The Gujaratis of Pakistan – By Aakar Patel

The Gujaratis of Pakistan

Sunday, February 08, 2009
Aakar Patel

Pakistan has fewer Gujaratis than it should, and that is to its detriment. Even so, the Gujaratis of Pakistan are its best citizens. None of the people on the list that follows are big in the field of literature, since Gujaratis are not particularly interested in that. This is because the trading instinct of Gujaratis tilts them towards the culture of Jains, whose texts are not in Sanskrit.

The Gujarati qualities are pragmatism and industry. Their courage is different from the courage of North India, which is martial. A Gujarati is brave with his gamble. The language of the stock market and the betting industry in India is Gujarati and is centred in Bombay. Unlike north Indians — Punjabis in particular — Gujaratis are a high-trust society. In Surat, the only major city of Gujarat to escape religious violence, the bond comes from trading between Hindus and Muslims.

Unusually among Indian castes, even the peasantry in Gujarat does not put too much premium on martial honour.

The Patels worship Krishna in his Ranchhod form. Ranchhod means ‘he who fled from battle’. It refers to Krishna’s retreat from Mathura under attack from Jarasandh’s general Kalyavan, and then his flight, running away when he was challenged. This act of wisdom saved him and Gujaratis recognise it though it’s not godlike behaviour.

Pragmatism, getting on with it, is what defines Gujaratis of all religions. It is what their identity is about. This is not to say that they are not susceptible to emotion. Gujarati Muslims helped partition India, but without understanding what they were getting into.

Aga Khan III, leader of the Ismaili Khojas (Jinnah’s community), helped found the Muslim League in 1906, and the Syedna of the Bohra community gave his blessings to Pakistan, though only barely. The Dawoodi Bohras are an amazing Gujarati community. They are deeply religious but are not inclined to pan-national Islam. They are very good businessmen and very good citizens.

For some reason the Syedna encourages his flock to trade and discourages them from taking jobs under Hindus, writing in a book that this was akin to slavery. Even so, India and Pakistan are much better off because of the Bohras of Gujarat, Bombay and Karachi.

The Memons gave full tilt support to separatism, helping Jinnah win 40 out of 40 reserved Muslim seats for Bombay in the 1945-46 elections. But Pakistan rewarded them with nationalisation and the Nishtar Park bombing. The Gujaratis did not understand the destination when they set off on their religious journey with Jinnah.

Pakistan’s attack on language, one of Jinnah’s staggering mistakes, has decapitated Gujarati in Karachi. By ordering the monopoly of Urdu, a language he could barely speak and couldn’t read, Jinnah began the process of cultural erosion that made religion supreme in Pakistan. His hair would have stood on end if Jinnah had been able to actually communicate with his constituents in Urdu. But all of these men would have been comfortable talking to each other in their mother tongue, and with their shared values.

Abdul Sattar Edhi

Like Gandhi, Edhi is from Kathiawar and probably speaks Gujarati in the sing-song dialect that south Gujaratis from Surat find funny. Born in Bantva, a village that has produced many great men, Edhi is representative of an individualism that Gujaratis are familiar with. His act of giving dignity to the dead is in particular a Gujarati trait. In Gujarati cities, cremation is free for everyone, and the wood for pyres is donated anonymously by merchants.

The world recognises the quality of Edhi. He has won the Magsaysay award, and the Nobel prize for peace ought to be his by right. Given the loopy Nobel nominations of the past (Kissinger, Al Gore) and the omissions (Gandhi, Biko), it may not really matter if this great man doesn’t get it. Edhi is called the Mother Teresa of Pakistan. But unlike her he does not inject religion into his charity.

M A Jinnah

Quaid-e-Azam was a constitutionalist before he was anything else. He should have been valued in the subcontinent for that alone, but we are a people who perennially clamour for identity. After Partition, he would have been comfortable neither in India’s anarchic democracy nor in Pakistan’s anarchic theocracy. He liked order and he had values.

He was a man of refined European taste who would have disliked Bollywood, and would have been unable to access Faiz and Manto. He spoke Gujarati well and I translated an interview of his from the archives of the Gujarati magazine Visami Sadi (20th century). He told his interviewer in 1916 that the quality a man should be admired for was independence.

It is said the Labour Party denied him a ticket because he was “too much of a toff”. He was a superb advocate, possibly the best of his time, as his defence of Bhagat Singh showed. He was deeply secular for most of his life, a truly great man and the greatest Gujarati of Pakistan.

Javed Miandad

Who is Pakistan’s best Gujarati cricketer? We have the brothers from Junagadh, Mushtaq and Hanif Mohmmad and of course Danish Kaneria, the Gujarati whose name his own countrymen cannot say property (it is Dinesh — Lord of the Day). And then we have Javed Miandad, Pakistan’s greatest cricketer of any community. Less popular than Imran because he is dark and speaks Urdu nasally like a Gujarati, Miandad is nonetheless the man that people would want to bat for their lives.

His heroism is not from his machismo but from his refusal to be defeated. He broke the hearts of Indians with his last-ball six off Chetan Sharma in Sharjah, but he truly let his Indian fans down by arranging his son’s marriage to Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter.

Maj-Gen A O Mitha

Aboobaker Osman Mitha had a Hindu wife. His fellow officers would have been wary of him for this fact given the Pakistan army’s indoctrination, and he would probably have been more comfortable in the Indian army.

He would certainly have been uneasy with the one Muslim equals 10 Hindus bombast of his army, especially after 93,000 Pakistanis surrendered in Dhaka. Mitha, a Memon from South Bombay, was one of the few intellectual officers in the army who grasped immediately what the problem in East Pakistan was. Lt-Gen Niazi’s memoir, The Betrayal of East Pakistan, has a telling paragraph, a message that Mitha sent to the GHQ on reaching Dhaka:

“This operation has now developed into a civil war. No long-distance moves, no rail moves possible. No ferries of boats available. In fact, movement has become the chief obstacle for conducting operations or restoring economy and will remain so for some time…”

Pakistan was partitioned through civil war, not India’s perfidy. Mitha’s book, Unlikely Beginnings, is the best written by a Pakistani soldier. Bhutto, always one to do the wrong thing, sacked him, a fatal mistake.

Ahmad Dawood

The Memons are converts from the caste of Luhanas and they speak a mix of Kutchchi and Gujarati. Among India’s Sunnis they are the peerless merchants, superior to the Chiniotis of Punjab, the Malabaris of Kerala and even the neo-mercantile Gujaratis, like the Sunni Bohras of Rander.

Ahmad Dawood left Bombay and moved to Karachi with Jinnah. He set up mills in Burewala, Lawrencepur and Karachi. The Dawood family’s businesses also span insurance, chemicals and paper.

Bhutto skewered the Memons with Mubashir Hasan’s half-baked economic ideas, taking over businesses that the government had no competence to manage. Dawood Petroleum was nationalised in 1974, as was Habib Bank. There is no chance that the Pakistan state would have been able to run any business as well as the Memons, and many of them migrated to Europe in that period, their second flight after 1947. But resilience is one of their qualities and the Memons still dominate large parts of Pakistani industry (ARY is owned by a Memon).

Ardeshir Cowasjee

The story is that when the Parsis landed in Gujarat, fleeing the Arabs under Caliph Abu Bakr (RA), they were sent a glass brimful of milk by the Rana of Sanjan. This indicated that there was no room in his land for more people. The Parsis added sugar to the milk and sent it back.

It is indisputable that the Parsis, the greatest community of Bombay, have sweetened India. The people of Bombay believe that Parsis lose their marbles after 60. All interviews and profiles of Cowasjee mention the man’s eccentricity. Despite his grouchiness, and constant predictions of doom, Cowasjee is an optimist. Someone who has written as many decades on the issues he has would surely have stopped if he did not believe change were possible.

As a journalist, Cowasjee is methodical as Parsis are. He reported Zardari’s illiteracy (“may Gaad give us strut to save Pakistan”) or dyslexia at the Mazar-e-Quaid. Every paper in Pakistan – journalism is the laziest profession on the subcontinent — bought the state’s version and ran him down till he demonstrated that he did not write things he had not verified. He represents the best of Gujarat and the best of Pakistan. (The News)

The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Email: aakar.patel@



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