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Footprints: keeping alive the legacy

Updated August 15, 2017

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MIR Hassan Malkani and his wife Farzana with the rug Moolo gave his grandfather Ali Gohar Malkani. —Photo by writer
MIR Hassan Malkani and his wife Farzana with the rug Moolo gave his grandfather Ali Gohar Malkani. —Photo by writer

PUNE: I had been on the Malkani trail for quite a while before I realised that it is one of those rare Sindhi surnames which could belong to either community.

In India, most Malkanis are Hindu. They are believed to have migrated to Sindh from a place that might have been called Malkan, in the vicinity of Jaisalmer. Over time, they took to education and began working in the courts of Sindh’s indigenous princes forming, along with other clans like them, a community that settled in Hyderabad and came to be known as the amils of Sindh.

Of the many illustrious Malkanis of their time, one was Diwan Gulabrai, minister in the court of Mir Faiz Muhammad Khan Talpur of Khairpur. It was apparently Diwan Gulabrai who persuaded Mir Faiz Muhammad to merge his coinage and gold with that of the British. Then there was Nanikram, second son of advocate Hardasmal of Hyderabad, who studied at University College London and was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1942. In 1947, Narayan ‘NR’ Malkani was deputy high commissioner to India.

But the best known and most beloved Hindu Malkani of Sindh is Mangharam Udharam, writer, poet and dramatist (1896-1980). Born into a zamindar (landowning) family, Mangharam studied at DJ Sind College in Karachi and later taught there. He was well known not just for writing plays but also for performing women’s roles. He was part of a movement, led by principal Sahibsing C. Shahani, to educate women and in their time female students began appearing on stage. In 1923, MU Malkani founded the Rabindranath Literary and Dramatic Club that was inaugurated by Rabindranath Tagore himself.

It was my friends Gul and Nasreen Metlo, Sindhi doctors now settled in London, who told me about Dr Mir Hassan Malkani and arranged for me to interview him in their home. After an elaborate lunch, we sat down and Mir Hassan opened for me the doors of a new Malkani world. One branch of the Malkanis of Sindh, he explained, are descendants of a sub-tribe of the Lagharis who wandered in from Balochistan, and began settling from south Punjab all the way to Sindh. Another line, he said, are Jat Baloch, and their name is believed to be associated with Malukani or Mankani, which means pearl. While this might be an indication of association with the pearling trade, they believe that their ancestors were engaged in agriculture.

Mir Hassan’s mother, Izzat Khatun, grew up in the village Malkani near Dadu, speaking Saraiki, rather than the ancestral Balochi. In their turn, Mir Hassan and his siblings spoke to their parents in Saraiki but to each other in Sindhi. They grew up in Dadu, a town where nearly half the population was Hindu and included Hindu Malkanis.

Izzat Khatun was a woman of strength and determination. Her eldest, Shamsuddin Malkani (b. 1942) became a lawyer and in 1993 was appointed high court judge in Pakistan. Another brother, Ahmed Khan (b. 1943) flourished in business. A third joined the police and rose to its highest rank: inspector general Ghulam Mohammed. Her daughter Bilqees Malkani (b. 1959) became a doctor. Sending Bilqees to study in medical school and live in hostels, Izzat Khatun faced sneers and taunts which she coolly ignored.

Then, Mir Hassan proceeded to unroll the rug he had carried with him and tell me a story that I wrote for the book I’m working on, The Amils of Sindh: A Narrative History of a Remarkable Community.

The parting present

Ali Gohar Malkani of village Malkani near Dadu had any number of Hindu friends, but none as dear as Moolo. His being Hindu had never been of consequence — until Partition.

Before Moolo and his family left Sindh for good he came to bid Ali Gohar farewell. Ali Gohar was distraught and begged his friend not to leave but there was nothing anyone could do.

Moolo pressed Ali Gohar to use the things from his home that he could not carry — kitchen utensils, rugs and knick-knacks. There was a beautiful engraved metal tray, fitted with gold handles. When special guests visited, the children would be told, “Moolay varo tray khani acho — bring the Moolo tray”.

One of the rugs had been woven with Moolo’s father’s name: Valeccha Kodumal. Ali Gohar preserved it lovingly, hoping that a day would come when he would be able to return the heirloom to his friend. Right until the war of 1965, Ali Gohar and Moolo exchanged letters. Later that year, Ali Gohar died. The letters stopped.

Ali Gohar’s daughter, Izzat Khatun, treasured the rug and when the time came, entrusted it to her son Mir Hassan. Mir Hassan grew up in Sindh. He became a doctor and settled in London. His practice on Harley Street established him as London’s foremost hair-transplant specialist.

The rug is safe with him as he continues trying to find the family of his grandfather’s dearest friend so that he can return it, tell them how much the friendship meant to his family and how much they mourned its loss.

The writer is an author. Her book Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland was published by Oxford University Press in Pakistan in Feb 2013

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2017