January 20, 2020
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Mohanlal Pesumal Makhijani

He came with the deathly 'Karachi Cologne' on him; joined Edwina's rescue team.

Mohanlal Pesumal Makhijani

MY parents, siblings left Karachi for Bombay after selling our 10-bedroom house, worth Rs 2.5 lakh, for just Rs 30,000 to an Arab. I was working with the Karachi Port Trust and stayed on till January '48 when the first riots broke out. Sikh Sindhis, anticipating trouble, were fleeing to safety, belongings piled in 100 Victorias, when they were waylaid, looted and slaughtered by a mob of UP Muslims. I got the news at a restaurant. My first instinct was to run to the dry-cleaners, pick up my Rs 150 suit before he downed shutters! A Tamil friend's saner counsel to seek refuge in the Port Trust office prevailed. En route rioters snitched my pen and wallet. They couldn't take my Rs 2,000, emergency money I always kept stitched into my breast pocket. For years, till I consciously blocked out the memory, I'd get nightmares. Images would return to me: of people being clubbed to death with baseball bats, hockey sticks, hacked with knives. Anyway I managed to buy myself the last Rs 100 ticket on a ship sailing for Bombay. I reached on January 12. For weeks what they called the "Karachi Cologne" smell clung to my clothes, body. The smell of burning Hindu flesh from the cremation ghats.

I reached Delhi on February 6, determined to find a job before my last Rs 1,000 ran out. Rai Bahadur Thadeus, the Boy Scout Association secretary-general I knew from Karachi, referred me to Lady Mountbatten who wanted someone to coordinate the United Council for Relief and Welfare, set up to search, reclaim, abducted and missing women from both sides. They hired my fiancee Savitri as information officer Lady M's brief (we called her "Your Ex"): "No question of completing a job like this but go all out and do it. We'll evolve norms as we go along."

It was tough. We met raped, pregnant women. Some self-willed, staying back with spouses of their choice. Others bitter, abandoned, too furious to return. Yet others, married, converted, fearful, reluctant to relocate. On both sides. A new law nullified marriages with "missing" women. That created poignant situations. There was this beautiful Muslim girl married to a dashing Sikh hotelier in Srinagar. Mridula Sarabhai, our head, and a Pakistani lady official pleaded with her to shift to Pakistan. She smiled: "Send me but I'1l come back". The couple disappeared and I'm told resurfaced in London. But most girls were resigned. Some feared ostracism if relocated. Never mind feelings, we went by law. Pushed them across borders even if they resisted, all 11,840 of them. That's war People are no longer people. They're 'nationals', 'aliens'.

Mere numbers. Another category: 'Resisting Women'. A friend's daughter said it well: "a woman has no caste. She gets the caste of the man she marries." At times I think what if it had been a girl in my family. I'd have died of shame.

We found 14,800 women, returned 80 per cent. They found only 1,000, returned 20 per cent, saying the test wanted to stay. Apparently, they had a shortage of women, Back in Karachi, there were never voluntary marriages between our women and the Muslims. Historically, we always kept away, never took them home. We Aamil Sindhis had ferocious dogs and formidable walls.

No one ever asked our opinion before they partitioned Sindh--though we were 30 per cent of the population and some of the biggest landholders. If Sindh ever reunites would we go back? I don't think so. We've thrived in India. There we were mostly government functionaries. Here we're one of the most educated, richest communities. No, we'll never go back.

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