Recently our family had some sad news about the demise of my uncle. Readers will be aware we then follow a series of ‘vidhi’s’ that culminate in what is called ‘Barmu’, i.e. the 12th day. At one point during this vidhi the mahraj (priest) asked about our ancestors. Fortunately for us with the help of my father we were able to go back several generals. Interestingly I was in a conversation with CB Patelthis week and he raised a similar issue related to ancestry and its relevance within our community. He asked, how many from our community would be able to name their ancestors, and to how many generations back? This got me thinking and I have embarked on my own personal journey of discovery to seek out the history and heritage of my family.
So I have a challenge for all of you today. How many generations back can you name your ancestors?
We have two distinct groups of Indians in the UK. One that left India more than 100 years ago and settled in many nations across the world, but mostly the eastern coast of Africa. Generally, this group went to one or more nations like Madagaskar, Malavi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Yemen, Oman, South Africa and Mauritius. This group travelled light, had to be extremely resilient to new nations, new cultures, and new languages, and have the strength of character to fight off all types of prejudice to make a life for their families. With each new generation, their contact with families back home in India was reduced as was their daily interactions with the community that would constantly replenish their memories of history and heritage. They kept their faith, they kept their culture and language, but being so far away from India meant something had to give.
So it would be interesting to see for this group how many generations they can go back.
The second group are the newer arrivals over the past 30 years or so. They have arrived in the UK in an environment that is much better for minorities than it had ever been before. They also have the most up-to-date connections with family back in India. And they also have the power of modern-day communications to aid their daily routines.I would therefore expect most to have a very secure grasp of their ancestry.
Communication plays a key role in this inquiry. In days gone by, to communicate one would send a letter by seamail (yes, you read that correctly) which would take weeks to arrive at its destination. There was no such thing as instant two-way communication. It became better when airmail was introduced when air service came into being. But again, whilst this was faster than sea mail, it was still obviously not instant communication. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s it was rare for households in UK to have their own phone lines. Even if you had one, the vast majority of people in India did not have access to any phones. I remember the days when you would call a neighbour in India who had a phone andask them to call your relatives at a particular time. You would then call back at that time, and with the cost of international calls, one tried to finish the conversation within minutes.
Today’s generation with their mobile smartphones and24/7/365 connectivity I suspect will never really know what the previous generation had to endure. If their phone is not working for a few minutes, they go utterly crazy, they go into panic mode, and they hyperventilate their frustrations for all to see. And if they don’t have access to their phone for a few days, depression sets in.
So here is a challenge for all of you, how far back can you go with your ancestry? I suspect many of you will be able to list names of male members of the family, but can you also list the female members? If not, why not?
I invite you to write to Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar (keep it short please) and tell us about your family. Let’s all start an effort to find a bit more about our ancestors. I have started and I can say that as of today, my name is Kapil Shantilal, Amratlal, Ramji, Kurji, Valji DUDAKIA. I have located another three names which still need to be verified, which will then take me back eight generations. And let me tell you, getting the names on the female side is proving quite difficult. So what is your experience? Regardless of your current age, start asking the questions. You never know what incredible gifts you may find on this journey of self-discovery.