LOC Chair ????
The day that some of us hold so close to our hearts.
The day that has a permanent place in our thoughts. We almost always look forward to it – and whatever comes with it – with so many expectations some practical, some not so practical!
This time it was sunny (or was it Sani’s?) California. And the ‘City of Angeles’ was the host. It was noticed this year that people started arriving three to four days ahead of 4th July, the day the Convention was scheduled to officially open. This showed the interest the people had in the event and also how it has become part of their calendar. It was also noted that many people stayed in the city 2 – 3 days after the Convention. Goes without saying that these conventions provide an opportunity to North American Sindhis to combine family vacations with the annual gala.
The people, who arrived few days prior to the start of the Convention, visited some of the attractions in greater Los Angeles area while some of them enjoyed the hospitality of their friends in the city.
As 4th July, the day the Convention was to be declared open drew closer, the hotel lobby started to give the look of a big Sindhi party ‘with sounds of Sindhi language all around in the air. The lobby (and the parking lot) had given an empty look only 2 days ago but today it suddenly looked so full’ so full of life! With so many smiling faces all around greeting each other with hugs and hand shakes. Men, women, children – every one so ecstatic, so glad, so fortunate and so thrilled. They came from all over USA and some from Canada. Three cheers for Houstonians, who almost came by a planeload! 50 or so in the same plane! Some more separately! And the Dallas people, who drove all the way from that cowboys’ country. Others came from the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, from the north and the south and from the deserts of Arizona.
Has any one ever given it a thought what compels all these people from all over North America to eagerly await and then participate SANA Conventions? Isn’t it ‘the’ love of Sindh, the motherland? Love of ‘Sindhiat’, the ‘spirit of Sindh’? Love of one’s own
culture? Who needs special invitations to attend such gatherings? ‘Hee taa sikk-a jo sadd-u aahey. Sikk-a jo safar-u aahey. Sabhnee laa-i aam aahey. Her ko paann-a qurb-a jaa peir-a bharey eendo aa!’
‘Halann-u tinn piyo naalo neenhan^ gginhan jey’: Shah
‘Halo halo Kaak tarein jittey neenhan^ uchhall-a nakaa jhall-a nakkaa pall-a, her kaa passey pireen^-a
On 3rd July, the members of the ‘Registration Committee’ were the first to occupy their positions at the venue, the Hilton Torrance/South Bay. The SANA President Sani Panhwar, the Convention Committee Chairman Ali Shaikh, active member of the committee Jaffar Shah and others were there to receive the guests and facilitate their stay. One felt so happy and so elated among one’s own.
The day one
Uncustomary, the people started filling the breakfast room early in the morning. May be they didn’t want to be late and miss out any of the events. The organizers had arranged three days breakfasts for all the Convention guests. Fresh fruits, fruit juices, eggs, bread, pancakes, cereals, tea and coffee being the part of the menu among other things.
The first event of the day was the medical seminar. This is almost a permanent feature at all the conventions as it is a revenue-generating segment. Dr. Valeed Shaikh moderated the seminar. Dr. Rafat Ansari talked about screening and prevention of breast cancer. Dr. Aijaz Turk spoke on the screening for colon cancer. Dr. Ashfaq Turk on preventive measures against heart attack. Dr. Sattar Shaikh spoke on screening and the treatment of depression.
Lunch and then the Guest Speakers Session
Mr. Mohammad Ali Mahar, General Secretary, SANA, moderated the session. He invited all the guest speakers to the stage. They were: Renowned journalist, Hasan Mujtaba, Former diplomat, Najamuddin Shaikh, NGO Consultant and environmentalist, Ms Noorunnissa Ghanghro, journalist and women rights activist, Ms Nafissa Hoodbhoy, author and research scholar Khadim Hussain Soomro, political activist Dodo Maheri and veteran writer, intellectual and lawyer Nooruddin Sarki.
Ms Noorunnissa Ghanghro, an NGO Consultant and environmentalist was the first to come to dais. She made quite an emotional speech. She spoke of injustices against the people of Sindh including the denial of due share in water and other resources. She shared her experiences of working with different NGOs at grass roots level. She provided examples how international donor funds were being illegally transferred to Punjab and how the people of Sindh were being hoodwinked.
She stressed that Sindhis should prepare their case on water and other issues on international standards. ‘We should collect all necessary data on water and other issues. We should put forward our claim for all the losses that we have suffered in the fields of economy, politics, democratic rights and the social sectors. Overseas Sindhis can immensely help in this. Such a case should be properly publicized. It should be presented in different forums world over’, she said.
She also presented a slide show, which highlighted the impact of water scarcity on different aspects of life in Sindh. How hundreds of thousands of acres have been rendered barren and millions of people have lost their livelihood. She also pointed out the problems of water logging and salinity, poor physical infrastructure, need for water management projects and measures aimed at conservation of water.
Hasan Mujtaba, an award winning journalist and an equally good poet, has been contributing to different publications including Newsline from Karachi and Himal South Asian magazine from Nepal. He currently writes for BBC London. He made a superb speech. At times it brought one to tears. He started with a poem, most probably his own:
‘Ggaalh aahey Sindh jee
ain unhee jey jazban jee
Shah ho darya jo, qaid aa kayo viyo
Ain unn-a jee mauj mauj
Fauj aa fanaa ka’ee’
He asked the audience point blankly: ‘what is Sindh?’ Is it a metaphor? A symbol, a simile? A condition? An ode, a music? Is it the ‘aalaap’ of Ustad Manzoor Ali Khan, sounds of Dhol Faqir or Zaibunnissa? Is it the ‘raga’ of ‘faqirs’? Is it the deserts, the mountains? Is it the hug that Haider Bux Jatoi gave to Shaikh Ayaz at the time of his (H B Jatoi’s) arrest? Is Sindh an image of one’s beloved, which always remains in one’s heart and mind? All his speech was interspersed with poetry from Shah and others.
I never knew Hasan could play such magic with words. But then one almost always underestimates friends! He was so poetic! One had to listen to him to believe it.
He talked of ‘Sindhu Darya’, the dying river as he put it or the river, which is being ‘butchered’! He condemned the antics of the oppressors and the tin pot dictator, who are using the Greater Thal Canal as a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ to ruin whole Sindh. These people, suffering from nuclear xenophobia are killers of their own people and thieves of the water resources of Sindh. He said the son of that ‘Foot Constable’ Zahoor Ilahi, (who might have been killed in the fight over ISI funds allocated for training Indian Sikhs in Punjab by agencies’ thugs), Choudhry Shujaat is the de-facto Chief minister of Sindh. He is ruling the province with the help of a Brigadier and two Colonels while the population of Sindh is being denied their basic human rights.
He said the rulers are destroying Pakistan by starting controversial plans like ‘Greater Thal Canal’ and Kalabagh Dam. They are constructing the Canal to irrigate the lands allotted to army officials, bureaucrats and other people of influence.
He concluded that Sindh can only prosper when feudalism and feudal culture is put to an end, an urban and rural middle class is created, tribal feuds are stopped and ‘karo kari’ is done away with. He said it was difficult to think of Sindhi civil society without liberation of Sindhi women. He emphasized on social reforms and urged the overseas Sindhi community to form a watchdog committee to raise voice against violations of Sindhis fundamental rights.
Nafissa Hoodbhoy, a renowned journalist, who has worked with daily ‘Dawn’ for 14 years, has been teaching at Amherst College in Massachusetts since last 2 and a half years and is writing a book on Pakistan at present, was third speaker of the day. She presented a documentary on the issues concerning women in Pakistan and Sindh and other social and legal issues like the much abhorred blasphemy law and others. Her documentary was greatly applauded.
Next speaker of the day was political activist and leader of Sindh National Party, Mr. Dodo Maheri. He recounted the history of water issue starting from the British Raj. He mentioned the Rao Commission, the resultant 1945 Water Agreement signed by the Punjab and Sindh and the unilateral sale of Pakistan waters to India. He said no representative from Sindh was involved in the negotiations prior to ‘Indus Basin Treaty’. Later on the Pakistan government constructed Mangla Dam, Tarbela Dam and other major irrigation projects without keeping the interests of Sindh in view.
He said later on the WAPDA, bending to the pressure from the Punjab government, built Chashma-Jehlum Link Canal with a promise that it will be a flood canal and will only be operated for 40 days a year when there would be surplus water in Indus system. He said now it has been turned into a perennial canal. The same is being said of the under construction Greater Thal Canal but how do they expect the people of Sindh to believe it?
He also mentioned some figures how Sindh agriculture has lost in past few years while the production has increased in the neighboring province of Punjab.
Mr. Dodo Maheri said Sindh has been suffering since last 50 years. It is time justice is done to the people of Sindh. He said the rulers have to decide now what they want? Do they want a strong Pakistan where all the federating units have equal rights or a fractured and weakened Pakistan marred by civil strife, hatred, divisions and rampant ill-will between the provinces. He cautioned that the experience tells us that the second choice may lead to further fragmentation of the country.
Next to speak was the former career diplomat, Mr. Najamuddin Shaikh, who retired as Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary and had remained Ambassador to the United States, Canada and Iran. Main thrust of his speech was that the people of Sindh were capable of producing talent but they were not being allowed to do so. He emphasized that Sindhis had excelled whenever they were given a chance.
He said Pakistan was a flawed model of development in the third world as it had wrong priorities. Mr. Shaikh said due to the ill planning and incompetence of the government functionaries, there were almost 8 billion dollars in foreign assistance that lay unutilized.
Mr. Khadim Hussain Soomro, Executive Director of Sindh Sufi Institute and author of six books, narrated the history of the nagging water problem. He also mentioned how outsiders grabbed Sindh lands after the construction of the Ghulam Mohammad Barrage. He said as the barrage was completed and lands were prepared in the command areas, they were advertised in Punjab first and Sindhis didnt even know about it before much of the lands were already allotted.
Mr. Soomro said the situation in Sindh was much worse than it was being acknowledged. He stressed that a lot needs to be done in social sectors including the education and health sectors and overseas Sindhi organizations can play a vital role in those sectors.
The last speaker of the day was the veteran writer, intellectual, political activist and lawyer, Mr. Nooruddin Sarki. He dwelt upon the question of democracy in Pakistan. He stressed that all the people of Pakistan must endeavor for restoration of democracy. He said the Parliament should be the supreme body in the country and the LFO and other undemocratic amendments must be rejected. He was of the view that the judiciary and bureaucracy cant work without proper democracy. He emphasized that at present there was no better system of government than democracy. ‘We should all struggle for restoration of true democracy in the country where all the people should have equal rights’, he said.
Mr. Sarki said that there is a need to stop talking about the bigger brother and the smaller brothers. He said all the federating units in Pakistan must be treated equally.
He said that all Sindhis should start dialogue among themselves to come to a common agenda and all the people should stand for the rights of the province. He said efforts should be made to end the occupation of Sindh’s natural resources by outsiders.
As the speakers session had started late and it went beyond its slot, the General Body meeting was postponed for the next day. That brought the proceedings of the day to a close and people started to get ready for an evening of beautiful Sindhi music.
Ladies session expanded to two days this time. As Mrs. Nasreen Tareen couldn’t attend the Convention due to illness, Mrs. Khalid Memon conducted the session. Mrs. Zeb Agha of Houston, TX assisted to make the session interesting. According to her: a large number of ladies attended the meetings both the days. They made introductions to each other and discussed a host of issues including the upbringing of children and the problems faced by them in adjustment to new environment here. They shared with each other their experiences on different things.
During those sessions, variety programs were held and music was played where youngsters danced to the exquisite tunes.
Continuing the tradition set last year, Mr. Zafar Agha, an active member of SANA, conducted the
Youth Session. He arranged a debate among the children on the topic of !%my home town!&. Mr. Tufail Memon and Mrs. Nasreen Aijaz were the judges. The debate was enthusiastically participated. Following children were awarded prizes:
Aisha Shaikh, first prize
Shahzad Shaikh, second prize
Marvi Panhwar, third prize
Umaid Shaikh, fourth prize
Parisa Memon, fifth prize.
Two kids, Bahadur Panhwar and Rizwan Leghari were awarded special prizes.
Mr. Zafar Agha, using a map of Sindh, provided information to the children about different districts of Sindh, about !%Sindhu Darya!&, about Manchhar Lake and about the means of production and industries in Sindh.
During the session, Sehrish Agha spoke on the history of Sindh and Amal Agha spoke on “great Talpurs of Sindh”.
Children liked this program immensely.
The day two
(With apologies to all, I must mention here on a personal note that during our press conference and rally in Washington, DC, last month, I met old timer, Zahid Makhdoom after about quarter a century. A long time, isn’t it? We had a wonderful time in DC. There he made a solemn promise to attend the (upcoming) SANA Convention. And for once, he kept his promise! He flew from Vancouver, Canada just for this event. It just humbled me).
Breakfast and “Meeting of Minds” session
Well, the music had gone past midnight and then there were of course “katchahries” which continued until early morning. Still the people, full of energy and excitement woke up not being too late and joined each other in the breakfast room. The “Meeting of Minds” was slated for 9:00 am and then buses were to leave for a city tour and picnic. We finished our breakfast in quite a hurry and gathered in the hall for our long awaited ‘meeting of minds’ to discuss issues facing our community in North America and our people back home.
During the discussion, there was a consensus that a lot needs to be done for our community in North America, especially for our next generation and to help our brethren settle here. To help them in employment, abode and providing them information about starting a business. We discussed the prevalent situation in Sindh too and considered ways how overseas community could be of any help.
Zahid Makhdoom, who is currently Chairman of World Sindhi Institute, spoke of problems our next generation may face in North America. He said they might be alienated from Sindhi culture, as there were no institutions here, which could help them, have strong bond with Sindhi language and culture. He gave examples how other migrant communities are addressing that problem like establishing mosques, other places of worship and community halls where they teach their children their way of life. He was of the view that our community should work on such lines too.
I talked of reaching consensus on short term and long term goals. We must make efforts for our community here as well as helping our brethren in Sindh, who are facing tremendous problems.
Dr. Saghir Shaikh spoke of unity among three Sindhi organizations and stressed that we should have a written charter to that effect.
It was unanimously decided to reactivate the Sindh Rights Committee, which already enjoyed support of all three organizations. Dr. Valeed Shaikh of Minnesota graciously volunteered to head the committee. It was welcomed by all. He is going to write on this separately.
City tour and picnic
The organizing committee and specially SANA stalwart, Irshad Kazi must be praised for making excellent arrangement for this segment. They had arranged four air-conditioned coaches for guests. They had named the coaches as Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkano and Daddu. (Though many people complained about ignoring their districts of origins:). And it sounded so familiar when they were chanting “halo” Daddu, Daddu or Sukkur, Sukkur!!! As if we really were going to those cities!!! But our destination here was a park in Long Beach, CA. They took us through some parts of Los Angeles, Queen Mary Pier, through the town of Long Beach and finally the grand park. It was a huge park with beautiful grass, trees, lakes, landscaping and picnic facilities.
The organizing committee had arranged for a chef from a local restaurant to make fresh Bar-B-Q. Bread, ‘pulao’, Kobab, Tikka and drinks were also served. They had reserved a large area for our picnic and the weather was beautiful too. Everybody enjoyed to the max. Finally passengers were called to board their ‘home town’ buses and we headed back to the hotel.
As soon as we got back to the hotel, the organizers called for the business seminar. Mr. Nadim Mughal, Jamil Daudi, Sani Panhwar, and others spoke of different business opportunities available to all of us. They provided folders to all the participants full with lots of information on starting one’s own business. They also answered questions on many aspects.
General Body meeting
The General Body meeting was held as soon as the business seminar concluded. It was a well-attended session. Mr. Mohammad Ali Mahar, G.S. SANA conducted the session. He called the members of EC to be seated by the dais. He then read the annual report highlighting the activities of SANA. Sani Panhwar, President of SANA, welcomed the guests. He also spoke briefly on the working of the organization and the efforts it was making by itself and with the cooperation of other Sindhi organizations for the cause of Sindh.
Mr. Mahar called Mr. Sajjad Siddiqui, V.P. SANA and Chairman, Sindhi Language committee to apprise the audience of his committee!&s performance and then secretaries of local chapters, Mr. Khalid Channa, Mr. Sarfraz Abbasi and Mr. Jaffar Shah to present reports on the activities of their respective chapters.
Mr. Shoukat Ansari distributed the fact sheet on the financial status of the organization. It was announced at the meeting that Mr. Zafar Agha of Houston, TX had accepted the responsibility to chair the FAME (a fund created in the memory of Dr. Feroz Ahmed to help Sindhi students). Mr. Manzoor Shah, former Chairman of the Fund, also briefly spoke on the occasion.
Later the session was opened for questions and answers. It was a lively segment and all the concerned members of the organization raised pertinent questions, which were diligently answered by respective office bearers, EC members and one by this scribe (regarding the publication of “Sangat”).
Some of the questions were related to:
- the financial statement and some perceived discrepancies in it
- have the funds grown or have they shrunk?
- if there were any funds for emergency loans to community members?-
- have earlier loans been recovered?
- could “Sangat” be put on web instead of printing in hard copy?
- what measures SANA was taking to win back estranged members?
- what efforts were being taken to increase membership?
Annual Banquet and the “sounds of Sindh”, the “sangeet mehfil”
The day was wearing out by now but not the spirits of the exuberant participants of the Convention. As the General Body session concluded, every body rushed to get ready for the grand Annual Banquet and the “mehfil-e-mauseequi”. As usual this event saw the whole large hall full with some standing in the corners looking for a space. The meal was delicious. The organizing committee should once again be complimented to have taken in view all the minor details.
Rajab Ali was the star of the night for “mehfil-e-mauseequi”. He belongs to famous Gwaliar School of singing. Other singers on the occasion were Iqbal Qasim from New York and Kishan Alamchandani from Canada.
July 6, the day to say good-byes
As a wise man once upon a time said something to the effect that the meetings were the beginning of the partings, the day had come to say goodbye to each other. One couldn!&t imagine time would fly so fast.
Greater than the speed of light!!! It was the end of our sojourn before we even realized!!! Looked like we just had greeted each other and now we were parting with heavy hearts. This weekend could have been the shortest in our lives!
But we were departing with a hope that we would meet AGAIN. And this time in the great city of Houston, which is almost like a second home to me. I just hope this year passes as soon as this past weekend did!!!
SANA Convention, a miracle?
And now why I have described SANA Convention as a “miracle”? During last few years my involvement with SANA and being active member of some Internet lists, I have witnessed widespread apathy among Sindhis here in USA about anything related to Sindh. If one has to put it in the mildest words, it could be easily said that most of Sindhis here just don’t care! They have grown indifferent, insensitive and unconcerned.
There could be a thousand and one reasons for it. It could be the busy life here; could be their hurt egos on one account or the other; could be their disenchantment or disappointment with any one or all or may be something else. It is really bad. Very Bad! People refuse even to become members of any of the organizations here, leave aside being active and participate in any events or rallies or protests. And then there is so much ill will among Sindhis for each other. Some don’t even want to hear the name of the people they don’t like.
In these circumstances, organization of such an annual event on such a large scale with such participation is not less than a MIRACLE!!!