29 July, 2021

Now, Voyager

An uneven, but often rewarding, saga of forgotten Indian diasporas

Now, Voyager
WHISKY Sisodia, in Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, stammers that "the trouble with the Engenglish is that their hiss hiss history happened overseas...." The fact is that, in a small way, this is true of Indian history too. While the British left their little island guided by the goal of imperialist plunder, the Indians of that time went abroad on a minor mission. The desi emigrant in the 19th and early 20th century was likely to be a merchant or an indentured labourer. In Mira Kamdar’s Motiba’s Tattoos, the author travels into the past of her Kathiawadi grandmother and tracks the early journey of migration from Saurashtra to Rangoon. Kamdar’s grandfather was a trader in colonial Burma and we get a glimpse of those other Indian diasporas that are barely remembered in today’s fascination with the land of Disney.

But, Rangoon is only a detour in the book. The road from Saurashtra leads finally to Seattle. In 1949, Kamdar’s father left Bombay for America. Here, too, Kamdar does her readers the service of providing a portrait of an earlier era when Indians were relatively rare...

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