From Karachi to Singapore
Maya Chellaram Samtani (maiden name: Mohini Jethanand Balani) was born on 4th July 1936 in Karachi, Sindh, British India.
Following Partition, Maya and her family witnessed a lot of violence - events that Maya describes as 'scary', not just from her perspective as an 11-year-old but for the whole family. These incidents were the catalyst for her family to leave Pakistan.
Today, Maya resides in Singapore and this is her story.
Maya Samtani was born to Jethanand and Devi Boolchand – one of nine children in a family of five brothers and four sisters. Despite her nuclear family already having 11 members, Maya says they lived as a joint family with her two chachas (paternal uncles) and their families – all in all about 30 people under one roof!
Her father ran a gold and silverware shop in Javeri Bazaar in Karachi. His shop sold things such as bowls, thalis (a kind of circular tray), plates and idols.
At the time of Partition, Maya was 11 years old. She remembers there were riots and fighting due to racial conflicts – from the windows of their home, they could see people being killed. Being so young, she and her siblings were traumatised and scared for their future.
Due to the violence and conflict, her family decided to pack up and leave Pakistan.
Helped by her father’s friends who were well-connected, Maya’s family was able to procure tickets for a ship that was leaving from Karachi to Bombay (now Mumbai).
When departing, they had to wear burkas so that they could safely make it to the ship. They fervently hoped that their journey would be successful.
Upon arriving in Mumbai, they were further helped by other friends of her father’s who provided housing for them.
In Mumbai, the family tried to restart their lives. Maya continued her schooling at the Model High School for girls, which was located in Dadar, Mumbai. It was a convent school that taught English, Sindhi and Hindi, where she passed her matriculation.
Her father in the meantime, together with his two brothers, re-established their gold and silverware business – although they were no longer living together as a joint family.
In December 1957, Maya got married in Mumbai. Her late husband was from Singapore, which is where Maya relocated to and resides till this day. She has four sons and six grandchildren.
As concluding words when sharing her story, Maya says that she is thankful to her father, who was able to provide a comfortable life for them, despite everything that happened. He placed utmost importance on education, ensuring that all his children, including his daughters received schooling – although he was quite strict and made sure that his sons dropped and picked up his daughters from school every day!