindhi city of Nasirabad, Nangar Channa has the background for translating the novel. There is a long list of the literary work he has done. He is the translator of some two and a half dozen books, and has written two novellas in the Sindhi language.

He has proved his knowledge of Urdu, Seraiki, Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi.  

Nangar Channa holds a strong and credible reference for humanism based on progressiveness and revolutionary foundations. He has been influenced by the struggle of the haris of Sindh.

The novel under review is based on the struggle of the Sindh Hari Committee. It was foundation in 1930 in Mirpur Khas. The Committee had an enthusiastic relationship with the left-wing organizations.

It participated in the movement for the separation of Sindh from Bombay and this movement met with success. The Committee also worked towards Hindu-Muslim unity. In the Larkana Hari Conference held in Larkana on 17 April 1941, it has been clearly said in the resolutions, ‘This conference views the total elements creating unrest and rioting among the people in the name of sectarianism and religion with hatred and contempt.’ After the partition of the subcontinent, Karachi was separated from Sindh. The Sindh Hari Committee fought against it. 

The Committee battled against the feudal system and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of acres of land made cultivable after the establishment of the Sukkur Barrage among the haris

Illustration by Gobind Malhi
Illustration by Gobind Malhi

Many writers favored the cause. This novel of comrade Gobind Malhi Sharam Booti paints the historic struggles. The characters of the novel are the walkabout characters of the Sindh of that time. The lead of this novel, Ram arrived with the liberated school of thoughts from Shantiniketan and participates in the hari cause armed with revolutionary ideas. He tries to unit and coalesce bazigars against this system. The novel’s heroine Premi is a bazigar (Dalit) girl who is in this struggle with him. The novel introduces real life leaders as its protagonists. Qazi Faiz Muhammad was an active leader of the hari movement

As far as the translation of the novel is concerned, Nangar Channa has performed this task with such skill that it seems like the original rather than a translation. How Gobind Malhi has written the pronunciation of the actual language of the bazigars in the Sindhi novel, Nangar Channa has maintained the same in Urdu too, which further adds to the beauty of the translation. 

(Raza Naeem is a Pakistani award-winning researcher, translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the President of the Progressive Writers Association. He tweets under @raza_naeem1979 and can be found on Facebook here)