Sobho Gianchandani: Death of an intellectual giant
Karachi: It was in the early 70s that I first met eminent Marxist leader, short story writer and an intellectual of the high caliber Sobho Gianchandani who bowed out on Monday in Larkana after protracted illness leaving behind thousands mourners across the world.
The meeting took place at Qasre Zainab, a beautiful apartment on Club Road where once lived Mumtaz Noorani, the president of the Pakistan Democratic Women’s Association. Her husband Malik Noorani was a peace activist and the proprietor of Maktaba-e-Daniyal that publishes wonderful literary books.
The Apartment No 2 of Qasre Zainab was home to students, poets, intellectuals and writers. It was from here that many pro-democracy movements were launched. The (late) Mumtaz Noorani was very affectionate to students and would even cook for them.
While the witty Malik Noorani would retire to bed early, his graceful and affectionate wife Mumtaz Noorani would chat with us till late night and tell us about Sajjad Zaheer, the doyen of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Hasan Nasir, the leader of the Communist Party of Pakistan who was tortured to death by security agencies during the era of Ayub Khan; and about the literary gatherings of the PWA in Bombay (now Mumbai). Her children Daniyal Noorani, Hoori Noorani and Kamran Noorani were our friends. Daniyal Noorani who now lives in the US was a BCom student at that time and a founding member of the Young Writers’ Forum that we established in the early 1970s. It was Daniyal who had introduced me to his parents.
Before meeting him, I had heard that Sobho Gianchandani was a communist giant. I asked him, “Have you read French Marxist philosopher Luis Althuser?” He replied, “No!” I was dismayed. I had read some of his writings on the suggestion of my friend Hidayat Husain who went to Paris in the early 1970s for higher studies and was greatly impressed by him, especially his sentence, that “Marx discovered the continent of history.”
Those were the days when there were dozens of book shops in the heart of the city and young and old alike would read and exchange books.
In the late 60s, one could buy books by luminaries such as Prem Chand, Krishan Chandr, Rajindar Singh Bedi, Ismat Chugtai, Saadat Hasan Manto, Qurat-ul-Aain Haider, Ali Abbas Hussaini, Josh, Faiz, N. M. Rashid, Meeraji, and the like for price ranging between Rs3 and Rs5.
Then there was Writers’ Guild Bookshop, Liberty Books, Tit Bit Books, Pak-American Bookshop, Hameed Kashmiri’s bookshop, Famous Bookshop and Sassi Bookshop. All have gone one by one and replaced by garment and jewellery shops, banks and plazas. Some of them such as Liberty Books have progressed and moved elsewhere.
One found Standard Publishers and Mehran Book Depot in the compound of Marina Bar moving towards the traffic signal on Abdullah Haroon Road. While Standard Publishers was famous for Russian books on political economy, Marxism-Leninism, art and literature, space science and engineering, one could find Cuban, Vietnamese and East German books at Mehran Book Depot. It was from Mehran Book Depot that I bought the writings of Luis Althuser.
I was dismayed at that time but now that I think of it, it was a silly question because people do not read all the books published across the world. But I was impressed by his truthfulness, more so because people nowadays are bent on giving the impression that they are the jack of all trades.
When I read Sobho Gianchandani’s short story “Bachao Bund” in the early 70s in a collection of Sindhi short stories translated in English by my friend Nabi Bux Khoso. I was highly impressed as to how Sobho had perceived so early about the essence of the agitation led by Pakistan People’s Party chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Nabi Bux Khoso later became a Sindh information secretary and a joint secretary of the Establishment Division. He died of a heart attack at an early age.
I also vividly remember the death of Sobho Gianchandani’s elder son Dr Kanahiyo who was my friend. He was being treated by eminent psychiatrist Prof Haroon Ahmed. His death took its toll on Sobho.
Some three years ago I interviewed Sobho at his Larkana residence and remember how he would embrace me from time to time but also admonished me when I smoked a cigarette in his bedroom next to the drawing room where the interview was being conducted. “Now I won’t be able to sleep,” he said.
Sobho studied at Shantinaketan that was founded in West Bengal by Rabindra Nath Tagore.
Had he migrated to India, he would have definitely become the president of India since the Communist Party of India was the third largest party in that country. Instead, he decided to remain in Pakistan and rendered immense sacrifices.
In the death of Sobho, Pakistan has lost one of the best sons of the communist movement of Pakistan.