Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Time........... Another Journey

As I was writing on my experiences on the recent trip to my native place, I remembered my conversation with Rajesh and Laxmi, a couple from South Africa.

We were together on the trip to Kailash - Mansarovar. As we got to know each other, we began discussing about the Indian diaspora in South Africa. These were the descendants of those who were carted out in overcrowded ships to a unknown places across "Kala Paani" to serve new masters.

I am referring to the indentured labour that were taken to South Africa, specifically and in general to other places like Mauritius, Fiji, West Indies, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The white man seems to have made a habit of this. Africans were carted to Southern and EasterAmerica. The Chinese were slave labour in California.

This story of Indians being taken as slaves to serve business interests of the British businessmen is that part of our history we seem to have missed out completely and erased from our collective consciousness. We seem to have forgotten all about them and abandoned our long lost brethren. 

Modern day life seems to have brought them back in focus. Are we doing anything at all? Is it enough and is it helping? These and many others questions will be examined in the coming posts. I will also attempt to re-create the life of these "slaves" and their gritty and now prosperous descendants who are the proud citizens of South Africa. Yet, they long for India as their roots are here.

I thank Rajesh and Lakshmi for giving me plenty of background material and an insight into their life and the social structure they grew up in. I hope that I will be able to do justice to these poor souls, who went through terrible trials and tribulations in the hope of a better tomorrow for their children.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back to Roots

In my earlier post, I had mentioned our road trip across parts of Karnataka. The most important part was the initial six days. We were journeying through "our native place". Native place is a very Indian concept (or shall I enlarge it to say Oriental concept) and a very fascinating one at that. Inspite of being away from the land of our forefathers for two generations, there is still that "something" that identifies and connects you with that place. Our social etiquette permits us to stray into personal space and ask people where they hail from. I am rightfully a Mumbaikar and culturally identified more with Maharashtra than Karnataka.  Yet, people insist on knowing "where I really/originally hail from?".

This always struck me that there is a  strong link to our land of origin. It may appear that we try and slot people as Kannadigas, Konkanis, Goans, Malvanis....but is that our true identity? It is not threatening in any way and just our habit or culture, if you will.

I wanted to know more about this identity of mine. This identity that no UID card will be able to capture, this identity that goes beyond my place of residence, this identity that makes people welcome me so spontaneously despite having "migrated" generations ago. 

This journey, though short, was through North Kanara district, now officially known as Uttara Kannada district. People from my community - Chitrapur Saraswats - adopted names of villages as their surnames. Suddenly, all those hamlets, villages, towns small and big seemed very familiar. They were surnames of many many relatives, friends and acquaintances. I knew nothing about those places but suddenly and inexplicably felt at home. The icicng on the cake was finding  and visiting "Mavinkurve". A small island on the river Sharavati was where it all began a few of centuries ago. 

In the limited time I had, I managed to visit many places around. 

Doors were thrown open and strangers would talk as if "the prodigal son had returned". Remember, we had no contacts, property or a house back there. In this short stay a bond started developing almost unnoticed by any of us. On our return, we realised that bond seems to have strengthened. We are already talking in terms of the next trip. An adventurous thought does not rule out having our family home there...........

It seems that I have now donned a dual identity. Further and strangely, I seem comfortable with it. A city slicker living in relative anonymity in a megapolis and, as a native, in a script that is still being written.