Born to Engineer Hashmatsing Ajwani and Smt. Jasota in 1930, Dr. Mohini studied at Naaz High School Khairpur, located about a fifteen-minute walk from their home.
Dr. Mohini remembers a prominent framed picture in her parents’ bedroom which carried a saying written in Persian, which translates to: “Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy.”
I was born on 28 July 1930, in Quetta, a beautiful hill station in Balochistan. My father, Hashmatsing Ajwani, was an engineer, and we lived wherever he was posted.
My parents were married at the ages of 17 and 18 respectively. My mother Jasota (nee Muli Wadhwani) was from a Khairpur family, like ours. Soon after their marriage, my father went abroad to study engineering. He graduated after two years on a scholarship in Edinburgh, and went to Iowa for his Master’s in Hydraulics, washing dishes to make a living. We were born after he returned from America – the eldest, Drupadi, who was epileptic, my brother Santo, me, and last my sister Ganga.
My earliest memories are of our home in Khairpur.
It was on a street called Ajwani Mehla – the locality where the Ajwanis lived. Next to it was another main road, Wadhwani Mehla where most of the Wadhwanis lived. We are Khairpur Amils as are Ramchandanis, Bhagwananis and a few others. Khairpur was a princely state, ruled by a Mir, and our ancestors held senior positions in their courts. Khairpur had the palace Faiz Mahal, but as far as I know nobody lived in it and it was more of a monument.
Compared to the homes of today, ours was quite primitive – the bathroom and lavatories were separate, there was no flush system, and a sweeper came in with a broom and basket to clean up every morning. I remember the angan of our home where my mother sat on a peengho – a swing with wooden posts as large as a queen-sized bed and which many of our families had in our homes in Sindh – every morning, first reading Sukhmani and drinking a cup of tea. In winter it was cold and in summer, when it was very hot, we slept on navvaro cots – cots with a base of cotton tape – on the terrace. We never saw rain – it may have rained in Karachi, but not in Khairpur or Sukkur.
The Naaz High School, where we studied, was about a fifteen-minute walk from our home. It was co-education and our subjects were taught to us in Sindhi. Our teachers were both Hindus and Muslims – there was no distinction. On the weekend, which for us in those days was Thursday-Friday, my father would drive us to Sukkur, 16 miles away, where my mother’s parents and her brothers lived in a three-storey building on Queen’s Road. From the window we could see Sadh Belo, a beautiful religious place on an island which my uncles sometimes took us by boat to visit. We would sit on the floor to pray, just as we did in our neighborhood tikano which had pictures of Guru Nanak and the ten gurus on the walls.
My mother’s eldest brother, Mansharam Wahdwani, was a railway officer, the second Takhtram had an office job and Nandiram, the third, was an advocate. And my mother’s sister Gopi was married to my father’s younger brother Narayan Ajwani, who was a captain in the British Army, based in Egypt during the Second World War. When the war ended, he was posted to Aurangabad, but his family remained in Sukkur and we were very close to our cousins. I remember their son Deepak, eight years younger than me and later a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army (retired several years ago) was born on the bed of our home in Khairpur! He was delivered by a dai – midwife – who asked my mother to give her hot water, and nothing else. Luckily it was a normal delivery. For any complications, we had to go to Karachi and I remember one of my aunts had appendicitis and died at the age of 29, leaving two little daughters aged 2 and 4, because she could not be treated in Khairpur.
In June 1947, I joined the first year of Inter Science. Santo and I lived in Karachi in the home of my mother’s cousin, Vishindas Wadhwani, and studied at the DJ Sind College. One of the things I remember was that the Motwanes of Chicago Radio had a home opposite ours and a young man of the family came to Karachi to pick a bride from three suitable girls who had been shortlisted for him. And he picked a relative of ours. Her father, Arjandas, was an architect but he had died young and Dr BB Hingorani was her guardian. The wedding took place in his home.
When the trouble started before Partition, Bunder Road Extension where we lived remained unaffected. But Gadi Khata, where our college was, had severe riots. Some of my father’s stepbrothers were caught in the crossfire, and one of them was killed. Nobody knew what was going to happen next.
My father applied for a transfer and got a good job with the Damodar Valley Corporation. Still, it must have been difficult to leave – and heart-breaking when they knew, later, that they could never go back. I remember Jan Mohammed, who worked in our home and used to carry my father’s lunch to office every day. He was like a family member. In Sindh, there was no such thing as Muslims being different from Hindus. Another thing I remember was a prominent framed picture in my parents’ bedroom which carried a saying written in Persian, which translates to:
“Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy.”
My parents packed some clothes and took the train to Karachi. My father left by boat to Bombay to take up his new position and we four children and our mother followed soon after. It was August 1947. I have no memory of Independence Day, but I think we may have been in Delhi by then. Our first home was in Simla where we had a garage for our Ford Convertible – which my father had brought back from America and was one of just three cars in all of Khairpur. Our domestic staff from Sindh remained with us – Wadho, the cook, and his helper Khalso, who was a Sindhi Sikh. We had a small swimming pool and a coop for chickens so we had our own eggs at breakfast. My father’s stepmother and her unmarried daughter, whom we were very close to, lived with us too. I remember my grandmother wearing the traditional white paro (skirt), cholo (blouse) and ravo (headscarf).
I wanted to be a doctor, so joined Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi. We lived in the hostel and every class had six ladies from each state – Kashmir, Madras and the others; we were six from Sindh. Veena, who also married a Hingorani, later became a professor at the All-India Institute of Medical Science, when I was a Registrar there. There were so many Sindhi women doctors – I remember Popati Mansukhani, the Ramchandani sisters Lachmi and Duru, Mohini Karna, Veera Choitram – there were many more.
When I finished my MBBS from Lady Hardinge, I did one year house surgeonship at Safdarjung Hospital and during this time, my father wrote to his American friend Waldo Smith with whom he had studied engineering in Iowa, asking him to help get me a job. After a year at Safdarjung Hospital, I left for Washington where I worked for two-and-a-half years in the children’s hospital at Georgetown University and qualified as an anaesthesiologist. I will never forget the first day when I entered the hospital wearing a sari and heard someone say, “What in the world is she wearing!”
It was an adventure, flying to London, staying overnight there, taking the boat to New York and on to Washington alone, without any contact or communication with anyone I knew, strange food and new sights, but I soon settled down. There were people in the hospital from all over the world – Japan, Turkey, Australia, Philippines – every part of the world, and I still have very good friends in the US. One of my cousins from Karachi, Kishin Wadhwani, was a paediatrician in another hospital in Washington. Santo was also in the US – living in Seattle doing Fisheries (he later moved to Alaska which was not a part of the US then). I remember one day, the three of us cooked chicken biryani for Mr. Smith and his family which they enjoyed very much.
It was an adventure, flying to London, staying overnight there, taking the boat to New York and on to Washington alone, without any contact or communication with anyone I knew, strange food and new sights, but I soon settled down. There were people in the hospital from all over the world – Japan, Turkey, Australia, Philippines – every part of the world, and I still have very good friends in the US. One of my cousins from Karachi, Kishin Wadhwani, was a paediatrician in another hospital in Washington. Santo was also in the US – living in Seattle doing Fisheries (he later moved to Alaska which was not a part of the US then). I remember one day, the three of us cooked chicken biryani for Mr Smith and his family which they enjoyed very much.
After two-and-a-half years I returned to India and in 1958, married Chandru Hingorani who was a radiologist. He was my classmate at DJ Sind College, but after Partition he completed his education at Stanley Medical in Madras. When I was at Safdarjung Hospital, he was at Lady Irwin in Delhi. We knew each other well and our families had been close from Sindh.
After our marriage we lived in Delhi where I was Registrar at All India Institute of Medical Sciences and my husband was Registrar at Irwin.
When our first son, Rajiv, was a year old, Chandru and I went to London and worked there for a year and a half. Chandru’s parents took good care of him while we were away! On the way back to Bombay, our ship stopped at Karachi and one of our friends came to pick us up, took us around and showed us our old home.
In 1962, we moved to Bombay and my husband worked at Tata Hospital and I started a private practice in anaesthesia.
After my father retired from Damodar Valley Corporation – having served in Simla, Calcutta, Ranchi and Maithon – he was offered a professorship at Rourkee Engineering College. When he retired from there, my parents too settled in Bombay.
My family and I lived in a building constructed by Chandru’s father. Living as refugees in Warden Road in Bombay after Partition, he got together with three of his cousins and they pooled their finances and constructed a building for themselves in 1952. He himself was a well-known doctor of Sindh, Dr. Bhagwandas Bhagchand Hingorani, an ENT specialist who had qualified in Vienna. He was also known for his generosity, taking care of many relatives and community members who needed help, especially during the difficult times after Partition.
Saaz Aggarwal is an independent researcher, writer and artist based in Pune, India. Her body of writing includes biographies, translations, critical reviews and humor columns. Her books are in university libraries around the world, and much of her research contribution in the field of Sindh studies is easily accessible online. Her 2012 Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland is an acknowledged classic. With an MSc from Mumbai University in 1982, Saaz taught undergraduate Mathematics at Ruparel College, Mumbai, for three years. She was appointed features editor at Times of India, Mumbai, in 1989.