ON a humid morning in 1939, a 19-year-old boy travelled from Larkana to Shantiniketan College, Rabindranath Tagore’s school in West Bengal, desirous of learning music. He had asked the principal for admission, but without a test, and had received a positive telegram.
Three years later, when he left, he had become a Marxist communist desirous of working for the poor and waging a struggle for freedom. For the rest of his life, he remained a dedicated social worker, writer and lawyer who fought for the poor at his own expense.
This was Sobho Gianchandani, who passed away on Monday in Larkana a few months before his 95th birthday.
It is an uphill task to enfold a century in a few lines, the years of commitment and tireless struggle put in by Comrade Gianchandani, who believed in the constant struggle for justice. In a speech made on his 91st birthday in Larkana, he reiterated this: “I still see light at the end of the tunnel, I will never give up.”
This steadfast crusader was, perhaps, amongst the last few of the students taught by Tagore. Seventy two years later, he asserted: “I am proud of being Tagore’s student; [at the college] I was infused with a new spirit and became focused on supporting the truth.”
At Shantiniketan, he encountered several intellectuals and had long discourses with eminent communist leader Pannalal Dasgupta, who reinforced his ideas for launching the freedom struggle. Gianchandani stayed tenacious till the end, even though he suffered greatly for his convictions and spent 13 years in jail.
Born on May 3, 1920, to a family of moderate business and farming interests in the small village Bandi near the archaeological site Moenjodaro, Gianchandani had his schooling in the village and opened a small shop thereafter.
After his father’s death, his elder brother advised him to take up his studies seriously. As a student, Gianchandani was so keen that he had read the Janamsakhi, the revered Sikh book spanning over 37 volumes. During his school days; he was already writing short stories. He received higher education at Qambar, Larkana, the NJV High School, Karachi, and later DJ College, Karachi.
When the flames of the World War II broke out, the young man was deeply shocked and decided, on the advice of a classmate, that he would find mental refuge in Shantiniketan College. There, besides fine arts, Gianchandani studied other subjects and held discussions with people who later became leaders of the subcontinent. Tagore was at that time 78 years old, and used to call his student the “man from Moenjodaro”.
But by 1942, the situation in the subcontinent had turned testing, and Gianchandani decided to return to Sindh. Here, he joined the freedom movement which landed him in jail several times. The honorific ‘comrade’ became his second name and he honoured the dignity of it, believing in communism regardless of the eventual fate of the USSR.
From 1942 to 1946 he was detained in Hyderabad, Sukkur and Karachi, and implicated in a naval mutiny case. He also served jail sentences from 1948 to 1952. He was among the leaders detained in 1956 after the ban on the Communist Party of Pakistan. He was jailed again in 1959 and was kept at the Hyderabad and Lahore Fort for many months. When the Lahore High Court released him, he was sentenced at his home town for five years. He was also arrested under the emergency laws during the 1965 war with India and kept at Sukkur prison where he was joined by Shaikh Ayaz, the doyen of modern Sindhi poetry.
In between the periods of incarceration, he obtained a law degree in 1967, from Larkana, and consequently took up the practice of law.
Gianchandani fought for the rights of peasants, labourers and other oppressed people. He was a sensitive writer whose creativity was overshadowed by politics, though. Before Partition, he joined the Progressive Movement and founded a literary circle in his college where Ram Panjwani became president and Abdur Razzaq Raz secretary.
He was, additionally, a playwright and a short story writer. His short stories Kadehen bahar eendo, Pardesi preetam, Bachao bund, Inqilabi jo maut, Akhiyan jo tutann and Raheema hold a mirror up to the social psyche. He did not believe in weaving a story through word mimicry, using instead broad brush strokes to communicate his message.
Dr Ayaz Qadri called him Himalya khan oocho manhoo and Shaikh Ayaz remembered him as Asaan jo Qalandar. A few years ago, he said in an interview: “For the Pakistani establishment, I am a three-headed monster — I am a communist, I am Hindu, and I am Sindhi.”
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2014