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That day, the eight-year-old Muhammad Hussain sat on the floor between the two cots the adults were sitting on, and listened. When he heard numbers discussed which he knew to be inaccurate, and whispered his calculations to his grandfather, the bania smiled with appreciation for the child’s intelligence and offered to teach him book-keeping. He writes:
Next day my father sent me to his shop, where his son Rupomal taught me Hatki (shopkeeper’s script). When I went to high school the same Hindu advanced my father a loan for my education and without this I would not have been able to pass even matriculation examination or High School graduation. My education did not frighten him at all… His father Lilo Mal was partner of my maternal grandfather for years. So much was the faith and trust of my maternal grandfather in him, that finding that his young bride did not know cooking, he asked Lilo Mal to help and he did help her to become the best cook among all neighbouring villages.
Portrait of a jeweler in his shop in Hyderabad c. 1928. Image source: (viewed on )
The Hindu trading community for their part kept aloof, lived frugally and would whisper amongst themselves: ‘Jaye mathan jaye; joye mathan joye’ which could be interpreted to mean that when a Hindu had money he would build more and more houses; when a Muslim had money, he would marry more and more wives.
It was the simple traders and grain merchants who earned and saved and rose to affluence and became money lenders, bankers and financiers. Between these two ends of the Bhaiband spectrum, it was a group of individuals, neither poor nor wealthy (Falzon 2004) but definitely daring and ambitious, who first set out on Sindhwork and laid the base for today’s diaspora.
The British East India Company had its eye on Sindh for many years, but its rulers, the Talpur Mirs, were wary. One of the Company’s most lucrative products was opium, which was cultivated in Bengal and sold in China. But alternative opium plantations had come up in Malwa and it was being smuggled to China via Rajasthan and Sindh. Possession of Sindh would help curb this upstart competition. Sindh was also attractive for Shikarpur, historically a gateway to Kabul, an important position in what the British called the Great Game of strategy between their empire and the Russian empire. The commercial possibilities of the Sindhu River were another draw (Aggarwal 2012).
In 1837, when the Mirs reluctantly gave permission for a survey of the sea coast of Sindh and the delta of the Indus, Captain Carless of the Indian Navy received supplies and information from a Sindhi businessman based in Karachi. His name was Naomul Hotchand. The useful service Naomul provided earned him the trust of the British and gave him the opportunity to expand his business. For Naomul the direct benefit may have been simply to continue enhancing trade, but the British imperialists had political motives and when the time came for them to invade and annex Sindh, it was Naomul who is said to have opened the doors and held them open until the deed was done.
‘Seth Naomul is undoubtedly an extremely interesting personality,’ writes Hamida Khuhro in the introduction to a reprint of Naomul Hotchand’s memoirs (made for private circulation by some of his descendants, a branch of the Bhojwani family). While Khuhro has reason to doubt some of what Naomul claims in his memoirs, she concedes that, ‘He is farsighted, shrewd and resourceful. His Memoirs have a historical importance for a number of different reasons.’