New gen South Africans, Israelis, Mauritians searching for their roots

Fading India connect

New gen South Africans, Israelis, Mauritians searching for their roots

How do the third, fourth and even seventh generation members of the Indian diaspora maintain that connect with the country of their forefathers? Do they yearn to search for their roots to rekindle those old fading memories?

Confronted with these questions at PBD, young Israelis, South Africans and Mauritians of Indian origin had a tricky time juxtaposing a distant past with the contemporary.

For Sapir Shay, now a fashion designer in Israel, the India connect was still strong. But, she was not as keen as the others to trace the roots of her grandfather. “His life in India was spent in poverty in north India. The shift to Israel changed that, helping us be part of the big melting pot,” she recalled to DH.

The collective Jewish identity once threatened to engulf individual national identities. But Sapir’s mother had held on to her Indian roots. “Mom would always remind us of our Indian culture and traditions. We do watch Indian movies and try out Indian costumes.”

But Ziv Mahluf, an Israeli robotics engineer who traces his ancestry to Kochi is not so sure about that linkage. “Unlike South Africans or those from Fiji, Israelis of Indian origin are less connected. Perhaps, it is because of the religion. We are not as well-versed about the politics and culture.” Back in Israel, marriages outside national boundaries had cemented the Jewish identity further. Mahluf’s father was Libyan. But his mother and maternal grandfather had tried to hold onto Indian customs. “My mother still can speak Malayalam.”

For Nevali Mohan, a seventh generation South African, the Indian roots were too distant. Her second visit to India as part of the Know India Programme had reinforced the stereotypes in her mind. “I had only heard about the poverty here. Some of the sights confirmed those beliefs. I haven’t liked it so far.”

For her compatriot Avesh Ramdin, his affair with India was spiritual. “My cousins had come here searching for my grandfather’s roots in Kanpur. I want to visit the holy sites. and learn more about Hinduism.”

But the young engineering student was apparently pained by the India connect fading in some cities.

Indentured labourers to rulers

The community of Indians, who first landed in Mauritius during 1836-37, bore the mark of indentured labourers. Slavery had just been abolished, but they had to endure another century of hardships. Tuvarika Gunesh, a 7th-generation person of Indian origin, knew that story too well.

But young Tuvarika had another story of ascendance, about a community that focused on educating their children, building careers and businesses, eventually leading the nation. “We have prospered after gaining independence in 1968. Most of our presidents and prime ministers have been of Indian origin,” she said. Linkages with India, said Tuvarika, have remained strong. “We connect mostly to India than Europe although the lifestyles are a
mix of Western and the Oriental.” 

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