Updated: November 14, 2021 8:13:05 am
I can’t remember how and when I got introduced to the writer Shoukat Hussain Shoro (1947-2021), who died this week in Jamshoro, Sindh, Pakistan. It must have been around 2003 or 2004. I was beginning to form my links with Sindh. The ancestral connections of my family needed to be revised and revisited. Shoukat and I met at a Sindhi literature conference in Ahmedabad. A gentle, quiet and observant man, Shoukat Shoro was Sindh’s most eminent short story writer and essayist. He, along with a few others, ushered in the modern story in Sindhi with its themes of alienation and existential ruptures. Why he should have warmed up to me enough to subsequently come and stay with me, I don’t know. He was duly impressed that I had been living with three generations in my house, although I appear to be fiercely independent and individualistic. I remember asking him, “Kiyan Bha, shaabas aahe na mukhe? (Shouldn’t I be congratulated?)” He threw his head back and laughed, “Haa haa, vadi shabaas aahe. (Kudos to you).” We had established a comradeship and kinship as between a brother and sister across borders. We exchanged literary news; articles; and updates on home and family.
The conditions of my visa did not permit me to visit him in Sindh, when I visited Pakistan in 2000. So, my desire to eat pallo fish cooked in the traditional style remained unfulfilled. When he tried inviting me as a speaker or adviser, I was invariably denied the visa. The name of his daughter Sorath stayed with me, although I did not meet her. Sorath is the name of one of the dastans in Sufi mystic Shah Abdul Latif’s poetry; and Sorath is also Saurashtra for us in Gujarat. It was as if by naming his daughter, he had consolidated my Sindh and Gujarat histories, I told him.
When I was compiling stories for the book Unbordered Memories, it was Shoukat who provided to me some of the best stories in Sindhi. A volume about Partition proved that the 1947 division of the Subcontinent was merely geographical; the Sindhi writers seldom recognised borders. Perhaps, being marginal to the imagination of both India and Pakistan and working with a language that both societies were indifferent to made the Sindhi writers constantly reach out to each other.
The story, “Khauf jo Maut”, is written with economy and control, and brings out a host of anxieties that have haunted the polity in Sindh. The protagonist Kamil lives with his wife and child, but in fear and trembling because the atrocities against Mohajirs in the 1970s and 1980s had made every moment insecure for the Sindhis. In search of a home in a safer area, he visits the home of Haji Sahib: “‘Look, how poor Sindhis are being compelled to sell their ancestral homes, as if Hyderabad was not a part of Sindh, rather it was Hyderabad of the Deccan in India.’ Kamil found Haji Sahib’s words heartening; they appeared like drops of cool water on a parched earth. Perhaps Sindhis had begun to realise how much like orphans they had become. ‘Where will they push us?’ Haji Sahib continued. ‘We will find acceptance in neither India, nor Afghanistan nor Iran.’”
Much conversation ensued from this point; about the role of MQM; and that of the Hindu Sindhis and the formation of Pakistan. Kamil went home reassured that he would be given a room on rent by Haji Sahib only to discover the following day that all the assurances were merely lip service. The Sindhi community stood fractured; unable or unwilling to heal each other. Kamil says to his wife Zainab at the end of the story, “We are not going anywhere. We shall live here, in our own house…” The house that inspired a fear of death was now the ancestral home that would embolden him to kill fear itself. Maut jo khauf had become khauf jo maut, the death of fear. This is but one story from a massive oeuvre penned by Shoro. We are left with his writings, and I, with the warm memory of his friendship.
This column first appeared in the print edition on November 13, 2021 under the title ‘Writer of unbelonging’. The writer is professor of English at Ashoka University
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