Home Memoirs The Sindhi from Karachi

The Sindhi from Karachi

The Sindhi from Karachi
Karachi Municipal Office Building: Opening Ceremony January 2, 1932. It was said to have been built at the cost of Rupees Twenty Lakhs in those days

I belong to the Chhāprū Sindhi community. It is reported that most of the original settlers in Karachi were Chhāprū and Bhāgnāri Hindus.


My Memoirs

In the recent years, I have noticed a wave of great enthusiasm among our young generation of Sindhi people to learn more about our ancestry, our ancient cultural beliefs, about the social lives that we lived from ancient times and how our earlier folk traditions have affected our evolution up to the present times.

Dr. Dev Pardanani

One can get good amount of information about these historical and pre-historical  times from write-ups by many previous authors but today one would also like to  obtain from our present day elders the accounts of hardships that they personally  went through and survived especially after the partition of our country when we  Sindhis lost not only our entire homeland but are now facing great challenge to the  very survival of our rich Sindhi culture, literature, our ancient customs, our moral values, character and ethics – our very Sindhi psyche and ‘soul.’

I am going to write about my views and experiences of my immediate relatives and close acquaintances. I want to particularly bring out those aspects of our life stories that make us proud of our many successes in our ‘fight back.’ I expect that similar write-ups by many more people will bring us more close together and will help us formulate our future strategies for the survival of Sindhi Culture, Sindhi Ethos and Sindhi Civilization.



I was born and I spent my early childhood years in the city of Karachi when Sindh was still a part of united India. It was a beautiful city of which I have many fond memories.

Karachi actually started as a fishing village around 1772 A.D. According to the legends, it started as a fishing settlement where a fisherwoman called Māi Kolāchi settled down and started a family. The village that grew out of this settlement was known as Kolāchi-jo-Goth (The Village of Kolāchi). Kulāch is said to be the name of a tribe in Makrān in neighboring Balochistan from where Māi Kolāchi possibly migrated in the early 18th century during the rule of Talpurs in Sindh.

Being a natural harbor, Karachi grew rapidly as a port city that was visited by traders from Persian Gulf and other neighboring countries. Also many people from other parts of Sindh migrated and settled down in the city and its environs. The population that was about 20,000 in 1840 grew to 1, 00,000 people by 1890.  However, the real development of Karachi with proper municipal services etc.  happened under the British rule when the city became a major trading hub and its population increased four times over by 1940s. At this time Karachi was considered to be one of the cleanest cities of India and some even dubbed it as “Paris of Asia.”  This was way before the city of Bangalore (Bengaluru) got the distinction of being called the “Garden City” of India.

I belong to the Chhāprū Sindhi community. It is reported that most of the original settlers in Karachi were Chhāprū and Bhāgnāri Hindus.

It is also believed that Chhāprūs are Lohānās of the Kshatriya varna (warrior tribe).  According to some scholars the word Lohānā comes from the root expression Loh – iron, a concept that supports the theory that Lohānās – ‘the Iron People’ – belonged to the warrior class in the earlier times.

The word Chhāprū, most likely, comes from the word Chhapar that, in the early Lāri dialect, is said to mean “mountain.” Shah Abdul Latif (1689-1752 A.D.), the saint poet laureate of Sindh, has made the use of this word several times in the legendary story of Sassui Punhu in his Magnum Opus Shah-jo-Risalo. Shah Latif alludes to this word when he describes the weary wanderings of Sassui in the rugged mountains on her way to Kech Makrān in Balochistān where her beloved Punhu had been kidnapped and carried away by his brothers.

The southern part of the Khirthar mountain range (continuation of Suleiman mountain range in the north) stretches down to the Las Belo on the border of Sindh and Balochistan, not too far from the present city of Karachi. It is very likely that the Chhāprūs were the mountainous people who migrated to Karachi in search of work and livelihood.

Bhāgnāris, on the other hand, are said to have migrated to Karachi from two villages called Bhāg and Nāri in northwest of Sindh close to Kalat; together they came to be called Bhagnāri.

As Karachi gained trading importance, a small fort was constructed for its protection from bandits and raiders. The fort had two main gates – one facing the sea became known as Khāro Dar (‘Salty’ Gate) and the other facing the adjoining Lyari River, became known as the Mitho Dar (‘Sweet,’ ‘non-salty’ Gate). The location of these gates corresponds to the later-day city localities of Khārodar (Khārā Dar) and Mithodar (Mīṭhā Dar) respectively.

During the British rule, as new constructions started at some segregated areas, the  original area came to be known as ‘Old Town’ or ‘Manjhi Goth’ (‘Inner Town’) as  opposed to the new area that came to be known as ‘Bāhri Goth’ (Outer Town).

I will not go into describing shopping or trade areas of Karachi. The other two places of interest that I remember are the (1) Clifton Beach that in earlier times was called “Hawa Bandar” and (2) Manghopir.

Clifton Beach was a beautiful place where one could watch the sea and walk along the beach like on any seashore elsewhere. We sometimes visited this place along with the elders of the family.

Manghopir, on the other hand, we visited on rare occasions. This place was famous for the shrine of saint Pir Mangho (real name, Hāji Syed Khwājā Hassan Saḳhi  Sultān), a Sufi pir of the thirteenth century. It is well known for its hot and cold sulphur springs and for the crocodiles that live in the sacred lake. Some suggest that the lake was formed due to an ancient flood and that the crocodiles were washed here with that flood. Others believe that these crocodiles once lived along the Hub River that flowed through this area; they were left behind when the Hub River changed its course in the later period.


I was born in the family of my grandfather Shri Amernomal Pardhanani (Pardanani).  The large joint family consisted of my father Shri Sunderdas, his two brothers and two cousins – all with their spouses and children. Shri Amernomal was in ghee business that prospered when he was able to get the contract to supply ghee to the army during World War I. The ghee shop was located in the famous Jodiā Bazār.

We lived in a large old styled 3-storied house (‘Wado ghar,’ ‘Jhuno ghar’) in the location that was called the “Old Town” in the city of Karachi. The house had two huge wooden doors that opened into a large basement at the other end of which was the stable for the horse, parking place for the horse-carriage (Ghodā-gādi) and living area for the sāis – the carriage driver. Those days there were no cars; private horse carriages instead symbolized a family’s economic status. (Incidentally, my Nānā (maternal grandfather) also owned a Ghodā-gādi).

The first floor had a large central hall with a large wooden Pingho (Swing) on which 6-8 people could comfortably sit, gossip or have some rest and refreshments etc.  There were a number of bedrooms for the huge family on two floors. On the terrace floor there was one single, ‘private’ room that was given to my father because he had decided to go for higher studies (even against the family advice) unlike the other male members of the family.

he game of Cricket on the front yard of the Malir farmhouse: Batsman, 1 Mid-on, 2 Slips, Wicket keeper – the Cart, Wickets – the large Imli tree (1939).

At some point in his lifetime, my grandfather made a decision to diversify his business. This he did by becoming a Zamindār (landowner) by purchasing  farmlands in the ‘suburbs’ of Malir and Lāndhi that were about 14 miles from the  city of Karachi but were well connected by rail and road. In the early hours of every morning the farm produce of fresh vegetables and fruits was loaded on two bullock carts and brought to the vegetable market in the city to be sold to the whole-sellers in the market. One of the family members would be there at the market to make the transaction. (This Malir is not to be confused with the ‘Malir’ in the folktale of Umar Mārui of the famous poet Shah Abdul Latif; that Malir was located in the desert area of Tharparkar in the south-eastern part of Sindh).

In the farm of Malir we had a fairly large, quaint farmhouse with rose and other flower plants in the backyard. The highlight of these farmlands was that every summer, during the school vacation, practically the whole family usually ‘migrated’ to Malir for a long holiday.

On arrival of the train at the Malir railway station, the bullock carts from the farm brought the ladies and the small kids to the farmhouse while the ‘big’ kids (those age 8 and above) rode on camels (two kids astride each camel) all by themselves with the camel drivers walking alongside the camels. These were well-trained camels and  they knew their way right up to the farmhouse; all that the riders had to do was just  hold the reins loosely and hang on to the saddle and let the camels do the rest! It used to be a dream vacation/holiday for the kids – open spaces, trees, fruits, flowers and vegetables, fun and frolic, swings on trees, the game of cricket, one so-called private “swimming pool” and the rides in bullock carts to and from Malir and Lāndhi.

Picture-2About 700-800 meters behind the farmhouse there was a deep well and a water reservoir (kūnd/kūndi) which was filled with the water that was pumped out from the deep well. Water channels from the reservoir fed water to the vegetable plants and the fruit trees and fodder grass for the animals. This water reservoir was also used by the kids (and grownups) as their private “Swimming Pool!”

Incidentally, the areas of Malir and Landhi, those days, were separated by a wide ‘dry stream’ called Nae-n in Sindhi language. It was a long shallow sandy tract that occasionally, during the rains, was deluged by a huge flood that carried away everything in its way dangerously along.

England’s Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) playing test match against India at Karachi Gymkhana Grounds on 10.01.1934. Sindh’s Naoonmal Jeoomal Makhija used to be a star opening batsman for India in different forms of Cricket matches.

In the city of Karachi, I remember my school (with its sprawling play grounds), the Municipal Hospital where a number of us kids had their tonsils removed under very primitive type of general (chloroform) anesthesia. I remember the large Karachi Municipal Office Building with its tall clock tower. I think there was another clock tower that was located, if I remember correctly, on a small hillock from which the area of Takri (small hill) possibly got its name.


With passage of time and with the increase in the size of each constituent of the Pardhanani (Padanani) family, the management of a huge joint family became progressively difficult leading eventually to breakup of the joint family setup.

My father Sunderdas after he returned to Karachi from Benaras Hindu University (BHU), with the coveted Mechanical and Electrical Engineering degree in hand, got an offer for a suitable job in Bombay and we the five members of the family moved to Bombay even as our social and financial roots remained in Karachi.

Tram Car on the Streets of Karachi, September 1933
It is said that India’s first tramway system was constructed in this bustling city in the year 1911.

We rented a small chawl-system apartment on Kalbadevi Road. Luckily there was a Sindhi primary school called K.D. Hinduja Primary School close to our home and we got admission there immediately. My sister got admission to a Gujarati medium school nearby.

Everything went smoothly till 1947 when all the Sindhis of the sub-continent were struck by the catastrophic partition of India. Hindus in Sindh did not know what to do and where to go. They literally ran helter-skelter to save themselves and their families. There started a mass migration to reach as fast as possible the nearest part of Indian soil with whatever little they could carry with them. Today, every Sindhi would like to permanently erase from his mind all the painful memories of those agonizing days.

Most of our very close relatives landed at our place in Bombay and for a while about 18-20 people were living together in that small apartment till they could find a suitable place to go to.

Most Sindhis migrated by whatever means to the nearest states in the western regions of India viz Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh etc. Some set up small businesses, others took service jobs in private or public sectors.

The governments in respective states made some living arrangements in old dilapidated army barracks that were mostly primitive without proper sanitary and drinking water arrangements. There was a saying that “the working men met their children only on Sundays since on working days they left home early in the morning when children were still in bed and they came home late in the evening when children were already in bed.” Things did change for better overtime as a result of the families showing great patience, grit, fortitude, courage, determination and hard work to get there! The families at the same time continued to look out for more and better avenues for work and for living.


The sub-families of Pardhanani (Pardanani) clan followed different ways for finding safe and suitable destinations:

(1) My daddy continued to live in Bombay in our small apartment. My elder sister got married to son of a prominent Chhapru businessman. She lived happily ever after with her family – all well-settled. I and my younger brother joined the Seth G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. Hospital in 1950s. I became a surgeon with M.S. degree and he got M.D. degree in Gynecology and Obstetrics. He married a Sindhi girl (also a doctor) he met during his training in Bombay. They moved to U.S.A. in mid 1960s and raised a family of one son and one daughter and all have done quite well all along.

(2) I did not go to U.S.A. I was more inclined to do Clinical and Academic work. I joined the Surgery Department as Tutor/Lecturer in 1962 and retired after nearly 30 years as Professor and Head of the Department of Urology. I established the new full-time University recognized Department of Urology at K.E.M. Hospital & G.S. Medical College where we did world-class clinical and research work in the fields of Urology and Andrology. We did pioneering work in the field of Human Kidney Transplantation in India starting in 1965.

I carried out many research projects in the fields of General Surgery, Urology,  Andrology, Tropical Diseases, Bacterial infections etc. and published large  number of scientific papers. (My official interview about my academic accomplishments was uploaded and can be accessed on the YouTube channel). My son and my daughter are working in very prestigious institutions in the fields of Medicine and Education respectively in U.S.A.

(2) My one uncle with five children went to Baroda and started a small garment business. He had made a vow to himself long ago that he will give all his children the best opportunities in education and he really kept his promise. All his children became ‘Doctors’ – three became Doctors of Medicine and two became PhDs.

(3) My second uncle moved to Raipur and set up a bakery. All the members are happily established in that place.

Without going in for many more examples, I can confidently say that most families of our clan have done well in their careers and businesses and I am certain members of their next generation are all set for a much better future.

However, I must not forget to mention the notable example of my father-in-law Shri Vishramdas Radheshwar. After partition of the country, he moved and settled down with his large family in Bhavnagar in Saurashtra where he set up an ice-factory. He was a wool merchant in Karachi and had an illustrious career in Karachi where he was elected as Mayor of Karachi Municipal Corporation for the year 1945-1946.

Shri Vishramdas Radheshwar, Mayor of Karachi Municipal Corporation addressing a gathering including foreign delegates

Interestingly, after migration to Bhavnagar from Karachi in 1947, he was elected as Mayor of Bhavnagar Municipality for two consecutive years 1964-1965 and 1965- 1966. In Bhavnagar city a new big road has been named after Shri Vishramdas. All his children are well established in their careers. As a matter of fact, his son Lakshmanbhai is following, more or less, in the footsteps of his distinguished father.

Shri Lakshmanbhai Radheshwar contested elections and was member of the Bhavnagar Burroughs Municipality for a number of years between 1974 and 1995.  He was elected as Chairman of the Standing Committee and also held the position of Deputy Mayor of the Municipal Corporation. He was also on the Committee of the Sindhi School Trust between 1973 and 1994.


Right from the start, much as the migrant families of Sindhis wished to move to decent living accommodations, they could not overcome the financial difficulties associated with such a venture. Earlier, rich people lived in their own houses and bunglows and the rest lived in rented quarters that they could afford. There was nothing “in between.” But it is rightly said “Necessity is Mother of Invention.” It is said that the concept of ownership cooperative housing societies was promoted by a Sindhi entrepreneur. And this idea worked not only for the ‘displaced persons,’ it worked for everyone interested in the idea.

Shri Vishramdas Radheshwar, Mayor of Bhavnagar at Flag hoisting ceremony in Bhavnagar

Some members of the Chhapru community in Bombay got together to explore this idea for their members. Luckily, at that point of time, the Government’s Finance Corporation decided to give matching loans at low interest rates to those who wished to participate in this new Ownership Housing Society Program. But there was a ‘Catch’ – each member had to contribute certain amount of money to qualify for a matching loan from the Government.

Many people came forth but the collection of funds was not enough for the loan.  Here, our Pardhanani (Pardanani) family came forward to the rescue. The Pardhanani (Pardanani) family had a Charity Fund that was used for welfare of the community members in need. The elders of the community approached my father to give the necessary amount from the Charity Fund for getting additional loan from the Finance Corporation. My father readily gave the amount as interest-free loan. That brought into existence a large Co-operative Housing Society of ten 3-storied buildings in Shivaji Park-Mahim area in Mumbai.

But the story does not end here!

Opening ceremony of the new Sheth Vishramdas Radheshwar Marg extending from Sardar Nagar Circle to Sant Kanwarram Temple in Bhavnagar
(Lakshmanbhai is second from right in a sweat shirt)

Encouraged by this success, many more enthusiastic members joined in and together they brought into existence, in the posh Juhu Vile Parle Development  (JVPD) Scheme area, two more Cooperative Housing Societies – one of eighteen 3- storied buildings and another of three 7-storied buildings.

Similar happenings have been reported from many other parts of India where cooperative efforts have brought smile on the faces of many community people who got a decent roof over their heads at the time when it was most needed.

I conclude my this narrative by saying that the Sindhis proved that they are a very  ‘resourceful’ people who at the time when they were exposed to great physical, emotional  and economic stresses during the time of partition of the country, did not lose heart.  Instead of arguing and squabbling they pulled up their socks and rolled up their sleeves and went to work! And they succeeded!!

These are the qualities of character that I admire and I love in these happy, peaceful,  hard-working and fun-loving Sindhi people!!!


Courtesy: Sindhi Khazana


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