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June 6, 2020

A life well lived


June 6, 2020

H T Sorley was a British civil servant in Sindh back in the 1920s, posted in the Hyderabad region. A local publisher Sadho Hiranand published a poem in his paper by a person named Shah Abdul Latif.

The publisher was ordered to appear in the British office, and was questioned why he was publishing rebellious poetry. Upon knowing about Shah Latif, British officer Sorley ordered his production. The publisher informed him that the poet had died some two hundred years ago. Sadho was still punished for two and a half years for publishing Shah’s poem.

Sorley later wrote that “Sandho Hiranand was punished for brief time, but he was punished for [the] rest of his life, learning Sindhi, researching the life, time and poetry of Shah Latif. He came up with his scholarly and so far the best book on the poetry and life of Shah Latif Bhitai, titled ‘Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit: his poetry, life and time, A study of literature, social and economic conditions in eighteenth century Sindh’.”

Atta Muhammad Bhanbhro (1934-2020), with his labour of love, translated the book into Sindhi. Several editions of this book have been published since then.

Translator Atta Mohammad Bhanbhro established his name in Sindhi literature as a well-known translator, researcher and scholar of Sindh, its political history, language and geography. With his passing away on June 3, his literary journey has now ended.

Bhanbhro was educated in a primary school near Hingorja in 1943-44 in pre-Partition British-colonized Sindh. That was when affluent Sindhi Hindus were leading the political, literary and educational fields in the land.

Reading, writing and translation remained his passion, though he was a lawyer by profession, and could have become very rich by practising law. But he preferred reading and writing and for over three decades he took pains to translate almost all major works written by foreign scholars, visitors, experts, agents, bureaucrats and historians.

Bhanbhro was widely known and respected in Sindh’s educated literary and political society, and activists who were inclined towards reading books. He had a huge collection of rare books on Sindh and the Indus civilization; as a well-read intellectual, he would narrate Sindhi traditions for hours in sittings with students, writers and visitors. The doors of his small home in Qasimabad were always open for long conversations. Young learners and students would come up to him with questions, he would welcome them and their questions with a smile on his face.

Besides his translations, his major original work is his deciphering the Moenjodaro script titled ‘Indus Script’, published in 2012 by the Department of Archaeology, University of Sindh, Jamshoro.

About the practice of greeting by joining both hands, Bhanbhro rejected the idea that it was a Hindu tradition, and said that it was a Sindhi tradition from the days of the Moenjodaro civilization.

In an interview to a Sindhi language television channel, Bhanbhro had also said that those who migrated to Sindh after Partition should have learned Sindhi as a language.

Bhanhro was awarded the Pride of Performance award for his work in literature, which he later returned in protest during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorial regime. People did not see any contradiction in what he wrote, spoke and practised. His young son was abducted and later found dead for the political choices he made, but Bhanbhro did not have a tear in his eyes for his son. That was one of the reasons scores of young people would frequently see him; he loved them as his children, and had become a fatherly figure for thousands. In his lifetime he was paid tribute at the Hyderabad Press Club where his birthday was celebrated with sufi musical tribute.

In my recorded conversation with him in 2005, it emerged that the sense of purpose in his life was guided by deep readings in history, political movements and philosophy in the 1960s. He believed philosophical aspects in poetry cannot be understood without having a grasp of philosophical thoughts.

Bhanbhro started his own ‘Hosho publication’ (1968-1974) which was banned in its first year and he faced cases under the notorious DRP laws during the Ayub and Yahya dictatorial rules. Bhanbhro was a lawyer by profession and worked Shaikh Ayaz in his Sukkur office, and was one of the witnesses in the 1970s when Ayaz was arrested from the Sukkur Bar Council where the then president of the Awami League Qazi Faiz Mohammad had come to speak, and many lawyers joined the Awami League. [Qazi Faiz Mohammad was president of the Awami League in West Pakistan].

Bhanbro was born and raised in a colonized Sindh under British imperialist rule; how much the post-colonial state changed in its structure and character was and is an open secret. In his will he wrote that his grave should be chained, since he did not feel like a free man, and that it should be unchained only when his land is free.

That is the story of the oppressed people and parts of the country, and post-colonial societies marred with deep-rooted structural injustices and silenced.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @mushrajpar