From Sindh To Bangalore and Back: Rebuilding Our Lives & Revisiting Pakistan
Gul H Gulrajani’s family moved from Hyderabad, Sindh in Pakistan to Bangalore, India just before the Partition. Years later, he went back to visit and came back with warm memories. Here’s his story as we wrap up our #nofilterflashback month.
I was only five years old in 1947, when we moved to Bombay from Hyderabad, Sind, now in Pakistan. It is located 230 km from Karachi. My dad, Hashmatrai Kewalram Gulrajani had a thriving photography business. He had quite a few well-known clients, the Bhutto family and the leader Syed Shah Mardan Shah widely known as Pir of Pagaro being some of them. I was told that even legends like film star Noor Jehan would visit his photo studio. The name of the studio was Photo Speed Co.
My father had a privileged upbringing due to the position of my grandfather Kewalram Gulrajani, who was in the Public Works Department as a Senior Administrative Officer. In those days, my grandfather rode everywhere on horseback. He used to wear breeches and hat and was in charge of the Sindhu river waterways and supervised the release of river water to farmers. My father would accompany him sometimes on his trips and from what I had heard, my grandfather was extremely respected by the people and the farmers in the areas he supervised.
My father’s introduction to photography was through my maternal uncle, who was a photographer with the Royal Air Force in Sindh. During World War I, he was required to fly in newly introduced airplanes and take aerial photographs. But my maternal grandmother was against the idea as she felt it was unsafe. Not wishing to go against his mother, my uncle resigned from the air force and opened a photography studio. My father, who had just returned after working in Djakarta, Indonesia, joined him, before separating and launching his own business in 1932, which flourished.
Meanwhile, my father’s brother Nanikram, who was helping him in the business, got a photography contract from the British Army Battalion and moved with them to Bangalore. Later he opened a gift shop and established himself for over 10 years in Bangalore.
In 1947, the Partition took place. There were mobs all over moving and attacking homes, stabbing and killing people and shouting to convert or get out of Pakistan. So we left Pakistan for Bombay, India by train without my father, who stayed back to take care of the business. We stayed with another maternal uncle who was working for Siemens India in Bombay.
I must say that because of my father’s influence in Hyderabad, we managed to get seats on the train to India. But there was still some confusion in store. My uncle was friends with the station master and took the tickets to let him know we were travelling and to inform the guard to take care of us in the event of any difficulty. Meanwhile, the train started and we were left without tickets. The TC found us ticket-less and wanted us to get down at the next station. My mother begged him to inquire at the next station if they had relayed the information that our tickets had been left behind and the TC agreed. Two teenage cousins travelling with us got down one after the other at the next two stations until the clearance came from the main Station Master. My cousins eventually reached Bombay later, safe and sound. As did we.
So when it came to travelling from Hyderabad, Sindh to Bombay, India, that was our only problem. The other problem was that we had to leave behind our valuables. At almost every station the train passed through in newly formed Pakistan, our cash and valuables were seized. We were told it belonged to the government.
My father had the foresight to visualise this and had sold everything we had of value and put the money in The Imperial Bank (which went on to become The State Bank of India). By this time the violence had become significant. In fact, an employee of ours, a photographer who had gone to photograph one of our clients, a mill owner and his staff, was killed by a mob. Though my father was well known and had protection from the Pathans, finally, after my mother’s persuasion and letters, he decided to sell the business at a pittance and came to join us at Bangalore.
He was in for a rude shock.
On inquiry the branch of Imperial Bank in Bombay said no money had been sent to India. My father had deposited more than a lakh! Our money was gone and my father had arrived with only Rs 15,000 and several mouths to feed. We were eight siblings!
We had moved to Bangalore in 1948 before my father arrived with the help of my uncle who was already there and lived in Basavanagudi. We eventually settled in Frazer Town after my father’s arrival and he started his photography business on Brigade Road. My dad had difficulties in the beginning but he was a strong-willed man who established his business soon and by 1958 things had eased for us. Luckily, schooling wasn’t expensive in those days. I was enrolled in St. Germain’s School and remember the monthly fee was only Rs 10.
My mother was the backbone of our family and a pillar of support for my father. She had a regal and sophisticated outlook, as did my father.
While that is the story of how we established ourselves in Bangalore, I must tell you of my return to Pakistan for a visit in 2006. I was Life member of the India International Photographic Council and during my tenure as President, I arranged the visit of 16 Pakistani photographers from the Photographic Art Society of Pakistan in 2006. I also helped arrange an exhibition of their photographs in Bangalore and Delhi with their travel and stay taken care of. Impressed by our care, they reciprocated the gesture and invited 16 of our photographer members to exhibit our works in Pakistan.
Even though the exhibitions were in Lahore and Islamabad, I had expressed a wish that I’d like to go to Sind Province. Me and my wife Shakoon visited Hyderabad and also the place where our shop had been. Sadly, the owner had been stabbed in riots just six months earlier and his family had sold it off. I remembered the shop was on Risala Road with our house on the opposite on top of a heritage building called Pokhiyar Building. Incidentally, I even saw a report in the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn about how the building was in much need of repair.
What stands out in my mind about my Pakistan visit is the warmth with which we were received. Some of us were with our wives and if shopkeepers saw women in sarees and found out they were from India, they refused to take any payment from them, because we were guests! Our guide Fayaz even took a day’s leave and went back to his home to tell everyone how nice the Indians were, as they had a very different impression! Everywhere we went, the common people on the streets were curious about India and extremely welcoming.
It reaffirmed my belief that the problem between our two countries is not because of the people but because of the politicians. During Partition too the cause for hatred between the communities was because of the rumours and frenzied situation, set up by political factors.
Featured image: The writer and his wife being warmly welcomed by the present residents of Pokhiyar Building, his former home.
All images courtesy: Gul H Gulrajani
Silver Talkies is collecting memories as part of its #NoFilterFlashback #MonthOfMemories throughout August. To read the complete series, click here: https://silvertalkies.com/category/community/memories-musings-community/
To contribute your own memories of life in pre and post independent India, mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org