This is the story of a long journey of Treasure from Bhiria, Sindh to India and then to USA. The Treasure includes over 100-years old utensils, a scale and a gramophone, which late Atmaram Khilnani, cousin of late Rai Bahadur Dewan Kauro Mal Chandan Mal Khilnani, took to India at the time of partition in 1947, and were preserved by his son late Sadhuram Khilnani till 2002, and after latter’s demise, his son Prakash Khilnani not only preserved but took them to USA where currently he is settled.
By Nasir Aijaz
The historians and the archaeologists have rightly said that ‘we are part of history as history is part of us. Since we have been in the caverns, we have sought a way to leave a trace behind, something that puts our mark in this world and go through it by being remembered. The cave men left their hand-prints and some kind of diary on the walls, as people learnt how to communicate, likewise the traces we leave behind are evolving.’
Part of our legacy is laid on what we leave behind; it could be a photograph, a text about our life, a video, a book, utensils, decorative piece, pen, lantern, or any such thing is an archive or antique nowadays. Some of those things are treasures, as they reveal the past and take us back just by looking at them. The objects so become precious because time has passed upon them, and they can tell so many stories.
The process of collecting the old objects is ongoing. We have preserved the objects of our past generations, and the young generation would be collecting and preserving the things of their elders as the antiques, and so would be done by coming generations.
Collecting the antiques also has sentimental value. People become collector of antiques because the items hold sentimental value. For example, a woman holds on to a ring that’s given to her by a great grandmother or a table that’s been in the family for three generations.
There is such importance of things and their story that we have museums where anyone can go and learn about a specific period of time, but some individuals collect things with stories – things that have survived enough to tell these stories.
Late Sadhu Ram and his wife Mrs. Shevi
Here is one of such stories about preserving the old objects, which not only contains sentimental values but also tells the tales of living style of the people, the quality of things in use of those people, the art and craft etc. of the past. The story is about the Khilnani family of ‘Bhiria City’, a small town of Sahiti Pargana or a region known for its richness in literature and culture in central part of Sindh. This family has played memorable role in creating history by preserving the antiques, their ancestors left behind.
Rai Bahadur Dewan Kauro Mal Chandan Mal Khilnani, the pioneer of educational institutions in Bhiria and promoting the education elsewhere in Sindh in 19th century, and the author of more than fifty literary and educational books, passed away in 1916, but his descendants and other relatives including cousins lived there till 1947 when the subcontinent was divided carving out two countries – India and Pakistan, out of it, and the 20th century witnessed the mass migration. Like other Sindhis of Hindu and Sikh Dharam, the Khilnani families’ members too had left their ancestral abodes taking a few things along with them and leaving most of their belongings behind.
Late Sadhu Ram Khilnani in the year 2000
The members of Khilnani dynasty are scattered across the India – some of them are settled in Delhi, some in Mumbai and others in Ahmedabad Baroda, and a few in USA also. They all must have preserved certain old objects of their elders however this story is of Mr. Prakash Khilnani son of late Sadhuram Khilnani, who currently is settled in USA and has preserved several things of his elders.
Mr. Prakash Khilnani with his father Sadhu Ram and mother at childhood
“Our great grand parents lived in Bhiria since centuries. My great grandfather Aildas son of Ghanshyamdas had three sons – Atmaram, Motiram and Choithram, and two daughters Padma and Hari. They were cousins of Rai Bahadur Dewan Kauro Mal Chandan Mal Khilnani,” Mr. Prakash told on phone from USA.
“Late Atmaram Khilnani had only one son late Sadhuram Khilnani (my father), who had job in a private company Shaw Wallace in Darjeeling, India at the time of partition. My father had two sons – Dhanesh Khilnani (Elder son, settled in India) and me. As the brothers of my grandfather Atmaram were also away from home due to jobs in India, only my grandfather and grandmother were there in Bhiria who had to leave their ancestral abode along with certain things, which they thought were more valuable to them,” he told.
Mr. and Mrs. Prakash Khilnani
“Do you know what those few things were they deemed necessary to take while migrating?” Mr. Prakash questioned and continued, “Some utensils including a Watto (bowl), Ghaghar, Tasri (plate), and tiffin, a gramophone, a scale with weights and measures a dagger etc. were their only treasure.”
Mr. Prakash Khilnani, who was born in Baroda after the partition and could not ever visit to Bhiria, said, “My grandfather Atmaram passed away after a year or two but my father Sadhuram Khilnani preserved all of their belongings, and during my father’s life and after him I have been taking care of these things being a treasure.” His father Sadhuram Khilnani, who was born in August 1920, had passed away on February 26, 2002. Upto the year 2000, he used to get these utensils washed with chemicals (a process called Kalaee) to maintain their brightness and shining.
“These things are not just antiques but sacred for us being the belongings of our ancestors, which were in their use since about a hundred years back,” he said in an emotional tone.
Mr. Prakash shifted to USA about four to five years back after serving in a private market research company Nielsen for over three decades, but like his grandfather, he too took along all the antiques there.
Every year on the occasion of Diyari (Dewali) and Cheti Chand, Mr. Prakash and his family arranges illumination, take the utensils out and offer prayers sitting before them. In India they used to light the lamps made of clay, but in USA, they make it with electric bulbs. “This has now become our tradition,” he told.
Sharing the photographs of all the antiques through WhatsApp, Mr. Prakash told that some of the utensils bear names of his grandfather, grandmother and grandfather’s brother Motiram. For instance, a bowl, as old as 85 years or above is engraved with the name of Motiram, while the tiffin, belonging to late Atmaram is more than 100 years old. Similarly, another utensil has his Grandmother Jasodha Atmaram’s name engraved and a Loto bears name of late Atmaram. Both items are also more than 100 years old.
The two bowls of scale, generally used by goldsmiths, are made of pure silver. The scale and weights too are above 100 years of age while a wooden box for keeping the scale and weights is around 85 years old. A Tasri (plate) is said to be of 1905.
About the gramophone, Mr. Prakash proudly told that it too is 100-years old, as it was purchased back in 1920. “Our family was the first one to have this gramophone in Bhiria,” he said. “I have preserved the gramophone so carefully that it is still functional even after a century,” he said and sent me a video of the gramophone playing an old song. He had also preserved a set of old round-shape records of gramophone.
“As long as I am alive, I will preserve this treasure,” he said.
Mr. Prakash Khilnani with his family in USA
While listening to Mr. Prakash Khilnani narrating the journey of his grans parents and their treasure of personal belongings from Bhiria to India, and then the shifting of that treasure to USA, I felt as if I had traveled through a time-machine back to early nineteenth century’s Bhiria and then migrated to India and lastly to USA, where the treasure is preserved with Khilnani family.