On the night of September 13, 1947, a group of 40 Marathi-speaking residents of Karachi boarded a Mumbai-bound boat, not knowing what future holds for them in India, a nation basking in freedom from the British rule, but also coming to terms with horrific violence of the Partition.
As the residents, all women and kids accompanied by a male passenger, left the Clifton harbour in the Pakistani port city with just meagre savings, they were aware life is going to be anything but easy in Bombay (now Mumbai), but their hearts and minds were filled with new-found hope and optimism.
After travelling for two days and battling hardships during the sea journey, they reached Mumbai, where they subsequently built their lives brick by brick with hard work and tenacity, and became an integral part of their adopted city.
This inspiring story has been documented in a hand-written note by Nalini Sahasrabuddhe, one of the travellers on the boat that left for Mumbai just a month after India attained freedom from the British Raj.
Nalini Sahasrabuddhe penned the note in 2010 when she was 90 and died nine years later, her daughter Supriya Gore says.
Gore told Agencies that her mother and two elder siblings, aged 5 and 3 years, were among the 40 travellers comprising women and children on the boat.
They were accompanied by Sakharam Korgaonkar, the only male passenger.
The note shared by Gore says the Partition, accompanied by mass communal violence, brought fear and tears in equal measures among Marathi-speaking population in Pakistan.
The community stayed united during the tumultuous period, but wondered how to move to safer places. Earlier, there were government orders to leave and several people had started migrating through the sea and trains. But after the Partition, the administration had virtually collapsed, says the note written in Marathi.
We could manage 40 tickets on a boat leaving for the Konkan coast (in Maharashtra). It was pitch-dark, the silence in the surroundings was deafening. “Children were crying and women and children got affected by sea sickness and started vomiting. One lady traveller had lime and sugar in her luggage and she gave them to those who had taken ill. We reached Mumbai Harbour around noon on the third day,” says Nalini Sahasrabuddhe in the note.
With their families reaching safely, the men came to Mumbai two weeks later. Gore says most of the families in Karachi had their relatives in Mumbai and nearby areas. Karachi was then-part of the Bombay Presidency and several Maharashtrians lived and worked in the port city.
In the two-page note, Nalini Sahasrabuddhe writes that her husband Sripad Sahasrabuddhe and his colleague Shantaram Korgaonkar were employed in M/S Mohanlal & Motilal, a cotton import export company. Fortunately, the company had an office in Mumbai, too.
Sripad Sahasrabuddhe and Korgaonkar started working in the company’s Mumbai office after migrating to the metropolis with families.
Gore says on arrival from Karachi the families shifted to Lalbaug in central Mumbai and areas like Kurla, Goregaon, Vasai, Andheri before settling in the western suburb of Vile Parle.
Gore’s mother Nalini Sahasrabuddhe writes about setting up of an organization, Refugees Traders Union, to raise money to build their own homes. Finally, a housing complex for the families came up in Vile Parle in 1960.
Today the fourth generation of the Marathi settlers who arrived from Karachi is residing in the complex along with their relatives.
The migrated families had also persuaded their relatives living in other places to shift to the housing complex in Vile Parle, now an upscale area of the metropolis.
Gore says her elder siblings recall that Karachi was then a prosperous city.
A grocery store in the port city was owned by one Kulkarni where sacks of dry fruits were sold. Kids had milk, dry fruits and fruits in abundance, she says. Gore says the Marathi-speaking families after arrival in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra kept in touch with each other through annual gatherings, keeping alive a bond nurtured over the years.
The housing complex in Vile Parle had architects and civil engineers from the group of Marathi speakers who landed from Karachi. Gore, who was born a year after the Partition, says her parents never passed on the bad memories of the Partition to their children or told them about their sufferings.
“We were inspired by our parents to face struggles courageously and succeed in life. The Marathi-speaking people who arrived from Karachi with mearge savings leaving behind their homes started life afresh and made it big in life through sheer dint of hard work and unity among the community,” she says. She says vocalist late Narayanrao Bodas and academician MS Pendharkar, who served as principal of Parle Tilak Vidyalaya, were from Karachi and had migrated to Mumbai post-Partition.
There was a Marathi school, “Karachi Shikshan Prasar Mandal”, in the Pakistani port city.
That school is now functioning out of Kudal in Sindhudurg district, Gore says. The Karachi-based school, now in Kudal, is over 100 years old.