HYDERABAD: One of the 20th century luminaries who was born and grew up in Sindh, enriching the province’s education, culture, music, history and society, breathed her last on Wednesday. Dadi Leelawati Harchandani, aka Dadi Leelan, a musician, artist, teacher, public representative and reformist, died at the age of 101.
Dadi Leelan was born to Hotchand Wadhwani, who belonged to the educated middle class and was also an adviser to the accountant-general of Sindh, at her ancestral home on Lajpat Road – a commercial street near Radio Pakistan – in Hyderabad on December 16, 1916. She died in the same city at her parent’s house in Heerabad where the family shifted when was young. She lived there with her son, Dr Pardeep Kumar, and daughter-in-law.
She obtained her early education from a school in the Tilank Incline area in Hyderabad and passed her matric exam from Government High School, which was later renamed Noor Muhammad High School. She graduated from DJ Government College, later renamed Government Kali Mori College, in 1940. She was also the oldest surviving student of Government College Kali Mori. The college will celebrate its 100th anniversary next month.
Although she had a knack for music from childhood, thanks to her family, her career in the music profession formally started in 1940 when she was appointed a music teacher at Teachers Training College in Hyderabad. In the following decade she embarked upon the profession of imparting education after Partition in 1947 created a shortage of teachers in the province. After retirement in 1975, she continued her endeavours for music, theatre, education and women rights.
In many interviews during her lifetime she was questioned why she did not migrate to India when many of her family members left. “Why would I have left for India? Hyderabad and Sindh are my janam bhoomi [place of birth],” she would answer.
Although age confined her to her bed during the last years of her life, music and musical instruments, the tabla and harmonium, would always remain by her bedside. “Her day dawned with music,” recalled her son Dr Kumar while talking to the media. “When she stopped singing a few years ago, her morning would begin by listening to music.”
In 1936, DJ Government College Hyderabad hosted an all India music competition in which 20-year-old male and female students performed. She contested against singers from Bikaner, Jodhpur, Ahmedabad and Barodha and won first position by singing a bhajan (hymn).
She graduated from the college in 1940 and the same year she was appointed a music teacher. For that job she was interviewed by the towering nationalist leader, the late GM Syed, former Sindh Assembly Speaker Syed Meeran Muhammad Shah and Dr Muhammad Bin Umar Daudpoto, among others. Her first salary was Rs35. She worked there for seven years till 1947.
In the years that followed she mentored some of the leading artists in Sindh like Sindhi folk artist Zarina Baloch, vocalist Rubina Qureshi who is wife of actor Mustafa Qureshi, Ameena Sadique, Sushila Mehtani and Mumtaz Abassi.
In 1951 Dadi Leelan graduated in teaching from a degree college in Karachi and in 1954 she was appointed headmistress of a government girls high school in Mirpurkhas district. While working in Mirpurkhas she was confronted with the challenge of bringing girls to schools and that challenge motivated her to launch awareness initiatives and provide counselling to the parents and other villagers on the importance of girls’ education.
She was appointed as a district education officer (DEO) in 1972 and was given charge of three districts – Hyderabad, Thatta and Badin. She retired in July, 1975, at the age of 58 years. In her interviews she recalled that the era from 1981 to 1991 was an exemplary period for herself during her life during which she remained engaged in the activities for promotion of music, education and women empowerment. She was selected as an MPA of the Sindh Assembly in 1985 on a minority seat.
In his condolence message for Dadi Leelan, Muhammad Ibrahim Joyo remembered her as a contemporary in their efforts for education, literature and politics. “She was with us at every step of our struggles,” he said. Declaring her a role model for Sindh, he requested the government to build her tomb at the institution where she studied or taught.
Dr Abdul Ghafoor Memon, chairperson of the Sindhi Language Authority, said her services for the education, music and awareness of the people will always be remembered.
Naseer Mirza, former director of Radio Pakistan and an expert on art, literature and music, recalled that Dadi Leelan began her efforts for primary education from the villages in Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar. “She would say that she wanted to educate girls and women to save them from oppression of the feudal system and from being fooled by their men.”
Dadi Leelan was cremated at a Hindu graveyard on Hali Road area in Hyderabad.