As someone that is part of a diaspora community who has never said the words “back home” to refer to cultural or familial practices, going to visit India was never something I was sentimental about.
The last 3 generations of my family were all born and raised in different continents, a courtesy of the British Empire – my grandparents were born, raised in and then left British India as young adults; my parents were born, raised in and then left Zambia/Malawi (British run Southern Rhodesia/Nyasaland till 1964) as young adults and I am born, raised in and not actively planning on leaving the UK as a young adult or otherwise.
My grandfather was very pragmatic and didn’t believe in looking back and impressed on my father that there was nothing left in India for our family save some ancestral farmlands, a future he did not want for his children or future generations. This was something that his father also wished for him as he sent him off to Africa with just £30 in his pocket, an education (which my great grandfather forged his date of birth to make sure he got) and a set of instructions on how to make his way to his employer in Zambia.
So when my family decided that they wanted to visit India, I was baffled as to why, but at the same time the lure of visiting a new place (the furthest I would have travelled to date at that point) outweighed the fear of the horror stories I had heard about so called ‘delhi-belly’, the smells of Mumbai and of hole in the ground toilets and a lack of indoor plumbing in the villages.
But what a trip it was!
From the sights, smells and confusion of Mumbai, to the villages of my origins in Gujarat, through to the rich Mughal history in the Golden Triangle in the North – it was an assault on my senses, a lesson in humility and an opening to a rich history so sadly glossed over by a traditional Western education.
Before I visited India, my knowledge of the geography and the history of the country was limited to knowing that it was a commonwealth country, the Taj Mahal was there, where Gujarat was on its map and that Ghandi was from the same state as my family. I don’t think i’ll ever have the ‘back home’ connect that most of my friends have, but I’m glad to say that I am now not completely ignorant of my heritage.