The Tradition Lives On...
India inherited ‘Karachi Bakery’ located in Hyderabad, Deccan and Pakistan inherited ‘Bombay Bakery’, located in Hyderabad, Sindh. But there is a difference.
Human migration is a unique pursuit, a life-changing event that combines with feelings of unavoidable disorientation. India’s partition of 1947, was history’s grave tragedy, and a painful, emotional roller coaster for successive generations. It gave birth to refugees—and, in most cases, created an involuntary distance between where one was born before the great partition, and where one moved to after it, stretching out their identity — sparsely over the expanse of this distance.
The sweet nostalgia of a person’s origins can be understood using what has remained of that place — and may have opened up a highly sensitive and rich terrain, in the mind of a refugee. It is something that can help unpack (spiritual) baggage or belongings, particularly if that place has now been rendered inaccessible by national borders. Refugees have been migrating for centuries under persecution, to distant lands, leaving their homes and loved ones.
Time has always been a great healer for refugees, be it on India’s portioned lands, or anywhere else. Eventually, refugees always have to settle down in another land. In the case of partitioned India, this major life event forced the migrants to romanticize about their lost origins that were left behind. My parents were also refugees who had migrated to East Pakistan from Calcutta. Looking back in life, I realize they felt hurt, to the point that the sadness it often brought, had emerged as an unexpected aftershock.
As refugees, our forefathers had thought that they had moved beyond a natural longing for home, but the reality was, they hadn’t. Certainly, as a consequence of the great Indian partition, masses opting for their new countries, was not a bad decision. Much later, refugees began romanticizing the life-changing event — to the point, that it often brought sadness to all those who had migrated.
It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home, to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you — has pushed you out, like it or not! No other place would take you in. You had become an unwanted commodity, by everyone, because you chose to be a refugee!
Last year, my daughter Anam was fortunate to visit India’s fastest growing city of Hyderabad. During her visit of the city, Anam was escorted into a famous bakery, located in Hyderabad’s upscale Banjara Hills. She had stepped into one of the two dozen outlets that the famous Karachi Bakery has across the city.
A few days before Anam’s visit, trouble had began to brew in South India. A few lumpen (dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified) elements had approached the bakery’s Bengaluru outlet, demanding that the word ‘Karachi’ be removed. In Hyderabad, a crowd had descended and insisted that the name of the shop be changed. “It should read Indian Karachi Bakery,” declared Srinivas, who identified himself as a worker from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Despite great duress, Lekhraj Ramnani, one of the owners, remained unfazed. He offered the protestors sweets from the bakery. They responded with smiles, raised a few slogans, posed for photographs, and left.
How Karachi Bakery became a part of Hyderabad’s identity is the stuff of lore. It was established by Lekhraj’s father Khanchand Jeomal Ramnani, who migrated from Karachi to Rajasthan and then Hyderabad, just a year before Partition. “As a young man, he first started a coal depot in Hyderabad called Karachi Coal, and later started the bakery. And it took off,” says Manoj Ramnani, Khanchand’s grandson.
The name of the Karachi chain of sweets shops and bakeries has frequently come under attack for its seeming ‘association’ with Pakistan. Yet, for the Sindhi owners of the chain, the name is a reminder of a lost homeland and a partition unlike any other.
Karachi Bakery was started by an early refugee from Sindh, Khanchand Ramnani after he migrated to Hyderabad Deccan, in the wake of the partition.
In his memoirs, grandson Ramnani has recollected the many conversations he had with his grandfather and founder about the days when he migrated to India. “He saw people cutting each other with swords, tearing them apart,” he recalled. Ironically, he says, despite the bloodshed and hatred at the time, nobody objected to the name ‘Karachi Bakery’.
Unlike Punjab and Bengal, Sindh was not divided. The entire territory went to Pakistan. At the same time, unlike the other communities, who founded a state to their name in free India - Punjab for the Punjabis, Gujarat for the Gujaratis, Bengal for the Bengalis - the Sindhi migrants found themselves with no such land to call their own.