COLUMN: For the love of the land and the language

Published September 7, 2014
AMAR SINDHU is a Sindhi language poet and teaches philosophy at Sindh University, Jamshoro.
AMAR SINDHU is a Sindhi language poet and teaches philosophy at Sindh University, Jamshoro.

“I have always been fascinated by languages. Perhaps I inherited my love for them from my parents. In order to groom and polish this heritage, my first-ever teacher used an unusual and interesting method of teaching me the alphabet.” These words of the versatile writer, scholar and novelist, Sirajul Haq Memon, are taken from his book Sindhi Boli (Sindhi Language), published in 1960.

The love inculcated in Memon for the alphabet by his teacher led him to the service of his native language Sindhi. The teacher was none other than his own father, Muhammad Yaqoob Niaz, to whom Memon dedicated his book on the Sindhi language.

The son of a school teacher, Siraj Memon was born on October 24, 1933, in the small town of Tando Jam, near Hyderabad. For higher education, Memon went to the University of Bombay. Soon after his return, he worked with Mohammad Usman Deplia Memon, another giant of Sindhi literature, who was running his own printing press in Hyderabad. However, Memon’s time with the Sindhi Adabi Board is considered the prime of his literary career in terms of learning and inspiration as he had the opportunity to work as an assistant for Muhammad Ibrahim Joyo and Ghulam Rabbani Agro, two other big names of Sindhi literature.

This was also a time of new trends in Sindhi literature. Almost all the classics were being translated by the Sindhi Adabi Board while Sindhi literature was also being influenced by the fashions and ideas from international literature, opening up avenues for experimentation and new genres of literature.

In 1959, Memon thrilled both literary circles and academia with his book Sindhi Boli in which he offered a new theory about the origins of the Sindhi language. “Sindhi is an independent, original and indigenous language of Sindh, spoken and written from the times of Mohenjodaro,” Memon argued. He rejected the earlier notions about the Aryan or Semitic roots of Sindhi.

“Sindhi is a pure Sanskritic language, more free from foreign elements than any of the North Indian vernaculars,” Dr Ernest Trumpp, the pioneer of the theory that Sindhi is a derivative of Sanskrit, had earlier said. Trumpp had come to this conclusion based on Sindhi’s vocabulary and the roots of its verbs. However, Memon nullified the theory that Sindhi has any links with Sanskrit, calling this conclusion politicised. He also quoted Trumpp’s statement in which he seems doubtful of what he had earlier written: “This language, although it definitely appears to be related to Sanskrit, contains certain original qualities that Sanskrit does not possess; and not only that, but if seen in detail, it has a very individual and separate flavour.”

Mohenjodaro, or the mound of the dead, has been a mystery and a symbol of pride for the Sindhi nation. Likewise is the case with Sindhi language, about which Sindhis are very sentimental. However, no theory has been established about the origins of either Mohenjodaro or the Sindhi language.

Memon further argued that, “The history of Sindhi is older than that of Sanskrit and its related civilisation and culture are derived from the civilisation and culture of Sindh; Sanskrit is born of Sindhi — if not directly, then at least indirectly.” Later, Memon admitted that it was an article by the scholar Nabi Bux Khan Baloch, doctorate from Colombia University, about the origins and the history of the Sindhi language, that intellectually provoked him. He pointed out his disagreement with Dr Baloch’s theory thus: “Sindhi is an ancient Indo-Aryan language, probably having its origin in a pre-Sanskrit Indo-Aryan Indus Valley language. Lahnda and Kashmiri appear to be its cognate sisters with a common Dardic element in them all.”

Memon came forth with his theory at the behest of Muhammad Ibrahim Joyo who asked Memon to write in detail any sound arguments he has against Dr Baloch’s theory. Joyo wrote the preface for Memon’s book, saying, “This book rejects some common and particular notions about the Sindhi language. In this day and age, considering Sindhi to be born in the 11th or the 12th century is an absurd and baseless attempt in linguistic terms.” Joyo further commented that Memon “has rejected such artificial theories regarding the Sindhi language with strong arguments.”

The author of more than 10 books, Memon also contributed to the genres of short story and novel. The fragrance of the soil and rural life, with constant resistance against impositions by tyrant rulers, is an essential element of his writing, whereas the course of history is used as a backdrop for many of his fictional works. The sorrows and the sufferings of his land also are reflected throughout in his work. At the same time, Memon also touches upon modern life in metropolitan cities in his stories in which the inner cry of the being can easily be traced. Almost based on emotions, Memon’s stories are filled with nationalist sentiments and metaphysical approaches.

Memom’s passionate love for the land and its history pushed him to the writing of novels in which patriotism emerged as the highest value of humanity. The oppression of suppressed nations, the exploitation by feudals, and the brutalities of the class system are other prominent elements in his writings.

Memon’s novel, Parado Soyee Sadd (1979), a historical tale depicting the tyrannical rule of the Tarkhans and Arghuns in Sindh in the 17th century, became very popular. People even named their children after the freedom fighters in the novel. “The historical decisions of the Sindhis are beyond understanding in the light of the results,” he wrote. “Therefore, it would be a mistake to label them merely emotional decisions. Their decisions are rather the decisions of submission, the decisions of sensation, so let history decide about them.”

Memon explored the political decisions of Sindh (in terms of elections) in the trilogy titled Piyasi Dharti, Ramanda Badal (Thirsty Soil, Overcast Skies). While the approach of over-romanticising historical facts has never been considered a positive element, Memon always managed to create hope by romanticising the potentials and the strength of his people.

Though his trilogy reminds of the age of reason, Memon declared himself a coward in Sartreian term as he didn’t dare publish in the days of the tyrant Ayub Khan. On the other hand, though, being an officer he refused to follow the restrictions of civil services concerning social gatherings and never avoided meeting with political people and workers. Thus his job was terminated along with 303 other officers after Yahya Khan’s takeover. It was Z. A. Bhutto who brought Memon to the field of journalism in 1972. Being a friend of Memon’s, Bhutto appointed him the editor of Hilal-e Pakistan, a Sindhi daily owned by the PPP. However, instead of promoting party polices and being the party’s mouthpiece, Memon introduced new trends and innovative approaches to Sindhi journalism. He also introduced many new writers to journalism; Amar Jaleel is one of them.

Memon remained with Hilal-e-Pakistan for six years, till the imposition of martial law by Ziaul Haq.

Memon was also the editor of the Oxford Sindhi dictionary, which was compiled in 2010. Perhaps it was his last endeavour in the world of words. The Biography of Unknown, Memon’s last book, couldn’t be published till his death in 2013. He was 79.

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