JORUNEY TO THE ROOTS

By, SALMA HUSAIN
Scholar's House, Jamia Hamdard, Hamdard Nagar, New Delhi - 62.

Born into a Kutchi Memon family, I always had a keen desire to visit Kutch. An advertisement in the newspaper regarding Kutch Utsav prompted me to take the flight and be off to the land, I had longing to go.

It was a journey of curiosity, a journey to find out my roots and a journey into the past.

The plane stopped on an air strip in the middle of the desert and the passengers were taken by bus to a small building (a kilometer away) called the airport perched atop a veritable Jurassic Park. In north-western tip of Gujarat lies Kutch, the biggest district in India, in terms of sheer area, sprawling over 45,000 sq. kms. The district could easily be mistaken for its sheer vastness.

Kutch has a great variety of land and water, plain and hill, desert and fertile land. All this has resulted in a variety of ecosystems, snugging close to each other.

Kutch does not offer five star deluxe accomodation. However, a few hotels maintained by TCGL offer fairly comfortable stay.

I checked into one of such hotels and wondered what next. The Utsav had already left and I had time to myself. Well how about a tour to Bhuj. It is said that total area of Bhuj is only seven kilometers. I walked out of the hotel to find a sawari to take me around. A young pleasent looking boy came forward and asked me where I wanted to go, he had a nice auto-rickshaw. I told him I wanted to see the bazars of Bhuj and then the city. We chatted on our way and I found that my guide was also a Cutchi Memon boy. He spoke about his family and I about mine, and by the time we finished our tour we were relatives. Next day he arranged my tour to the great Rann of Kutch, which covers an area of about 1800 sq kms. and lies along the border of Pakistan. This part of Kutch is also known for its embroidery. On my way to Khadva, the border town, I visited small villages to see their way of life and beautiful masterpieces of their handicrafts in leather, Roghan paint and needle work.

It is interesting to note that the driver of this tour was also a Cutchi Memon and he had some very interesting stories to narrate. He spoke about Cummo Seth and Sulaiman Seth, the grass cutters who turned millionaire just with a blessing of a Peer. These brothers are still remembered by the community for their good deeds and lots of social service. I myself came into this world courtesy Cummoo Jafar Hospital and had my primary education in Cummoo Jafar School.

Next day I was off to Mandavi. The ancient harbour of Mandavi and the majestic Vijay Vilas place are worth visiting.

On the unpolluted beach of Arabian Sea, you discover a rare feeling. A group of young boys with their camels take you round on its tranquil shores and a row of wind mills opposite beach revolve with the wind. On the way to Anjar, I stopped at Dhand, the Rabari settlement. This visit was particularly to revive the memory of the old Rabari women who visited my mother regularly and blessed her profusely.

In the evening my young tour guide took me to see Jamathkhana and the area where the Memon community lived. We had dinner resturant just below Memon Musafirkhana. It was a memorable nice evening.

The village of Dhand where lived nomadic Rabari tribe has mud houses covered with thatched roof. Life is slow and peaceful, men have their cowheards and women their needles.

As were leaving Rabri settlement, a group of three men asked us for a ride; they were pleased to meet a modern Kutchi women. Visit to Anjar was short as Anjar is known for Jasal Lord Samadhi which I had no time to see. Being closed to Gandhidham, Anjar has picked up faster pace of life. The houses were modern, the streets were broader, and the life faster. Evening was spent visiting my relatives, who entertained me lavishly with their real Kutchi cuisine. We found common relatives and exchanged notes. My mother's cousin in Chand-Balai called Hawama, her neice is married in this family, the grand-daughter of Jimbubai of Bhujwari Mohalla is married into this family and here I could see her mother Mariam boarding the bus of Anjuman-e-Islam Girls High School.

The visit of Kutch was superb. I was the happiest woman in the world to visit the place of my ancestors. It is unfortunate, that now I am no more a Kutchi Memon, as I have married outside the community but I would have a request to the President of communtiy - not to outcast us so very totally.

We love Kutch and its Memons. Source: Rabitah (Bombay) July 2000, Issue no. 46. pp. 90-91.