The Gujarati family in Madras

This fading, tattered photograph carries in it the story of my Gujarati lineage’s courage and survival instincts - and how they came to call a south Indian city, Madras (now Chennai) their home - an antithesis to their familiar north Indian environment. This photograph taken by a professional photographer in 1952, is indeed the oldest family photograph we possess. While it is a rich a source of family memory, time has been harsh to it.

Continue Reading

In quest of a heritage

In 1910, seeking new work opportunities , my grandfather, a 17 year old, came to South Africa by ship along with two of his brothers. Ship records indicate that the journey from the Indian shores to South Africa may have taken about 40 days. After arriving in SA, my grandfather began working as labourer and in 1912, he married my grandmother Roshan Hashim. We don't know very much about my grandmother’s background, except that her family was from Rander, a district in Surat, and her father’s name was Hashim Rasool Sheikh.

Continue Reading

The man who left home to become a renowned monk

The man who left home to become a renowned monk
My great grandfather (seated left) with an unidentified radio interviewer. Location Unknown. Circa 1960

My great grandfather (seated left) with an unidentified radio interviewer. Location Unknown. Circa 1960 Image and Narrative contributed by Nupur Nanal, Pune My maternal great grandfather, Mr. Bhaskar Gangadhar Athalye owned a dairy farm in Borivali, Bombay (now Mumbai), and lived in a rented home in Shivaji Park with his wife and eight children. The dairy farm came to an abrupt halt when his entire cattle died due to a disease. (This information is unverified but he supposedly helped draft the plan for the now well known Aarey Milk Co-operative). Around 1940, with communal tensions abound, the family travelled to Baroda, Gujarat to attend a wedding and since Baroda was relatively safe from the communal turmoil and violence, he decided to extend the stay and keep his family there and look for some work. But a job interview in Delhi didn’t go as planned because of a conflict in political beliefs. It seems that my great grandfather decided to go on travelling and visited various parts of the country. He even wrote letters to the family regularly, for a year. No one really knows what happened after because, in what was to be the ‘last letter’, in 1943, he suddenly announced a shocking decision to the family that he was no longer going to return and that he had decided to follow a spiritual path. Signed as his sanyasi (monk) name, Swami Bhaskarananda Paramhansa, there was no further correspondence with the family. I am told, in 1953, a family friend spotted him at the mass Hindu pilgrimage, Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, UP and called out to him by his family name Raja. He discovered that my great grandfather was…

Continue Reading

A family’s most prized and proud possession

A family’s most prized and proud possession
My great grandfather, Maganlal Mistry, Sidhpur District, Bombay Presidency (now Gujarat). Circa 1920

My great grandfather, Maganlal Mistry, Sidhpur District, Bombay Presidency (now Gujarat). Circa 1920 Image and Narrative contributed by Hemant Suthar and family, Mumbai / Ahmedabad This picture of my great grandfather Maganlal Mistry was taken in the 1920s and it is is one of the family’s most prized possessions - our connection to our roots. The photograph was taken to be sent to his brothers working in Ethiopia, Africa, and was hand colored with photo inks in 1937. It is interesting how the colouring is limited to his turban, we reckon it is because colouring of photographs was quite an expensive and sought after artistic skill at the time. My ancestors belonged to a village called Samoda in the region of Sidhpur (now in Gujarat) and they were exceptionally skilled wood carvers, in-layers and carpenters. The early 20th century was a time when many men (and women) from the Indian Subcontinent went to Africa to find work and make their fortunes. At first, my great grandfather Maganlal’s two brothers followed suit. They travelled by boat to the shores of the African continent and they found work as carpenters in the north east region of Africa, the Ethiopian Empire called Abyssinia at the time. The money was good, and they invited my great grandfather to join them there. However, Maganlal chose to stay on at home and began working as a government contractor building schools. Soon his work extended to several villages nearby. Maganlal, my great grandfather was not educated but he had learnt to write his name for signing building contracts. In his later years, he was made a member of P.W.D. (Public Works Department) Sidhpur office, and worked…

Continue Reading

Mixed marriages of the Indian Subcontinent and Africa

Mixed marriages of the Indian Subcontinent and Africa
My wife's aunt & uncle. Circa 1930s. Kenya [Composited with an colour background at a later date]

My wife's aunt & uncle. Circa 1930s. Kenya [Composited with an colour background at a later date] Image & Narrative contributed by Krishan Lal, Kenya with help from his son Dileep Nagpal This image is of my wife’s relatives in Kenya as a reference to the narrative below. In the late 19th century, an enterprising and adventurous Parsi Indian Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee left Karachi (now Pakistan) and sailed to Australia. As a house-to-house hawker, he managed to gain some knowledge of the English language and eventually migrated to East Africa in 1890. There, he established contact with British investors who were looking for some help to manage the planned Uganda Railways. After five years, Jeevanjee was awarded the contract to recruit Indian labourers from Punjab,  to build the Uganda Railways in Kenya  and the IBEAC (Imperial British East Africa Company) began building the railways construction from Kilindini Harbour, Mombasa. Beginning 1891, thousands of the Indian 'coolies'  (today this word is considered a racial slur in many African countries), mainly Sikhs & Punjabis, were recruited for a three-year-contract to build Kenya Uganda Railways. Almost all of them came alone, leaving their wives in India. One of the reasons why Indian labourers, instead of locals, were recruited was that the British faced severely hostility from the citizens of that country. The Indians on the other hand were there purely for economical reasons. They were also strong, tough and reliable hard workers and had previous experience with construction of building railways, roads, bridges and canals in India. In Kenya though, they had to face several hardships. Living in huddled groups in tents, they worked tirelessly to clear thick jungles, and break routes through hills…

Continue Reading
Close Menu