Boolchand Mohinani left home when he was seventeen years old, to work in a store in Ceylon. After
three years, he joined his father in the family business in the Dutch East Indies.
Many things have changed in the world. Ceylon is now Sri Lanka, the Dutch East Indies is now Indonesia. But ambitious young men were leaving Sindh to trade in other countries ever since 1850,
more than seventy years before Boolchand set out to seek his fortune. They sailed from Karachi,
carrying trunks filled with beautiful handicrafts made in Sindh, and got off at ports to sell them.
After all the goods were sold, they went back home and brought more. In time, they set up stores of their own, and moved on to new ports to expand their businesses. Soon there were many Sindhi stores in ports around the world! The young men who ran them lived above their stores, and sometimes even had to do their own housework, or cook for their bosses.
When a ship’s horn sounded, whatever time of day or night, they quickly ran down to the dock to call customers to come and buy. Because they had started by selling ‘Sindhwork’, they became known as ‘Sindhworkis’.
The Sindhworkis led a hard life, and they could only visit their families every two or three years. The
ship journeys were long and difficult. During the Second World War, the ship routes were closed and some men were separated from their families for all the years of the war.
By this time, Boolchand had his own store. He and his wife Muli and their three children lived in an
apartment above the store. Three more children were born to them during the war years. Isolated in Indonesia by the war, Muli missed Sindh and her parents very much. When the war ended, they decided that she and the children would go and live in Hyderabad, as most Sindhworki families did. Boolchand would continue his business in Indonesia and visit his family every few years.
Muli had grown up in Hyderabad. Her father, Khiomall, was a Sindhworki too. He had lived in Durban, South Africa, his entire working life. He visited his family in Hyderabad for two or three months every few years. Sometimes, when he left to go back, he would take his wife Pappur and the
younger children along with him in the steamer ship on the twenty-day journey to Durban. After
some weeks or months, he would send them back.
In Hyderabad, Pappur lived like a queen. When people visited on formal occasions, they would be
served wine with a gold guinea at the bottom of the glass, a stylish gift from their hosts! They owned
horse carriages made of pure silver.
When Muli married Boolchand, she went to live with him in Indonesia. Life was quite different from
what she was used to! But she soon made friends with her neighbours and learnt how to cook delicious Indonesian food, which her children would always love even when they went to live in
other countries. They spoke Sindhi to their parents, but Indonesian to each other and their friends.
Tulsi was born soon after they returned to live in Hyderabad, in July 1946.
Just as the children started going to school and getting used to their new lives, Partition took place. As trouble broke out on the streets, there was no choice but to leave Sindh. They got in the train, not knowing where they were going.
By the time Partition took place, Muli’s father, Khiomall, had died. Muli had to flee, taking care of her children and her mother, Pappur, as well as her younger sister Sati, who had two babies of her own. Luckily Muli’s son Jiwatram and daughter Mohini were older, and they could help her. It was very difficult and frightening but Muli was a brave lady, and so were the other women who had to leave Sindh with their children and family elders. They did not know where they were going or what would happen to them.
Muli and her family travelled in a very crowded train with a few clothes and eatables they had packed, and crossed the new border. They arrived in Ajmer and were taken to a camp and given a
room in a row of rooms, each occupied by many people. The toilets were in outhouses and people
had to stand in line and wait their turn.
After two weeks they left Ajmer and took a train to Delhi, where they had to wait on the railway
platform for a long time. The trains and railway platforms were full of people like them, who had left
their homes and were looking for a safe place to settle. They talked to each other, asking where they had come from and where they were going, trying to find out where they could live and what they
could do to earn money.
Muli and her family boarded the train to Patna, where her cousin lived. Boolchand sent money to
the family in Patna. It took nearly a year before he was able to make arrangements for them to
return to Indonesia, and they were finally reunited.
Excerpted with permission from Losing Home Finding Home, Saaz Aggarwal, illustrations by Subhodeep Mukherjee, Black-and-White Fountain.