A compelling chronicle of what it means to be Indian in a foreign land. In an age when India is one of the strongest emerging markets and a developing superpower, tens of thousands of lndians leave the country each year to seek new lives on distant shores. What are they looking for and what do they really find?
In a first-of-its-kind narrative, journalist Simran Chawla documents the contemporary Indian immigrant experience in various corners of the world - from Alaska to the UK, Europe to Africa, the Americas to the Middle East. In this book, she tells the story of families like the Singhs who farm in the heartland of Italy just south of Verona; discovers the lucrative Indian wedding industry in the Gulf or United Arab Emirates; learns about the community of 'a unties' in Orlando who have found meaning in their lives once again by organizing sewing get-togethers; watches a cricket match between diamond traders in Antwerp; and explores the heartbreaking price of living illegally in London.
In engaging, affecting prose, Seare / ling/or Home recounts the experiences of people who, though separated by thousands of kilometers, share experiences that continue to bind them to their homeland.
Simran Chawla was born and raised in Virginia, and has a journalism degree from George Washington University and a postgraduate degree from City University London. After working with the National Geographic Society in her early career, she now works at King's College London. Her writing about the Indian immigrant experience has appeared in magazines like Washingtonian and Elle. Simran lives near London with her husband. This is her second book.
The idea for this book was born one night at a dinner party in London.
Just married and new to the city, I was introduced to a petite young woman, the wife of a good friend of my husband's. Of a cheerful disposition, Preety's shock of black curls bounced as she chatted animatedly, her hands fluttering to drive home a point. Her melodic accent was one 'I simply couldn't place. 'It's French,' she explained, twirling a finger around the rim of a glass of water. 'I learned to speak French before English.' Her lyrical voice and diction revealed a unique cocktail of accents: French, British and even Gujarati, the mother tongue of her parents.
'Everyone speaks French in Madagascar,' she elaborated. 'That's where I'm from.'
I could see why our respective husbands had introduced us to each other.
Like me, a person of Indian heritage who had recently married a British Indian and moved to London from my home near Washington, DC, Preety had married and moved here from Madagascar. Instantly connecting over our marriage- related migrations, we laughed together, commiserating with each other over the generally dismal local weather and our endless commutes on the Underwound. I shared with her my curiosity about the Indian population in London and just how unfathomably large it seemed to be.
'There are many Indians in Madagascar too,' she acknowledged.
I shouldn't have been surprised to hear that, but I was. I knew the Indian diaspora comprised large communities of Indians living across the world - in the United Kingdom, the Gulf, North America and East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania and earlier, in Uganda. But I had never heard of an Indian community in Madagascar. That Indians had chosen to relocate there made perfect sense when you looked at a map, but for someone with very little knowledge of Madagascar, it seemed as random a destination as Charleston in the American state of West Virginia, where my own family had originally moved from New Delhi.
I've always entertained a romantic notion of the path my parents' lives must have followed as they emigrated in their twenties from India to America. While their circumstances were not unique - the 1960s and '70s were a time of great Indian emigrations to America - for me, their life as a young couple unfolds like an adventure. I cannot help but admire their spirit, living as they did in an era predating the Internet and the setting up of global networks that have ironed out the hitches of travel and made staying connected a nearly effortless and trouble-free endeavour. In my eyes, they were truly courageous to leave their families behind and set forth on a journey into the unknown with the earnest desire of creating a new life in a foreign country.
It almost makes me wonder: what were they thinking? My own emigration from America to the United Kingdom after getting married is still something I'm getting used to, even after nearly eight years. I still struggle with my feelings at the airport when I'm leaving after a visit to my parents' home. I smile and exchange jokes with them as we prolong our goodbyes as close to airport security as is allowed, then cry as I go down the escalator, out of their range of vision. Before we part, my dad tries to bring a smile to my face.
'Beta,' he says with a grin, 'pahaunch kay khath bhej dena [send me a letter once you've reached home.]'
I can't imagine how my parents managed to leave their homes with such limited means of communication available at the time, sending handwritten messages to their families on sheets of blue airmail which would take 15 days or more to travel from one home to another.
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