Leaving Uganda

We’ve talked about it here before: In 1972, Idi Amin gave all 80,000 Asian Indians living in the Uganda 90 days to pack up and leave. As the BBC reported on August 7, 1972, “Asians, who are the backbone of the Ugandan economy, have been living in the country for more than a century. But resentment against them has been building up within Uganda’s black majority. General Amin has called the Asians “bloodsuckers” and accused them of milking the economy of its wealth.”

A new young adult novel Child of Dandelions by Canadian author Shenaaz Nanji sheds much needed light on the upheaval of Asian Indians in Uganda. It’s worth checking out, even if you don’t have a young adult in your household, or don’t normally pick up books for younger readers. dandelions.jpg

The protagonist of Child of Dandelions is fifteen year old Sabine, a girl whose comfortable life is torn asunder on August 6, 1972, the day that Idi Amin issues his expulsion order for all Indians in Uganda. Shaken by the protests she walks into while window shopping in Little India, Sabine turns to her parents for protection.

Sabine’s mother is afraid and eager to leave Uganda, but her father, a wealthy Ismaeli businessman and landowner, is determined to ignore Dada Amin’s orders:

“Nonsense!” Papa laughed his conch-shell laugh, and her little brother echoed it. … “We are even more Ugandan than the ethnic Africans. Not only were we born here, but we chose to be Ugandan citizens when other Indians remained British…

Sabine agrees with her father. She is different after all. Her best friend Zena is African. They’ve grown up together like “twin beans of one coffee flower” and Zena is just like her sister, even if others (like her Indian friends) don’t see it that way.

Narmin …Nasrin … Sabine’s hands clenched at the names of her classmates. They were prissy prunes. She’d had a big fight with them after they called Zena goli. Mixing her African and Indian friends was like mixing oil with water.

As the 90 day countdown continues, Sabine’s optimism is drowned out by the growing chants of “Muhindi, nenda nyumbani! Indian, go home.” Amidst reports of violent attacks against Indian families, the mysterious disappearance of her favorite uncle, and strained relations between her and Zena (whose uncle is a general and crony of Idi Amin), she is forced to reexamine her understandings of race and class.

The novel is what Nanji calls Faction, a mix of facts and fiction. Some of the characters are real, others fictional, but every event is based on history. Nanji grew up in Mombasa, and regularly visited family in Uganda throughout her childhood. “In fact the very day Idi Amin took power, I was in Kampala and to my embarrassment cheered him at a rally waving the Uganda flag, not knowing what was to follow,” she told me in an e-mail interview. [read the full interview here]

The book’s title comes from a powerful scene halfway through the novel when Zena tells Sabine that she can no longer associate with her because of Dada Amin’s orders.

Sabine folded her arms to steady herself. “You’ve joined them?”

“Them? Them are us. Your people have clogged up our land as the British bwanas did before. Your people, your family included, are doing magendo.”

“Uncle and Papa help out of kindness.”

“We don’t want kindness.” Zena gave a short, dry laugh. ‘You took our land and made us look after it. Now we want it back.”

Sabine stared at Zena. But Bapa had cleared that land and cleared it to grow coffee.

“We have to clear our land. The weeds must be uprooted. What can I do? You are the child of dandelions.”

Sabine reeled as if struck by lightning. How dare Zena accuse her of being a weed?

Though Sabine is furious at Zena’s rejection, she slowly starts to see discrepancies in how Indians treat the native Ugandans. For example, she realizes that though she’s known her driver Mzee (a term of respect for all elderly gentlemen) all her life, she has never touched him before or known anything about him.

She and her family were no different from the standoffish mzungus and other Indians who distanced themselves from their African employees. Mzee had worked for Bapa at his farm for many years before he moved to the city to get an easier job and became their driver. …
“Mzee, what’s your name?” She looked up at him. His eyes lifted in surprise, and she saw that they were gentle and crinkled like Bapa’s.
“Mzee Kabugo,” he said shyly, returning his gaze downward.

As someone who grew up in Ghana, I really appreciated Nanji’s nuanced take on the complex dynamics of race and class. The expulsion of Indians from Uganda was not a black and white issue, Nanji’s story shows us. “Earlier versions of the story showed the military regime was wholly responsible for the crises,” Nanji told me. “Later upon reflection, I learned that no one group of people is evil. There were many factors – poverty and class distinction, legacy of the colonial powers who carved up Africa like a pie, some Indians engaged in magendo, corruption, and Indians living in close-knit communities, refusing to integrate with ethnic Africans.”

Nanji started writing her book in order to find answers to the questions her children asked her while they were growing up. “My mind began to spin with questions I struggled to understand: how could an entire community that had lived for three generations suddenly be uprooted like weeds and expelled just because they were brown. Why was the rest of the world silent?” she said.

When she searched for books in the library on such issues, she came back empty-handed. “Then came the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and the massacre in Rwanda and I knew the story had to be told,” she said. “Yes, the story takes place thousands of miles away in Africa, but the emotional experience of Sabine may transfer to the American readers as part of their own reality.”

To date, there are very few fictional works that examine the personal, social, and political turmoil caused within the Indian community by Amin’s orders, so right off the bat, Child of Dandelions is a welcome addition. That it is gracefully executed and emotionally evocative makes it a book worth owning and sharing both with adults and young adults alike.

123 thoughts on “Leaving Uganda

  1. Territorial politics reminds me of the insightful book Tree of Origin: What Primate Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Social Evolution. Ultimately it comes down to power and protecting territory.

  2. M. Nam

    A society that’s resentful of monetary-only integration will collapse in violence – like Uganda or Nazi Germany.

    Now that Ireland said NO in the latest EU integration I guess we Most societies are resentful of monetary-only integration. They deal with it in some way or another (progressive taxes, affirmative action, barriers, etc) they usually do not descend into violence.

    The hallmark of a mature society is when it’s individuals are free to discriminate in personal choices, but treat everyone equally in transactional choices.

    Personal choices such as attending white/black/red only schools? Of course that means it is right to have white/black/red only schools. Ditto neighborhoods, etc Of course it can be argued that schools / neighborhood co-op laws are transactional choices.

    But then, can’t the same be said for all personal choices (including love, marriage ;-)

    PS: Sam Maneckshaw, another famous Parsi, passed away yesterday.

    I was truly lucky to hear him speak once in a school function .. he was truly an inspirational person. It would be nice to see a post on him.

  3. 36 · RahulD

    Because these people made the decision to move/stay in Africa? What jurisdiction does the India have on the land there? You want Indian Soldiers to go to Africa, fight on terrain and a region that they don’t know about and die for a bunch of people who are probably Indian citizens going back 4-5 generations? Following your logic, shouldn’t we send Indian Troops to Indonesia and Malaysia to save the Tamilians of Indian origin there who are being persecuted including destroying their temples? To Dubai to ensure fair employment practices for the Keralites who voluntarily went there? Try thinking things through

    Indian govt. sure doesn’t think twice about asking well off emigre’s to remember their brethen and contribute charity. Nothing wrong with that, but why not help out those in trouble. There is a big difference between economic persecution(including destruction of property) and physical persecution(physical harm). Response to them will obviously be of different kind and intensity.

    It is a strategic question though. If Prithvi Raj Chauhan had been reinforced by Indian Kings further south, India’s history would have been different and a lot better. But they had your attitude. They said “They are Rajputs, why help them out?”.

    It enhances the security of all Indians everywhere, if attackers know that retaliation came come from outside.

    And I’m sure Gandhi wasn’t a fraud, there were millions of Indians from every walk of life who left everything they had to follow him to make salt …why? Because he symbolized the values that are inherent and basic to Hinduism. Put down your VHP authorized books and start off with Narayan’s “Waiting for The Mahatma”

    I don’t want to divert from the topic so lets lay off discussing him for another post. I have never heard of VHP publishing house either, not that I pay attention to publishers when I buy books.

    Talwar

  4. VK

    The persecuted individuals weren’t Indian. Why would the Indian Government/ Army bother about a bunch of foreigners?

    For both moral and strategic reasons. See above post of mine.

    Talwar

  5. 50 · Ikram said

    As the RSS said in a resolution it passed in 2002, the safety of the minority depends on the goodwill of the majority. (Its an awful thing to say, and the RSS I’m sure meant nothing good by it, but I can’t think of a response).

    Whether its “awful” or not, it is the truth. As Samuel Huntington points out, nations have differing political and social systems because they have different values. The reason relgious minorities in India have more rights than religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Inddonesia and Malaysia is because of the Hindu ethos of inclusivism. The persecution of minority religions in Middle Eastern and certain Southasian countries can be directly traced back to the underlying values of exclusivism of the dominant religion’s followers.

    The Indian left so despises Hinduism they thinks its inappropriate for Hindus to be proud of their own tardition of tolerance. We are now at a point where it is politically incorrect for Hindus to be proud of being tolerant, because that hurts the feelings of those who are less tolerant.

    The RSS is its right to point this out. Those who are foolishly seeking to eliminate the Hindu ethos of India under the guise of secualrism are destabilizing Indian society and one of the unforseen effects is a less tolerant country.

    Preemption: I’m sure there examples of religious intolerance in India and relgious tolerance in the nations from Morocco to Iran to Malysia but we are talking about broad civilizational trends here not anecdotes.

  6. I’m skipping over the tangential discussions of the RSS and the Indian left which seem to have very little to do with this book.

    I just want to thank you for your post about Child of Dandelions, Sandhya. Here’s to Shenaaz for writing the novel, and to Stephen Roxburgh of Front Street for publishing it. In a children’s/YA publishing market that is growing increasingly more cautious and less open to books seen as “niche” it’s a joy to see this history explored for a teenaged audience.

  7. The Indian left so despises Hinduism they thinks its inappropriate for Hindus to be proud of their own tardition of tolerance. We are now at a point where it is politically incorrect for Hindus to be proud of being tolerant, because that hurts the feelings of those who are less tolerant

    yaar. the woman starts a discussion on race, racism and the notion of home. somehow you bring up hindus. hau you do vat you do? scratches head

    p.s. The lady on the cover cant be desi – the knuckles arent hairy – not even a roangta.

    have a good weekend chiles.

  8. 57 · khoofia said

    hau you do vat you do? *scratches head*

    Answer: “tardition of tolerance.”

  9. 46 · MoorNam said

    The hallmark of a mature society is when it\’s individuals are free to discriminate in personal choices, but treat everyone equally in transactional choices.

    By that definition hindu casteist society is a hopelessly immature society.

    Someone mentioned Parsis in India earlier on. The then king of Gujarat told the Parsis that they are free to engage in any occupation, as long as they don\’t try to convert or inter-mingle in any other non-transactional way. A very Hindu and Libertarian response, that\’s worked well for both Parsis (who are easily among the most wealthiest and respected) and Hindus.

    Freedom to engage in any occupation is a \”very hindu\” response??! Who are you trying to deceive here? The hindu caste system is the very anti-thesis of such occupational liberty

    It is ignorant to claim that the Parsis became wealthy and respected under Hindu rule. They were an obscure people living off the land until the British rulers of India elevated them to to a status much higher than the darker-skinned natives of India. The British claimed that they preferred the Parsis over the hindus because their character was nobler than that of the hindus but it is far more likely that the British were playing their racist color game and chose them because they were not as dark-skinned as the hindus:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsi_%28ethnic_group%29

    \”Following the commercial treaty in the early 1600s between Mughal emperor Jahangir and James I of England, the British East India Company obtained the exclusive rights to reside and build factories in Surat and other areas. Many Parsis, who until then had been living in farming communities throughout Gujarat, moved to the British-run settlements to take the new jobs offered. In 1668 the British East India Company leased the seven islands of Bombay from Charles II of England. The company found the deep harbour on the east coast of the islands to be ideal for setting up their first port in the sub-continent, and in 1687 they transferred their headquarters from Surat to the fledgling settlement. The Parsis followed and soon began to occupy posts of trust in connection with government and public works (Hull 1913). Where literacy had previously been an exclusive domain of the priesthood, the British schools provided the new Parsi youth with the means to not only learn to read and write, but also to be educated in the greater sense of the term and become familiar with the quirks of the British establishment. These latter qualities were enormously useful to Parsis since it allowed them to \”represent themselves as being like the British,\” which they did \”more diligently and effectively than perhaps any other South Asian community\” (Luhrmann 2002, p. 861). In turn, it allowed the British, who were otherwise quite convinced of their racial and intellectual superiority, to deal with the other native communities through the offices of the Parsis. While the British saw the other Indians, \”as passive, ignorant, irrational, outwardly submissive but inwardly guileful\” (Luhrmann 1994, p. 333), the Parsis were seen to have the traits that the colonial authorities tended to ascribe to themselves. Mandelslo (1638) saw them as \”diligent\”, \”conscientious\” and \”skillful\” in their mercantile pursuits. Similar observations would be made by James Mackintosh, Recorder of Bombay from 1804 to 1811, who noted that \”the Parsees are a small remnant of one of the mightiest nations of the ancient world, who, flying from persecution into India, were for many ages lost in obscurity and poverty, till at length they met a just government under which they speedily rose to be one of the most popular mercantile bodies in Asia\” (Loc. cit. Darukhanawala & Jeejeebhoy 1938, p. 33).

    In the 18th and 19th centuries the Parsis had emerged as \”the foremost people in India in matters educational, industrial, and social. They came in the vanguard of progress, amassed vast fortunes, and munificently gave away large sums in charity\” (Dhalla 1948, p. 483)[citation needed]. By the close of the 19th century, the total number of Parsis in colonial India was 85,397, of which 48,507 lived in Bombay, constituting 6% of the total population of the city (Census, 1881)[citation needed]. This would be the last time that the Parsis would be considered a numerically significant minority in the city.\”

  10. 49 · redr said

    24 · Valmiki said
    When has there been a pogrom against the koreans or jews in America?
    Who do you think owned all those stores that you watched people loot on TV during the Rodney King riots? Sure, the National Guard showed up and put an end to it before it could become a full-fledged “pogrom,” but perhaps it’s time to re-watch Do The Right Thing.

    Was not just blacks looting dude,you had white,Mexican and blacks out there looting and acting an ass. Pogrom it was not you giving us blacks here in America way too much power.

  11. 55 · JGandhi said

    The Indian left so despises Hinduism they thinks its inappropriate for Hindus to be proud of their own tardition of tolerance. We are now at a point where it is politically incorrect for Hindus to be proud of being tolerant, because that hurts the feelings of those who are less tolerant.

    Another fine example of hindutva deceit. Show us where the indian left objects to the \\\\”tradition of tolerance\\\\” in hinduism? What you are deviously trying to distract attention from are the legitimate criticisms of hindu traditions like hereditary casteism, untouchability, mistreatment of widows and so on.

  12. Wierdos battling wierdos. SM has started looking like the climax of the Incredible Hulk. Why has the quality of comments gone down so much.

  13. 27 · Talwar said

    Indian Army should have carved out a separate country for them. This gandhi(fraud) worshipping garbage by indian \”leaders\” allowed savages to act this way. If Indian army had acted, it would have knocked them out in no time flat.

    You have a highly delusional assessment of the Indian Army\’s capabilities.

  14. 46 · MoorNam saidA society that\’s resentful of monetary-only integration will collapse in violence – like Uganda or Nazi Germany.

    Nonsense. For your information Nazi Germany did not collapse. It was destroyed in by its external enemies, primarily the Communist Soviet Union. The nazi system performed very well economically, to the point of being deemed an economic miracle pre-WWII. Similarly Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and many other nations have done exceedingly well without \”monetary-only integration\” of an economically dominant minority. That should tell you something.

  15. 56 · uma said

    I’m skipping over the tangential discussions of the RSS and the Indian left which seem to have very little to do with this book. I just want to thank you for your post about Child of Dandelions, Sandhya. Here’s to Shenaaz for writing the novel, and to Stephen Roxburgh of Front Street for publishing it. In a children’s/YA publishing market that is growing increasingly more cautious and less open to books seen as “niche” it’s a joy to see this history explored for a teenaged audience.

    I want to second Uma’s comment. I’m delighted to see a YA book that looks at real issues and goes off the beaten publishing path of what is “acceptable” for South Asian authors to explore.

  16. To Valmiki, I will show you where. The left beat their breasts over the Gujarat riots oops massacre, but not one word about the rights of the displaced Kashmiri pandits. Oh yeah, the left is sooo tolerant, I guess the people of Nandigram will have something to say on that. BTW, no platitudes from the “secular” brigade on Nandigram. Narendra Modi is so vilified by the secular Stalinists..err I mean progressives. But no sermons against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee?

    When Bal “moron” Thackeray shoots himself in his foot calling fot Hindu fidayeen squads the left uses that to demonize Hindutva. But, when Imam Bukahri says something to the effect “Muslims have ruled India for 800 years,and we will do so again”, oops no howls from the left. And BTW, if Hindutva is so bad why is Gujarat doing so much better than Bengal, leftist paradise that it is? And maybe the story on the “persecuted” Gujurati Muslim tailor returning to the evil “Hindutva” Gujarat from the secular Stalinist paradise of Bengal must have surely missed your attention.

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1071015/asp/nation/story_8436249.asp

    Do some reading and research before shooting your mouth off.

  17. desidude:

    will show you where. The left beat their breasts over the Gujarat riots oops massacre, but not one word about the rights of the displaced Kashmiri pandits. Oh yeah, the left is sooo tolerant, I guess the people of Nandigram will have something to say on that. BTW, no platitudes from the “secular” brigade on Nandigram. Narendra Modi is so vilified by the secular Stalinists..err I mean progressives. But no sermons against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee?

    Valmiki said this

    Another fine example of hindutva deceit. Show us where the indian left objects to the \\\\\\\”tradition of tolerance\\\\\\\” in hinduism? What you are deviously trying to distract attention from are the legitimate criticisms of hindu traditions like hereditary casteism, untouchability, mistreatment of widows and so on.

    and the examples you quoted are of “double standards”. They don’t necessarily refute his claim that left does not object to the “tradition of tolerance” in hinduism.

  18. The racism is always so high in this forum that I don’t think so much of leaving a comment as I do of dropping a bomb to exterminate a batch of racists — even though there will always be another horde to fill in for the downed ones. However, one can’t drop actual bombs, so a comment is all that can be left.

    Invade Uganda with the Indian Army to seize control of Ugandan land away for its African people for Indians? Well, maybe that is the idea that other Indians had and that is why the Ugandans responded so violently. Realizing they had such (generalized) racists among them, they recognized they had to act quickly before they were attacked. Too bad the Fijians didn’t respond that way early on.

    Europe couldn’t invade a country that so welcome the whiff of white people. And the fact is that Africa is a FAR more resource rich place than is Indian, with masses of cultures no less ‘honorable’ or ‘cultivated’ than India. Huge swaths of many African countries were worth far more in resources than ten Indias — call centers hadn’t been developed then.

  19. 8 · Kolmogaurav said

    Call me shallow, but a beautiful cover like that makes me want to buy a book. The excerpts in Sandhya’s post seal the deal, especially the one regarding the ethnic Indians’ attitude towards black Africans.

    It’s very unfortunate, but the Indians over there are very arrogant. The Indians of Africa live in very secluded environments, they don’t make any efforts of integration, and worst of all, they snub their noses at the indigenous Africans. They seem to have a colonist’s mindset when they come to countries like Kenya, Tanzania, etc. One of my friends has family whose lived in Tanzania for 4-5 generations, and she even mentioned this to me.

    In Southern India, there is a colony of mostly French people called Auroraville. The Europeans there came legally, however, they segregate themselves from their swarthier Indians. There is even a “Blacktown” as well as a “Whitetown” over there, and the Indians have a lot of resistance to come over to “Whitetown” and own property, start businesses, etc. Finally, the French over there don’t regard themselves as Indian, don’t speak Hindi/Tamizh/English!

    How would this make you feel?

  20. 28 · Suki Dillon said

    Most places when immigrants or minority groups are more successful then the majority there will be alot of unhappy people. But for some reason this was not a problem for the Parsi community when it came from Iran to India.

    The Parsis only amassed great fortunes during the British Raj because (1) they weren’t Hindus or Muslims, and (2) they adopted English quickly. If Parsis were more numerical, I’m sure that there would be a lot more resentment since the Parsis discriminate darker skinned people from adopting their religion. You’re only a Parsi if BOTH your parents are Parsis. However, Wadhia’s (of Bombay Dyeing fame) grandfather was a Muslim – Mohammad Ali Jinnah! So they make exceptions based on pigmentation, wealth, and socio-economic status, apparently.

  21. If Parsis were more numerical, I’m sure that there would be a lot more resentment since the Parsis discriminate darker skinned people from adopting their religion. You’re only a Parsi if BOTH your parents are Parsis.”

    According to my Parsi contact, Parsi-ism is determined by the father–similar to the Nazi rule, come to think of it. My acquaintance had a Parsi father, German-American mother. When she tried to enter the tent during a service in Delhi, they alarmedly steered her away and she had to explain. The Parsis varied, some looked Persianish, but quite a few were not markedly different from Indians in color and type, so I doubt color is a bar or an advantage to being Parsi, but maybe there’s a Parsi “look” perceptiable to the initiates. Still, obviously they intermarried with Indians at some point in history, because a lot of them look Indian. However, like Jews, Yazidis, even some Orthodox, the religion is an ethnic identity. Without it, you lose your raison d’etre.

  22. 39 · lostone said

    I was kicked out of uganda for confusing Idi Amin.. with Idi appam..

    Excellent!

  23. According to my Parsi contact, Parsi-ism is determined by the father–similar to the Nazi rule, come to think of it. My acquaintance had a Parsi father, German-American mother. When she tried to enter the tent during a service in Delhi, they alarmedly steered her away and she had to explain. The Parsis varied, some looked Persianish, but quite a few were not markedly different from Indians in color and type, so I doubt color is a bar or an advantage to being Parsi, but maybe there’s a Parsi “look” perceptiable to the initiates. Still, obviously they intermarried with Indians at some point in history, because a lot of them look Indian. However, like Jews, Yazidis, even some Orthodox, the religion is an ethnic identity. Without it, you lose your raison d’etre.

    From the net, I got “Can you convert to Zoroastrianism? The official answer, which is given by the Parsi priestly hierarchy in Bombay, and supported by a large number of traditional Zoroastrians, is NO. In order to be a Zoroastrian, you must be born of two Zoroastrian parents.”

    I’m convinced that if your Parsi friend were not half German, but instead, half Ugandan, the Parsi priests (i.e. Magi) would not have been so liberal and kind. Also, if Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the fair-skinned Ismaeli father of Pakistan, were not who he was, but instead, a cab driver/rickshaw driver, than Nusli Wadia would NOT have been allowed into the Parsi clique.

  24. Nobody calls out boston_mahesh on his/her BS?? But I like the matter of fact kind of tone in the comments :-)

  25. 74 · RC said

    Nobody calls out boston_mahesh on his/her BS?? But I like the matter of fact kind of tone in the comments :-)

    Where’s the BS in my comments? Everything that I said is truthful. Do don’t hate me because my city excels at basketball. Where are you from? LA?

  26. Hey hey – cool it, you two. Just because it’s Sunday and some of us have offline lives, doesn’t mean that things should get incivil here.

  27. Do don’t hate me because my city excels at basketball.

    17 titles in 63 seasons is that good. That 46 times the Celtics have failed to win a ring and 1 time in the last 22 seasons is a joke.

  28. Talwar, Maybe we can have an attitude like Ajax in the movie version of the Illiad and say “row, Greeks are dying” but there is very little if any strategic value in having geopolitical bases in another country based on the fact that your ethnicity needs to be protected. As someone with a military background and being in the military, I hope you give my opinion some value.
    As for moral reasons, we can beat our brows and talk about Indian pride, but the bottomline is that people make choices for themselves and you cannot sacrifice Indian soldiers for them…PERIOD!

    Suki, I’m a Cubs fan…

  29. 77 · Suki said

    Do don’t hate me because my city excels at basketball. 17 titles in 63 seasons is that good. That 46 times the Celtics have failed to win a ring and 1 time in the last 22 seasons is a joke.

    …must be from Cali.

  30. 35 · RahulD said

    18 · Valmiki said
    Similarly, the recent violence in Tibet was triggered by resentment of the tibetan buddhists towards the economically dominant Hui muslims.
    On a TOTALLY different topic. Is the term “bania” condescending or patronizing? There used to be this D**C*E N**ZLE of a Professor called Kancha Illiah, who would write about the Brahmin-Bania conspiracy, and wrote a weekly article filled with virulent hatred for the “bania”. Do Gujrati businessmen like being called “bania”? I’ve heard more of them referred to as “Saet”

    I’m also familiar with one Khalistani separatist who used a nom-de-guerre as “Gandasa” who often talked about the “Brahmin-Bania Conspiracy”. “Gandasa’s” real name may have been one Gurinder/Gurprinder Singh from Cornell University in ~’96, and he is a jatt Sikh. Very interesting and smart character with a wild sense of humour, but some times, he had a circular and inconsistent logic.

  31. Following your logic, shouldn’t we send Indian Troops to Indonesia and Malaysia to save the Tamilians of Indian origin there who are being persecuted including destroying their temples? To Dubai to ensure fair employment practices for the Keralites who voluntarily went there? Try thinking things through

    The fate and well-being of Indians overseas does to a certain degree lie in the hands of the govt. of India. Now, anyone (and I’m sure someone will) can argue that these people (of the older migration) are not Indian citizens anymore and thus merit no concern from the govt. or people of India.

    That is remarkably short-sighted and completely ignorant.

    We are children of the same sad history. It bothers me that people can’t see that.

    At home we are pinned as “Indians” by ethno-nationalists because we buy satellite dishes to catch programs from India and stay inside our houses to watch them.

    And when we’re amongst other South Asians (like this website) we constantly fear the rebuke of not being Indian enough.

    When will the rhetoric move past this? Can some media conglomerate in India do a reality show featuring Indians and set in Fiji, Uganda, S. Africa, Malaysia, W. Indies, N. America, & UK.

    eg. an Indian Road Rules? Throw in the travel component and let people see how Indian culture has taken root away from the subcontinent. I’m sure it would be a hit.

    I know… it’s just a dream. I doubt this production would ever be green-lighted, so I’ll just keep coming back to this website to read about how my ancestors ‘abandoned’ India.

  32. khoofia the hairy-backed quasimodo croaked:

    p.s. The lady on the cover cant be desi – the knuckles arent hairy – not even a roangta.

    Well she can’t be european. French women, for instance, must have the largest hand span on earth. I’ve often wondered if the appelation “frog” might not be appropriate because of this. Indian women have some of the prettiest hands in the world actually with their long piano fingers. I started noticing this some years back when even my somewhat squat by Indian standards fingers got compliments outside of India.

  33. I didn’t get a chance to read through all of the comments, seems like there’s a lot of deviating discussion. But just wanted to say thanks for shedding light on this book and this part of history which has never received the attention that it deserves. As a product of an Indian family who were born and raised in Uganda, I have been confused as to exactly what my heritage is. Whenever I am asked about my background I’m proud to say, “my ethnicity is Indian but I was born in America, and my family is from Uganda and now everyone resides in England.” The colorful history has everything to do with who I’ve become. Growing up we spoke a broken Gujarati interjected with various Swahili words. The stories my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles told of childhood near Lake Victoria sounded like paradise. But I’ve often seen a sadness in my parents’ faces — from no longer having a “home.” Where do they go? They’re not from India, not from America, nor are they from England (where my family eventually settled after the mass exodus). Imagine your home as a child and teenager taken away from you? And even if you are to return as an adult it will never be what it once was. It saddens me that, that part of my parents’ lives was taken from them and thousands of other Asians. They were successful and happy, not to mention the engine for Uganda’s economy — a country which was truly lost bc of Amin’s tyranny.

    But I am happy to report that a reunion has been in the works! Apparently, this October there will be a gathering in Jinja, of Asians who once lived and prospered in Uganda. For those who are interested in attending the reunion or just to make a connection with others who were a part of the community you can visit http://www.jinjaonline.moonfruit.com/.

  34. “Well she can’t be european. French women, for instance, must have the largest hand span on earth. I’ve often wondered if the appelation “frog” might not be appropriate because of this. Indian women have some of the prettiest hands in the world actually with their long piano fingers.”

    I should think the perfect piano player would be a sort of French-Indian combo–have a broad frog French hand-span (you learn the damndest things here) and long, Indian mantis fingers.

    now what were we talking about–oh yeah, Africa and Indians.

  35. I am going to clone/resurrect Idi Amin and make him the mascot of my theme park in Gurgaon. I will keep him compliant with a brain implant that shocks his frontal lobe if he shows any aggression towards anyone scented with sandal wood/hamam soap. He will be the court jester at Louiecypher’s Bouncy Castle.

  36. 84 · mad dogs and englishmen said

    “Well she can’t be european. French women, for instance, must have the largest hand span on earth. I’ve often wondered if the appelation “frog” might not be appropriate because of this. Indian women have some of the prettiest hands in the world actually with their long piano fingers.” I should think the perfect piano player would be a sort of French-Indian combo–have a broad frog French hand-span (you learn the damndest things here) and long, Indian mantis fingers. now what were we talking about–oh yeah, Africa and Indians.

    I play the piano, and I have tiny hands. But my tendons are so flexible that I have a much wider span than a lot of men with bigger hands than mine. I’ve been fortunate, since I can stretch about a tenth interval with my child-sized hands with bony fingers. It has allowed me to start attempting Rachmaninov with some measure of success.

  37. i find it hard to believe that the British would spend a considerable amount of time and effort to recruit a tiny minority to handle trade based on their slightly “lighter skin color” . the version i learned was that unlike the Hindus and Muslims, the Parsis had no taboos on dealing with Westerners. they didn’t require food prepared by a Brahmin or halal meat, had no problems mingling with lower castes or “kafirs”, and weren’t scared sh!tless of traveling in the Arabian Sea. their presence in Surat which was the major port when the Dishonourable Company rose to power and their willingness to adapt to British manners seem more likely reasons for their privileged position. Also, the British realized that such a tiny minority which was brought up from nothing had from that point forward to rely on British support, unlike Hindus or Muslims who weren’t numerically tiny.

    moving on, while the Indian government certainly has no obligation to help non-Indian citizens despite their background, such an action is not unprecedented. Germany repatriated several thousand ethnic Germans who had migrated to Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries. These Germans were sent to Siberia by Stalin where most perished, and the survivors were welcomed by Germany despite not having lived there for the past two hundred years. Similarly Japan is granting citizenship to non citizens of Japanese extraction

    I’m not sure how the Indian communities across Africa treated the blacks, but judging by dinner talk at Indian households today, I’m sure it wasn’t too positive. I’m sure the black anger was equally directed at the Brits and Indians (look at farm seizures in Zimbabwe today), but the British had the good sense to leave after independence.

    on a final note, do any of the posters here know how well Indians on average spoke Luganda or Swahili? (Beyond the basic phrases needed for business; after all, every black South African knew how to say “Ja, my baas”)

  38. 81 · Krish: The fate and well-being of Indians overseas does to a certain degree lie in the hands of the govt. of India. Now, anyone (and I’m sure someone will) can argue that these people (of the older migration) are not Indian citizens anymore and thus merit no concern from the govt. or people of India. That is remarkably short-sighted and completely ignorant.

    =============== Okay, I will expand my frame of reference then. I don’t even have to go far…Tamils in Sri Lanka…Indian government troops? I don’t see why expending Indian troops is such an easy thought for so many people. And I don’t know why people here insist on calling others “ignorant” or “have your head checked” just because they disagree with them. I believe that my point of view is hardly ignorant, but yours is that much less credible for having called mine that. Technically, if you went ahead and did DNA testing the way the Israelis do to determine citizenship there will end up being an immense number of people of “Indian Origin” to whom your logic would apply to!

  39. RahulD,

    “Ignorant” was not directed at you, I’m sorry you took it that way.

    It was more directed in a general sense.

    I am not sure how to respond to you because I’m not sure what your argument is exactly.

    What exactly is wrong with broadening the definition of Indian dual-citizenship (or similar recognition) to be inclusive of these peoples?

    Do you fear that they will return to their homeland and somehow become a burden on the state?

    Do you think it is not important to take these small symbolic measures that can help build bridges between these various groups and a shared history of sadness?

  40. 87 · Meena said

    I play the piano, and I have tiny hands. But my tendons are so flexible that I have a much wider span than a lot of men with bigger hands than mine. I’ve been fortunate, since I can stretch about a tenth interval with my child-sized hands with bony fingers. It has allowed me to start attempting Rachmaninov with some measure of success.

    Good show chap, but if you really want to impress, see how well those dexterous hands of yours can play Rachmaninov without a keyboard. Or a fretboard. Or anything for that matter- just the air in front of you.

  41. “I’ve been fortunate, since I can stretch about a tenth interval with my child-sized hands with bony fingers. It has allowed me to start attempting Rachmaninov with some measure of success.”

    Well that’s inspiring. I’ve always wanted to play. Had it on my to-do list for decades. Finally my niece just handed me down her Casio keyboard and I’m doing my best, but two Cs with one hand is an effort, what with with my so-so-span and moderate fingers.

  42. 92 · mad dogs and englishmen said

    “I’ve been fortunate, since I can stretch about a tenth interval with my child-sized hands with bony fingers. It has allowed me to start attempting Rachmaninov with some measure of success.” Well that’s inspiring. I’ve always wanted to play. Had it on my to-do list for decades. Finally my niece just handed me down her Casio keyboard and I’m doing my best, but two Cs with one hand is an effort, what with with my so-so-span and moderate fingers.

    There ia an easy solution :-)

  43. “they didn’t require food prepared by a Brahmin or halal meat, had no problems mingling with lower castes or “kafirs”, and weren’t scared sh!tless of traveling in the Arabian Sea.”.

    Not to mention Sag Harbor and the 19th century Nantucket whaling industry. Fedallah, the inscrutable Parsee in Moby Dick, was perhaps no anomaly. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Moby- Dick/Chapter_130

  44. There ia an easy solution :-)

    Awesome. So THAT’S how they do it! After I stopped laughing I wondered where I could buy some of those useful, cheatin’ contraptions. But I will endeavor to perfect my rendition of Frere Jacques without artificial assistance.

  45. “they didn’t require food prepared by a Brahmin or halal meat, had no problems mingling with lower castes or “kafirs”, and weren’t scared sh!tless of traveling in the Arabian Sea.”. Not to mention Sag Harbor and the 19th century Nantucket whaling industry. Fedallah, the inscrutable Parsee in Moby Dick, was perhaps no anomaly. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Moby- Dick/Chapter_130

    These are all generalizations based on the habits of North Indian merchants & Brahmins all over. Chettiars and similar S. Indian merchant castes did not have these hangups (pls note that I am not a Chettiar), sailed the Arabian seas and Indian ocean (how exactly did Indian culture disseminate across SE Asia if we were such homebodies?) but were not favored by the Brits. Armenians, Parsees, and Baghdadi Jews were favored and it is not hard to believe it was because of their “racial affinity” to the Brits given the race science bunk that was in vogue in the post-East India Co/direct rule days

  46. louiecypher: i agree that the Tamil derived scripts and Hindu influence in SE Asia is a testament to the South Indians’ seafaring expertise, but again I feel that the Parsis’ ability to adapt to British culture and cast aside customs prevalent in Gujarat was a major reason for their elevated status. As Surat was the main port at the time, the Brits needed reliable middlemen who could speak both Gujarati and Persian (the language of the rulers as well as the language the British interpreters spoke). I’m sure there were qualified Hindu and Muslim merchants capable of this, but the aforementioned taboos hindered business.

    IMO, the Armenians were preferred because they were Christian , and when the Baghdadis came in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, a large number of them were already successful businessmen. Unlike the Parsis who retained Gujarati, the Baghdadis became almost wholly Anglicized and soon replaced Arabic with English as their mother tongue, which no doubt played a major role in their status.

  47. 89 · RahulD said

    Technically, if you went ahead and did DNA testing the way the Israelis do to determine citizenship there will end up being an immense number of people of “Indian Origin” to whom your logic would apply to!

    In particular, you’d end up with pretty much the entire populations of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Adopting the principle that India should use military force to enforce certain standards of treatment of those peoples would, shall we say, complicate Indian foreign policy rather dramatically.

    There is, in the end, still a difference between ethnicity and nationality.

  48. Johnny Valker : My point is that Chettiars did not have those hangups you mention, and I am not just talking about 2000 years ago during the process of Indianization. Chettiars were mixing quite well with SE Asians well into the 20th century. There is no uniform Hinduism or sanctions

    People talk about Tata’s founding a hotel because he was barred entry into a hotel. Implicit in this story, but never brought up, was that Tata knew full well that the hotel was off limits to the “natives” but was expecting to be treated as a white man as he had been in other Brit establishments. But he, as were Armenians & Baghdadis,was “grey” (i.e. rather than White or Black) and how he was treated really depended on the whim of the local colonials. I am not saying this to diss Parsis, they are 100% Indian and have contributed so much to the country

  49. Unlike the Parsis who retained Gujarati, the Baghdadis became almost wholly Anglicized and soon replaced Arabic with English as their mother tongue, which no doubt played a major role in their status.

    Parsis did not retain Gujarati any longer than it took for their community to replace it with English…a process which obviously wasn’t going to happen overnight and which is why you still meet (mostly elderly) Parsis who speak Gujarati. BUT the younger generation (I would say most people under 40 and even many older than 40) by and large can not speak Gujarati.