Journey from India

Everyone was probably told a different story. There are many tales passed down from great great grandparents to their children, and down five or six generations later, to us. They are stories of our ancestors and should not be forgotten. They were handed down to us for safekeeping. More importantly, they are as important to who we really are, as who we think we are. We might be English, Scottish, Welsh, Canadian, Americans, Trinidadians, Guyaneese, Bajans, Jamacians, Grenadians, or any other nationality, or any mixture, but we are Indians who were taken or left India up to a century and a half ago. Most of us are unable to trace our roots because there is no record, or traceable record - no place to begin. It doesn't matter. The stories matter however. They fill in the gaps.

My great grandmother is the one who I remember. She passed down the story of how her mother was stolen from a village in India and was taken on a long journey to the ship. The ships were leaving the Calcutta docks for the a place where they would only eat sugar. All they had to do was sift sugar, they were told.

Everyone might have gone on the same journey, by ship, but the experiences would have been different. The reasons also would be different. Not everyone was "stolen". Some made a conscious decision to leave India. Others were persuaded to leave. Others were forced as adults to leave as outcasts.

Do you know your own ancestoral stories? Do you have living relatives who might enlighten you? Are you willing to share your stories?

12th April 2010

I am slowly hearing from Indians from different parts of the western world. Today, an email from someone in New York, pleased to hear of the novel. I must stress that I am still editing the book. It is not yet published.

I am pleased to hear from everyone, and I hope that anyone interested in this book will continue to email me, read the blogs, and post a comment.

Many who have been in touch with me, are those whose great, great grandparents took that fateful journey from India to the Caribbean over a hundred years ago. They are Indians who were brought up in the Caribbean, on one of the many islands, British, French and Spanish, or Guyana (British Guiana) or Surinam (Dutch Guiana), on mainland South America. These people, whose grandparents struggled financially, culturally and otherwise, to make a living for themselves and a better life for their children, who in turn made further improvements for their children, continue to do so wherever they are. Many of them are further scattered in the USA, Canada and the UK, and continue to be a people to be proud of.

Many Caribbean Indians (often called Indo-Caribbean, but there is a flavour to this word I am not partial to), are quiet about their background, their country of origin, not because they are ashamed of it, though they might well be, but because others often respond with surprise. Something like, "Oh, you don't look West Indian." That is another story... Not all West Indians originated in Africa. Some of the islands are very multi-racial - Trinidad and Togabo in particular, where my novel God of the Cocoa is set, and where the second one Out of the Cocoa, will be also set.

Well, not all Indians were stolen from India as children, though I have heard this story over and over again. Many took the decision to leave India for economic reasons, during the mid to late 19C. Going to work
in the sugar (to sift sugar) was seen as huge opportunity. For many, that opportunity only realised a hundred years later... but the whole world had moved on by then, and they had moved off! Yes, their times were extremely difficult as Indentured Indians.

West Indian History books are full of  all their troubles: the illnesses, their deaths and that of their children, the squalid conditions the immigrants were expected to put up with, the unbelievably cramped conditions - twelve to a small room, the pittance of a pay at 8 cents a day on some islands.

Some of this is portrayed in God of the Cocoa, but not so much as to weigh it down with endless suffering. It is a work of fiction. The struggle is evident, but they are resourceful people, and there is much hope as well as intrigue. Learning to live as an Indian in a place which is essentially British is difficult for the earlier generations, but the advantages become evident none too soon for the more modern generation of the 1940's. From then on there is no turning back, but it takes more than one generation to change the customs of a culture as ancient as that of India.