‘This is my own, my native land’

‘This is my own, my native land’

We were chatting over tea in a café near the newspaper office where she worked. Jenny Liu was a second generation citizen of this great melting pot. She knew China from the stories told by her parents. I asked her if she had any plans for her next vacation.

“Yes, I want to go home this time,” she answered promptly. Home was Guiyang, she added, where her parents were born and her forefathers lived. 1301 - K Street, along with the newspaper office in Washington, moved away as she spoke.

— A media convention in New York. The chairperson spotted the only delegate in a saree, and asked with a smile, “Which part of India?” When I told him, he disclosed that his father was from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. They had an ancestral home in Lucknow.  

“I am proud to belong to a great tradition,” said this senior most editor of South Asian origin in the US. We were having coffee and snacks in the informal ambiance of Columbia University. He spoke with warmth about a land he had not seen, yet called his own. He had an extended family “over there” whom he hoped to meet someday. And, added: “I want my children to know their roots.”

— Ram was waiting for me outside the office of the London Times. This was my first visit to England. He came out here 50 years ago and knew every cobblestone of this city. His ancestral home in Kunchavaram had become a distant dream. Or, so I thought until I heard him.

“I never went back,” he reminisced. “But I want my children to see the agraharam where we lived. Do you know, my grandfather performed harikathas on the river bank every evening?” And so he went on unfolding a forgotten life in a country that was still close to his heart. The streets of London faded into oblivion as the lush paddy fields, the temples and the mud tracks of rural Andhra rose before our eyes. For the next 60 minutes, the heat and dust of the land of his birth were more real than the London skyline.

— I met her in her luxurious home in Guelph. She came to this Canadian university five decades ago and recently received the Order of Canada. We spoke late into the night as she remembered her childhood days in a village where her father sang in festivals to earn money for his large family. Exotic scenes from Kerala unfolded themselves as she described her carefree childhood days. Her present status receded to the background as we travelled back in time.

“I hope my daughter will give back something to India,” she confided, adding: “I know I will never go back.” 

She was wrong. She came back shortly afterwards when her ashes arrived in a small urn to her beloved Cheravathur to be immersed in the sea which had received her forefathers many years ago.