Sindhi: as a business language

By Aijaz Ahmed Qureshi


Ever since this earth emerged, the human-being has achieved massive and amazing accomplishments and milestones. The most significant and impressive achievements are two; the first, he with his fellowbeings built and developed the “society” and started living together rather than independently. The second; he created “language” in order to express his feelings of gladness and grief; his problems and their solutions. With the creation of language, social development and social survival became easier than ever.

Indus civilization is one of the most ancient civilizations on the earth, and in some aspects, it is said to be unique and distinct. This civilization was one of the earliest to have its language in both spoken and written forms. In this context Mohen-JoDaro is a fine example, where the written form of language was used for everything including business.

About the origin of Sindhi language there are different opinions put forward by various experts but it is more or less unanimously agreed that Sindhi is one of the proto Dravidian languages and has its roots in the civilization of Mohen-Jo-Daro.

This commercial enterprise of Sindh is as ancient as the Indus civilization “Notices regarding Sindh and its commerce appear in the oldest chronicles extant”. Mr. N.M, Billimoria is of the opinion that the Panis mentioned in the Rig Veda belong to Sindh. There is a considerable evidence that even in the Vedic period Sindh was known for the maritime enterprise and commercial ventures. “Even otherwise there exists ample evidence supporting the view that Sindh was one of those few emporiums of commerce to which thronged the ships of all nationalities, about 3000 B.C. or even earlier”. Mr. Taj Sahrai, the great archeologist and scholar, has also proved through his research that Panis belonged to Sindh and they were involved in trade and business. Major General Haig observes that “the delta region [Indus] must have been a point of attraction to the foreign trader, [Sindh] situated at the extremity of a great natural route of traffic leading from the Central Asia to the plains of India, The delta of the Indus was also at the nearest point in the peninsula to the countries on the great Mesopotamian rivers and to those on the shores of the Mediterranean, where the commercial spirit was from the earliest ages in high activity and maritime enterprise was energetically pursued.” Prof C.L Mariwala is of the view that the mouths of the Indus provided the nearest natural haven to the navigator from the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea in the early past, when he had always to keep his boat in sight of land as he had not yet learnt to steer boldly into the open sea. Dr. Breasted is of the view that “the valley of Shinar - the valley of the two Mesopotamian rivers- had its trading connections with the various countries during the Third Millennium B.C. He remarks, “Indeed there is an evidence that this trade finally extended east to the lower valley of the river Indus.”

Dr. R.K Mookerji writes, “It is now believed that the Egyptians wrapped their mummies in Sindhi cloth, establishing a commercial connection between Sindh and Egypt in the long past. The fact that the caravans by the Bolan Pass have kept up an intercourse between Central Asia and the Indus Valley since centuries, hardly needs any substantiation”.

The commercial connections of Sindh with the outside world at very early times, referred to above, have been maintained since that remote date. It was the extensive commerce of Sindh which induced Arms, the Persian Emperor (Sixth century B.C) to depute Skylax on an important expedition to the valley of the Indus leading to its sub sequent subjugation. Capt. McMurdo is of the view that the country is by nature admirably adopted to flourish by commerce and that it did so to the utmost extent under the Hindu government, there is ample proof. Dr. Mookerji has further added, “It was the commercial enterprise of the Sindhi and his neighbor “Gujrati” which resulted in the colonization of Java in the fifth century A.D”.

The above, brief but strong, evidence proves that there were many business and trade centers known as the ‘Kothis’ of Sindhi entrepreneurs in various countries of the world including the Far East China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Americas and many islands in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Looking at the increasing trade, the business communities must have created a business language which would be used regularly among them selves. At the local level language for commerce also emerged with terms for economic and commercial deliberations, for money, weights and measures created. For example, terms like ‘Tolo’, ‘Rati’, ‘Maso’, ‘Kharar’, ‘Kaso’ ‘Toyo’, ‘Pati’, ‘Chothai’, ‘wall’, ‘Hath’, ‘Chadked’, etc., were the prominent terms used for the business. Today we see that the weight and measure system in English has been adopted and implemented all over the world. But Sindh has a credit to have its own weight and measure system which was fully common in pre-partition times, and is still in use in some rural parts of Sindh.

From the Arab period till the Kalohra period, Sindh remained a major center trade. The interaction between the Arabs, Sindhis and the Europeans had created a need for a common business language. Efforts were made to create such a business language through which communication could take place. Some people knew Arabic and through a conscious effort Sindhi was taught to the Arabs and the business needs were addressed and carried on. The Europeans, i.e. the English, Portuguese and French were made to learn Sindhi so that the business could be conducted. Arabs were very big traders. Thatta was the main port for Arabs from where they traded between Malabar and Gulf The Arabs used to trade timber, cloth, eatables and spices.

‘The Sindhi trader – Sindh Warki, as he is popularly called even today, spread his trade throughout the world. A Sindhi, with his shop is sure to be found even in the farthest inhabited parts of the civilized world His presence everywhere has attracted people’s attention. His enterprising nature has roused in many an inquisitive enquirer to question him regarding the land he comes from. And, thus, Sindh has come to be known to the world at large.”

When a language is enriched in a society, its capacity of absorbing terms and vocabulary increases. Then people feel no difficulty to use it in every field. No doubt, people of Sindh, through the course of centuries, finely shaped their own language. The Sindhi society engaged itself in trade, commerce and business ancient times. They devised and found ways and approaches to use their language for business. With the help of the expression available, they created the power and reach of their language which enabled them to be understood abroad by their own masses. The point should be noted that if business community uses a terminology, which is archaic and indifferent to serve the purpose, it creates confusion and perplexity, which often causes conflict. At a later stage some specimen will be provided as annexes pertaining to business and accounts. These would prove that the correspondence between various trade centers all over the world was done through the same pattern of Sindhi, which had the business terminology all over the world. During the 16th and 17th centuries and onwards ‘Hundis’ were used. “Hundi” was the first and proper financial instrument created by Sindhi financiers. It is now considered to be a very important and useful instrument used by all the modern banks internationally. Hundi is always addressed to an agent or a broker for dealing such matters, in other parts of the country or outside the country. This was also meant as an alternate of money order, cheque or cash-dispatch through a bank. All the necessary details regarding exchange of money were clearly noted in Hundi. There used to be a market value of Hundi. Its value was equal to the currency written in Hundi. The common people always preferred the mechanism of Hundi, because it would cost low charges in comparison to other ways of dispatching money. This system of sending and receiving of money was believed to be like the spinal chord of the business. There were two kinds of Hundis; the first was called “Darsni”; and the second was called “Muday Wan”.

‘Darsni Hundi’ was such kind that after showing the same, one could get the money from a broker or an agent to whom it was addressed.

The second was “Muday Wari”. This Hundi was like the cash money deposited in a bank on interest. There was a man called a Seth (the local name of a moneyed person who would do the business of depositing the money and give a paper in writing that would show the amount deposited with the length of period and the interest rate charged.

In present modern times the money is deposited in banks on interest. We see that one gets the return at the fixed time as per agreement in a fair mode, but in relation to that, a Seth would charge interest as an advance. Suppose, if one deposited Rs. 500 and the interest on one hundred was 8 Aanas (half of a rupee), this meant that the interest for Rs. 500 would be Rs. 5. At the time of depositing money, a Seth would deposit Rs. 495 and return Rs. 5 as an advance interest. It is interesting to note that the money which was deposited with a Seth, had a common name Dharawat (ڌراوت).

Sindhi language is incredibly prospective with regard to business and trade affairs as said above. There are other innumerable terms which were /are used. This actually provided strength to Sindhi Language in terms of business and trade.

The term bankruptcy is a common word used in business. Any businessman, who is unable to pay his debts is known as a bankrupt businessman. The concept of bankruptcy has its existence from the early times. The word ‘Dewalo’ (ڏيوالو) was usually used for bankruptcy in Sindh. When a seth would be unable to pay hundis and their interest and other such debts, then he would request the court to declare him bankrupt. In such cases, the court would appoint an officer, who would assess all the wealth and property of the Seth and his business as well. After having done that, he would arrange an auction publicly. When all the property was sold out, the money obtained would be distributed among the stakeholders. This distribution also had a proper term “satmi” (ستمي) in Sindhi.

The business record keeping was also maintained in a decent manner in the pre-partition times in Sindh, when the people were fully engaged in and touched the heights of the business management. For example, there were certain terms in local language for every kind of record book, once was called “Aagat Jo Khurro” (آڳت جو کڙو). This was a kind of book in which a businessman would keep all the details regarding commodities he would purchase from big business dealers. This book was to tell as to which commodities he had purchased and from whom.

This record keeping in Sindhi language had its immense utility. When one goes through that, she/he cannot help praising the astuteness and wisdom of Sindhi business. For instance, another book was kept known as “Naen Jo Khurro” (نائن جو کڙو). This was a book in which all the details were maintained regarding the sold commodities on debt with the names of debt receivers.

The cash has a great importance in business. This determines the benefits and deficits of a person. This is because a businessman daily counts the cash before he closes his shop or store. It is seen as a routine matter to assess the cash flow. For this, another book was maintained and that was locally called “RozMail/Rokar” (روڪڙ).

Businessmen also maintained the accounts of the purchased commodities, products and goods and retained the assessment of cash received and gone out. Such a record maintenance would tell the businessmen about what had been sold and to whom and how much cash was received and from which sources. This business practice was called “Lekhi-Parr” (ليکي پاڙ). This book was prepared on the basis of above mentioned books – “Aagat Jo Khurro” (آڳت جو کڙو), “Naen Jo Kharro” (نائن جو کڙو) and “Roz Mail” (روز ميل). One can declare this a well-maintained book in detail.

It is also pertinent to mention here that the concept of the interest is very old in Sindh. Especially, when we consult the record of Sindhi-Banyas in recent times, we find that Sindhi language was also in use for arithmetic of interest locally called “Wiyaj”. For this purpose Arabic numbers were used instead of English.

Shikarpur, in fact, after Thatta, became the major trade and finance center. Many Sindhis opened their finance centers and banks in Sindh and the whole of India. There were many trained professionals known as ‘Munshis’ who would look after the whole financial and fiscal business and also maintain the record. Slowly and gradually, the fame of Sindhi bankers traveled all over and many of them went to Russia and other Balkan states to help and guide the Russian bankers to establish professional system for their business and trade. The professionals served the Russian state very well. Many of them were settled therein and some traders and financiers are even found now settled in Germany, Australia and other European countries and settled down there. This marks the development of Sindh’s business and trade, rising finances and professionalism alongwith the development and usage of Sindhi language. Sindh also saw many turbulent times. From Arab period through the British period, the onslaughts on Sindh were common for want of money and expropriation of its resources as Sindh had been a very resource rich country. As indicated above, Kalhora rule created a lot of discipline in Sindhi society. It started developing its water resources in the shape of canals and other required irrigation channels which helped agriculture quite well. The education and language also saw a golden time period. Forts, and orchards were built and developed- The first branch of English factories was established in Thatta during the Kalohra Period.

After nearly hundred years of Kalhora rule, the Baloch tribe, Talpurs conquered Sindh and ruled over it for 68 years. Businesses flourished on and the use of already developed Sindhi language continued as in the past although Persian language was also used by the Talpurs. However, Sindhi continued to be the native language of Sindh. Kalhoras and Talpurs, ruled Sindh for about two centuries and during this period, Sindhi language maintained its identity in Sindh. The businessmen throughout the world maintained the trade and business through the correspondence and developed financial and banking instrument in Sindhi. All the “Chittas”, “Khandhis” and “Hundis” were conducted in the specialized formats prepared for such purposes. It was a good fortune for Sindhi language that special attention was paid to it during the British period in Sindh. British took over Sindh in 1843 and the responsible administrators looked at the needs of the people in various spheres of life. Language being one very important need and sources of identity received good support from the British.

Sir Bartel Frere and Sir Ellis Barrow, the then commissioners of Sindh gave full attention and full help to the development of the language. They standardized the alphabet of the language and facilitated the use of Arabic script for it. It made things much easier for the businessmen throughout the world to correspond further in their developed Sindhi language. It is also pertinent to inform that the Sindhi businessmen, spread all over the world, also corresponded in Devnagri script of Sindhi.

Sir Frere made it compulsory for all the British officers working in Sindh to learn Sindhi and pass the special examination of Sindhi with the incentive that those who passed would be given promotions and prime positions in the administration in Sindh. Much earlier in the middle of the nineteenth century (1867), Dr. Ernst Trumpp, a German scholar developed and formalized the grammar of Sindhi language with the support of the British administrators. In this regard, the role of Sir Bartel Frere is highly appreciated.

Available evidence moderately proves that although there were no techniques available for modernizing the language during those times, still the language played its due role, and met the needs of the business community.

While interviewing many old businessmen, some of whom, who lived in 1930s and 1940s, recollected their memories and informed me that in entire Sindh, the business correspondence was carried on in Sindhi, all the old records and registers were maintained in Sindhi and some of them are still available with them.

As already stated above, the British period proved very fruitful for Sindh and specially the language. The Bombay Government in early 19th and 20th centuries made a lot of efforts to develop the language in different and better formats, including the business ones.

In early 20th century, Bombay University accepted Sindhi for graduation and post-graduation, on the plea provided by Dr. H.M Gurbuxani. This gave the language a boost. The scholars were very happy over this decision. Dr. Gurbuxani had emphasized the importance of Sindhi language as a highly developed language having all the books needed for mathematical sciences. And the Sindhis who were not able to read English would have a chance of passing various examinations in Sindhi and as a result they would also be able to get jobs. Also a hope was created that language will play its role in the development of business. This was a time period when Hatki (or Hat-a wanki) was also used in local bazaars throughout Sindh.

The misfortune for Sindhi language occurred after the partition. Sindhi business community and Sindhi middle class migrated to India as a result of the partition; hence there was a massive blow to the development of the business/trade and the language. This community was replaced by a new set of people who migrated from India, speaking a different language i.e. Urdu-Sindhi language lost its place in the government, trade and commerce. The policies of various governments of Pakistan continued step motherly treatment to Sindhi language. This, no doubt pushed back the development of culture, traditions, rituals and teaching of Sindhi language from the schools, colleges and University of Karachi, let alone the business. In the initial years of the creation of Pakistan, 500 Sindhi schools in Karachi were closed with one stroke. The teaching of Sindhi in the university was done away with. Karachi was separated from Sindh and was made the capital of the country- Being a cosmopolitan city and the capital of Sindh, it could have helped to develop Sindh and Sindhi.

Through several Acts and commissions appointed to develop education policies in Pakistan, Sindhi, the original and ancient language of the soil, was ignored like all other regional languages of Pakistan and only Urdu language was made the official and national language of the country. The Bengalis who were in majority did not agree with this decision of making Urdu the sole national language of the country and demanded that Bengali should also be made a national language. After many sacrifices given by Bengali citizens, their language was also made national language of the country along with Urdu.

Sindhi, the most mature language of the areas that formed West Pakistan, could not be developed any further; not only this, was denied even its rightful place by being gradually and systematically displaced as the official and business language. Within a few decades, the forms, signposts, etc., which were written in Sindhi before partition, could not be seen anymore. This has done an irreparable damage to the language. Sindhi language has full capacity of being developed as a modern business language. This will be true with the full support and interest of the government, for the business activity and revival of Sindhi. Further more, this emphasized that in the wake of development of new computer age and e-technology Sindhi is already on the computers since 1988. Universal codepage, known as Unicode, includes Sindhi alphabet. It is used for the emails. Websites are created in Sindhi. All the newspapers published in Sindhi use the computer and e-technology. It is a language of judiciary as well.

According-to Mr. T.R. Soomro and G Al-Qaimari the experts of e-technology in UAE:

“The Internet has changed our way of life, the way we communicate with each other and the way we do business. It is a world-wide broadcasting capability, a mechanism or information and interaction between individuals without regard to geographical distances. However, it is no denying a fact that the majority of languages used on the internet are non-English. Keeping in view these facts, it was obvious that non-English speakers would access their local sites and would communicate via email using their own local scripts. Efforts in this regard have already been made in Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK), in Arabic and other languages. Languages on the Internet should be treated equally, and non-English speakers .deserve to utilize their own languages to take full advantage of the Internet in their own way with the freedom of the language identity, written traditions and written scripts. The Arabic language and other languages that use Arabic script, like Pakistani national language Urdu and regional language Sindhi, are among them”.

Sindhi is already on the Internationalized Domain Name Systems (IDNS) and could be brought on Top Level Domains (TLDs) like English, French, Urdu, Arabic and the alike.

As a result, the business and trade in the province, country and where ever the Sindhi business community is settled will have a big break through. Recently, with the advent of electronic and print media, the publicity and advertisement for various businesses has already started in Sindhi Language but needs to be strengthened further.

Here, it is very important to mention that a language will be used for business and commerce only when the people who are engaged in business and commerce have been educated in Sindhi.

The words, terms, phrases, etc., are developed when there is a need or demand for those. The development of Sindhi dictionaries (of commerce / business) will serve little purpose and would indeed be a lost effort, unless base of Sindhi as medium of education and instruction is strengthened and widened.

Unless the pivotal issue of restoring and promoting Sindhi as a medium of education and instructions is addressed by the Government, and unless the educated Sindhis own their language, efforts at periphery would yield no result.

In the light of the above discussion, the following suggestions are made for promoting Sindhi as a business language:

  1. The Government of Pakistan and the Government of Sindh should be approached and all efforts should be made in sincerity to develop Sindhi language.

  2. Sindhi should be made compulsory language for learning and teaching for all the communities living in Sindh. The government should make untiring efforts to promote Sindhi as a medium of education and instructions.

  3. A research and implementation cell should be established in Sindhi Language Authority to study the issue in detail as to how to get efforts done to utilize Sindhi comprehensively as the language for the business communication in Sindh. An in depth proposal and work plan should be prepared in this connection. Special funds should be provided for this purpose. The language and business experts should be brought on this committee. Future research should be undertaken. Initially, this project should be approved for 10 years.

  4. The experts should be trained specially in business and commercial vocabulary in Sindhi.

  5. A Sindhi business thesaurus should be prepared.

  6. To strengthen Sindhi as a business language, the Government with the help of experts, should prepare a dictionary namely, “A Dictionary of Sindhi Business Language”, comprising full business terminology.

  7. There should be a full fledged paper on business/commercial discipline to be introduced in schools, colleges and universities in private and public sector. This will provide a very effective, opportunity to the students interested in establishing their businesses. (This practice was very common before the partition when it was compulsory that students passing the primary school must have such a certificate).

  8. Efforts should be made to boost business, trade and industry all over the province, this step will motivate and activate interaction between business community and masses and, thus, available addition in Sindhi Language could be achieved.

  9. Modern market /business proverbs and terminology should be introduced and publicized in Sindhi version. This enterprise will play a prime role in advancing the business transactions and other affairs.

  10. The Government should approve Sindhi language as a business language to be used at local level through an amendment in the language act of 1972. The language act of 1972 should be put in effect as per its provision.

  11. Books on business and commerce should be published in Sindhi, whether in the shape of translations or original works.

  12. These efforts be made to prepare Sindhi software and business terminology on computers and internet so that Sindhi Business community may easily communicate with each other and engage in business in / out of the country.

  13. The Government ought to direct its Information Department to release advertisements, tenders and other business /trade /industrial announcements, materials and notices, related to Sindh province in Sindhi.

  14. Sindhi Language Authority should be instructed to develop and publish the record of Hundis, Chittas, Bills and other financial instruments in Sindhi.

  15. Commercial arithmetic knowledge is very important. This must be introduced as a basic subject up to matriculation.

  16. Government may also create a conducive atmosphere for establishing and strengthening business and industry in Sindh.