In the quest for past

In the quest for past

A few years ago, I remember reading about the travails of a family which had come upon hard times and was living on a railway platform in one of the Delhi stations. Nothing unusual about that except that the family in question claimed direct descent from the royal family of Oudh.  

I have often wondered as to how many among us Indians have worked out our ancestry and know our genealogical timelines. Most of us might know about our grandparents, some even about our great grandparents, but ancestral knowledge stretching beyond one’s great grandparents is either non-existent or is generally felt not worth an effort to discover.

Be that as it may, I have found that people from the West are generally more keen to work out their genealogical timelines (at least much more than people from the Indian subcontinent) . I do not quite know as to what could be the reason for this, except to speculate that people from the subcontinent being so much more in number and being so much more pre-occupied with their lives, find dabbling in things like genealogy neither desirable nor worthwhile.

I recollect many years ago, a German journalist wanting to discover and pay homage to his Prussian ancestor who, as per the genealogical details that he carried with him, lay buried in Agra, where he had come to fight for the Mughal army as a mercenary.

According to the journalist’s research, his Prussian ancestor had come to Agra, fallen in love with a local nautch girl, and lay buried in a tomb which had for a distinguishing mark a cross (to denote his Christian faith) over it. With a bull-dog-like perseverance and determination, the German in question discovered the said tomb of his ancestor in a graveyard in Agra and felt vindicated by his genealogical findings.

A DNA sampling of different contemporary races and an exercise of matching this with the DNA of the ancient Egyptians carried out by the scientists of the Max Planck Institute’s Population Genetics Group revealed and quite interestingly and surprisingly so that it was with the people inhabiting the present Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Jordan that the genetic composition of the ancient Egyptians most matched!

Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh has people who practice polyandry based on their supposed ancestry to the Pandavas. Similarly in Malana, located in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, with its own system of justice, administration, architecture, unique customs and rituals, the inhabitants believe and claim direct descent from Alexander the Great.

Genealogy over a period of time has become more exact but the fact remains as to how much we put this to use or in what way we use it to build an identity for ourselves would remain a matter of choice or requirement.