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THE GREAT INDIAN DIASPORA

Bikram Vohra

Over 24 million Indians live outside their home country, arguably the largest ongoing migration in the world. What makes it so wonderful is the diversity of the flow. Manpower and brainpower, expertise and acumen form this global diaspora and make it unique in history. There used to be a joke that the reason why Indians did not play football was that if you gave them a 'corner' they would open a teashop. The humour of that sporting reference to Indian enterprise has lost none of its significance. On the contrary, it is the strength and bedrock of the many-splendoured successes of the Indian wanderlust. Indeed, the beginnings were humble. Indians not only built teashops but created empires right across the globe. Are we proud to be Indians? Yes, indeed, because no disapora has ever come close to this kind of global spread and endured so much hardship, sacrifice and deprivation and yet maintained its customs and traditions through the centuries.

The great Indian diaspora is not a 20th century phenomenon. On the contrary, even though historians would say it was force-fed in that the colonial powers compelled their colonized populations to be shipped out as cheap labour, the adventurous spirit was always there. Over the past four hundred years the trade winds blew favourably across the west coast and the seafaring Indians of the Malabar Coast right upto Gujarat and Kutch generated enough mobility to move free Indians doing business all the way to North Africa, West to the rich trading grounds of the exotic Byzantine complex of the Middle East and the Gulf. From the east coast of India, in later years, Indians also moved towards the Orient, the connections with Chinese commerce creating durable business. If some of that business was in human cargo, it was regrettable but in those times, human beings were bought and sold and despicable as it seems, it was this transfer of manpower that forms the core of the Indian spread on the 21st century globe. The entrepreneur and the trader, the businessman and the skilled professional came much later.

It is the descendents of these luckless but definitely hardy and intelligent people, who moved from the backbreaking labour in the crop fields and in the ports and on the plantations into the realm of intellectual pursuit. The Indian mind, even when enslaved, was of exceptional quality and rose sharply to position itself as incomparable in the disciplines of mathematics, languages, economics, planning and honesty. The last was, by no means, a giveaway label. This innate honesty and the inbred acceptance of hierarchical authority, often misinterpreted in modern times as weakness rather than a teutonic fondness for order, gave Indians a leading edge. They moved swiftly up the ladder, excelling in organizing business, in bargaining with logic and steadfastness and always ensuring that they did not cheat their employer. In these formative centuries of the Indian diaspora, the Indian stamina for mental exercise became a hallmark of the community's worth and its favoured status. Indians meant good output and minimum hassle.

These traits have endured the test of time. By that token the Indian's unquenchable desire to identify with the home country has never diminished. Even tenth generation immigrants maintain the same values and traditions as does the home country, often with more fervour and commitment.

I am reminded here of the famous lines of poetry:

Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said,
This is my own, "my native land."

In the poem he retraces his footsteps back to the land of his forefathers. We too, as Indians abroad, engage in a continual effort to hark back to our roots, to be one again with the mother country. India's triumphs bring joy to our hearts, India's pain echoes within us. This need to be one with our roots has been at the core of the Indian global movement. And we have succeeded admirably. Our habits, our food, our festivals, our prayers invoke the priorities that have survived centuries and the richness of that tapestry is the worldwide legacy we have given to our children. And, to do that, it then becomes incumbent upon the administrations in our home country to fully appreciate the texture of this huge flock outside the pen and to shepherd its talents, its skills and bring them within the parameters of the nation, for the nation.




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