INDUS TO ISAR – My Spiritual Journey As An Artist

Book Corner

INDUS TO ISAR -1Excerpts from the book “INDUS TO ISAR – My Spiritual Journey As An artist” authored by Mahirwan Mamtani, who was born in Bhiria City, a small town in Sahiti pargana of Sindh; migrated to India in 1948 with parents and is settled in Germany since 1966. On Sindh Courier’s request, Mr. Mamtani has shared a few chapters from his autobiography for the readers.    

Book:  INDUS TO ISAR – My Spiritual Journey As An Artist (Episode III)


So the creation of Pakistan followed in 1947! Before leaving India, the British were satisfied and happy that Pakistan was created – a malicious pleasure! By all means the British wanted their Intelligence and a Military base in Pakistan because of China. What an absurd idea! The price was higher than one can imagine! And who paid the highest price? – Sindhi Hindus! The entire Sindh went to Pakistan.

Sindh at that time was a secular province where Hindus and Muslims were living in peace with a Sufi philosophical bent of mind. Nobody asked Sindhi Hindus about this new creation of Pakistan as an Islamic State! They could have at least divided Sindh like Punjab but no, all Sindhi Hindus were forced to leave their homes! In fact Sindhi Hindus did not want to leave their homes and properties but the Muslims who migrated from other parts of India created a state of terror and killings. Hindus were threatened – either converted to Islam or killed. In the beginning Sindhi Muslims protected Sindhi Hindus but after a few months they gave up! Millions of people had to leave their homes without any security.

In my school, Koran classes were installed and hatred against Hindu children was spread – everywhere fear dominated! Children lost interest in school and parents preferred to keep their children at home. For the freedom of India, first I wore white cap of the Congress Party, afterwards red a cap of the Jan Sangha, and now to survive in a newly created Islamic state I must wear a Jinnah cap to go to school – that was our independence! When Sindhi Hindus tried to leave by trains, the trains were stopped in the middle, were plundered and the people murdered. There was no protection of any kind and the neighbourhood watched happenings quietly and out of fear couldn´t say a single word – very pathetic situation.

INDUS TO ISAR-5After six months of such a life, my parents also decided to leave our homes and properties. But to leave by trains without any security posed a great problem. One of my uncles was a government head collector of the District, who also decided to leave. He was still being protected by bodyguards and police. He managed to organize a big government vehicle with an official name-plate and two police officers with guns as our bodyguards. My uncle informed us that they want to leave the place secretly at night with this vehicle and go to Karachi, from where they would go to Bombay by ship. There were seven family members of our uncle and they had already loaded the bus with their suitcases. We requested him if he could also take us together but we were eight family members and also had not prepared our suitcases. In the bus there was no more space for our luggage but our uncle accepted to accommodate us only with small hand luggage. My father had difficulties to decide on such short notice of a few hours’ time. He decided to remain there in Shahdadpur to settle certain things and then join us in Karachi after a couple of days. Our loving uncle took our family of seven members with them under official protection and we reached Karachi safely. We stayed at my mother´s sister´s place at Takri in Karachi – whose family had already left for India and reached Agra. We stayed in this big house – there were already 3 more relative´s families occupying this place and waiting also to leave for Bombay. We stayed there for two weeks and my father still did not come to join us in Karachi. We were living in anxiety. I used to wear a salwar and Jinnah cap to go out for the necessary food shopping. My mother became very sick. At last, my father reached Karachi with one suitcase containing some clothes and a file of important papers concerning his job. He managed to steal these papers from his office as evidence which he might require for future employment in whatever unknown place in India!

Now our task was to leave Karachi as early as possible as the communal riots were increasing day by day. Every day thousands of people were leaving for Bombay by ship and one has to wait several days to get the tickets. At last we were sitting on the ship “Akbar” on 29th January 1948 evening heading for Bombay. The ship was fully packed and there was hardly any place to sit, so we just squeezed ourselves on the floor of the deck. There was a full moon and very high tides, water was gushing with force on to our deck. People were vomiting and my mother, who was already sick, became very sick. My brothers Ram and Sharan also were not feeling well and shivering with cold having fever! My grandmother was o.k. – she helped everyone. The night was turbulent and in the morning the storm subsided. It was 30th January morning, when all of a sudden the ship had to stop – the news, “Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic!”


Life in India1948-1965


We were welcomed in Bombay port by some volunteers, who were directing all the refugees to camps around Bombay. The health condition of my mother and two brothers was very bad and we required immediate medical assistance but there was no proper help as there were too many cases like us. It was a chaotic situation with masses of sick people sitting on the pavements of the Bombay port. We did not know anybody in Bombay who could help us. Nobody liked the idea of going to refugee camps in our condition. My father contacted some relatives in Indore about 500 km away from Bombay, who had arrived from Karachi about a month ago.

Thank God they were very nice and invited us to Indore.


After a tiring train journey we were received by our relatives on the Indore Railway station. They took us to their little room and offered us some food and water as we had not eaten any food for the last two days. After a day or two they also helped us to get a two-room flat on rent not far away from their place. Also with their help, my mother and my brother Ram were immediately admitted to the Government hospital. Dr. Ramu, the head of the hospital, was very kind and loving, and it took about a month for my mother to recover. But my brother Ram´s condition was very serious – many complications, and required penicillin injections every hour. My father couldn´t find any job in Indore and there was no income to meet the expenditures like rent, medicine and food. Whatever money he had brought from Sindh disappeared in no time. He was not a businessman like other Sindhi refugees who were selling goods on the streets. One day he tried his luck – at 5 am in the morning, he went to a wholesale vegetable market and bought fresh peppermint from every farmer, which he wanted to monopolize. He sat in the market for a whole day with a big heap of peppermint and there was hardly any buyer! In the evening he brought the whole heap of this green stuff home to store under charpais cot-beds. Not only our flat but the whole house smelled of peppermint! Never again!

INDUS TO ISAR-2INDUS TO ISAR-1My father decided to leave Indore and go to Delhi, the capital of India, to find some government job. He left for Delhi. I being the eldest son (12 years old at that time) had to take the whole responsibility of running the household, with my sick mother and brother Ram still in the hospital. I used to do shopping, buy prescribed medicine from a little money which my father left. My grandmother used to cook also for the sick people and I brought the food to the hospital twice a day. There was no proper stove to make fire for cooking. There was one primitive stove made out of one old bucket, which required charcoal to make a fire. One day there was also no charcoal available! I used to go out and pick up wooden sticks from the public park and steal some charcoal from the railway depot – where heaps were stored for the locomotive trains. While stealing, one day I was caught red-handed by the guard and beaten very badly. I ran and came home bleeding – as usual my grand-mother did the dressing of my wounds. Never again stealing charcoals!

INDUS TO ISAR-3INDUS TO ISAR-4Indore was a beautiful Maharaja city. The Maharaja of Indore was very kind to refugees coming from Sindh – Sindhis were mostly business people, starting from selling cloth to vegetables carrying on a four-wheel-bicycle carrier, pushing everywhere in the streets, inviting people to buy their products. It was a question of survival. Competition to sell cheaper became normal and local people profited from Sindhis but the local business people were not happy about it because their business was hit due to Sindhis selling their products for less profit! One day, I bought some candies from a wholesale shop, carrying them in my shoulder-bag and started selling to children in front of the school building. But after two days I was tired and became sick lying on my bed with high fever. Almost all the refugee children went through a similar fate – no school, no friends, no proper food, no proper clothing and shoes. Our mother tongue was Sindhi and now slowly we had to learn Hindi – a totally different script and language!

Lot of rain here, which we didn´t have in Sindh! It took a lot of time to adjust to this new climate, new people, new language. My father was still struggling in Delhi to search for the job – it was now more than three months since he left. My mother and brother Ram came back from hospital, they recovered and their health was better. After some time we heard from my father that he has got some clerical job in the CTO (Central Tractor Organization) which was under the Ministry of Agriculture, in New Delhi. We were relieved.

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About the Author

INDUS TO ISAR -2Mahirwan Mamtani was Born 1935 in Bhiria, Sindh. After the Partition migrated to Delhi in 1948 and his school education was disturbed. As a refugee child, he was allowed to appear for the Matriculation examination directly without attending any school which he achieved in 1951. Being the eldest in the family of 9 members (Grand-mother, father´s sister, parents, 4 brothers and 1 sister) he had to earn money by doing jobs. At that time he was only 16 but was allowed to work which was considered as a “boy-service”. First in a private firm and then employed in the Ministry of Law where he worked for 12 years. After the work he studied and completed his Bachelor´s degree in Political Science. After that he joined evening classes for Fine Arts at Delhi Polytechnic and completed his National Diploma in 1962. He changed his work from Law Ministry to the Government of India Press, where he worked as an artist designing boring printing materials. In 1966 he awarded scholarship by DAAD (German Institution) to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Since then he lives in Munich, Germany. Mahirwan Mamtani has several one-man-shows in India and Europe and participated in over 100 group exhibitions, Biennales and Triennials around the globe; several private and public collections – among others, National Gallery of Modern Art New Delhi, MoMA New York, The British Museum London and Kiran Nader Museum of Art New Delhi. Awards among others: 10th International Biennale of Prints in Tokyo and the National Award Lalit Kala Akademi New Delhi.


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