Oct 30, 2010

Is your distant cousin in Indonesia, aunt in South Africa and grandfather in West Indies?

My Canadian friend boasts of his ancestry to be a mix of Scottish and Norwegian. But I’m more than glad of what I am, and what my genes are composed of. 

The first humans on earth are said to have originated in Africa/ India 70,000 years ago. This has been bolstered by the tests done on the tribes of a village in Tamil Nadu, India who all carry the M130 gene which is one of the oldest genes of the humans. Dravidian (people of South India, majorly) gene characteristics have been preserved relatively well, unmixed with other races for a very long time. But that doesn't infer that Indians, in general remained intact their places and did not migrate. The country has seen huge waves of migrations throughout its long history.

Madras in 1925

The capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is Madras (Chennai). There is also a city called Madras in the Oregon state of the US. There is a Madras Street in Canterbury, New Zealand. There is a Madras Road in Cambridge, England and also in Glasgow, Scotland. There is a Madras Place in Islington, England and also in Glasgow, Scotland. There is a Madras Way in Southern River,  Australia and a Madras Crescent in Port Kennedy, Australia and a Madras settlement road in Cunupia, Trinidad. How on earth did these places in different corners of the world get the name of an Indian city?? Was it because of contemporary immigrants, or because of a historical settlement of a much older time? We don't have an idea. Had family trees been piously created and preserved by our ancestors, we could have had an answer today.

Hungarian Gypsies
Since ancient times, migrations to different countries have been pretty common and significant in India. During the recent centuries, the British had been responsible for such migrations, and now IT MNCs like Infosys, TCS and Accenture are! One of the most significant migrations after 1100 CE was from the state of Rajasthan and the Sindh region towards the west into Europe. They are the 11 million of those people that are scattered around the world today, who are none other than the Romani people or the Gypsies. Between 11th and 13th centuries CE, when the Chola Kingdom was in its height of power, they sent their fleet to and captured the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia) and Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. A huge emigration to South East Asia and a cultural mix happened during this period. During the Battle of Manila in 1762, the British used massive troops from Madras and this caused subsequent migrations into Philippines. Finally, the Abolition of slavery act seemed to have written the destiny of the Indian diaspora across the whole world in the following decades.

Immigrant Indians in Guyana ca. 1850
Since the abolition of slavery act left a void of laborers in their colonies, starting from the 19th century, the Britishers orchestrated the successive migrations, in the name of indentures. The first wave was in 1834 when Indentured workers from India (Bhojpuris) were sent to Mauritius to work in the sugarcane fields. (A century earlier, the Tamil construction workers had been sent here, by the French). Now these people form 70% of the country’s population. In 1838, another huge migration of indentured workers was initiated by the British. Starting with Guyana, there was an influx of over half a million to the Caribbean islands (Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, etc.). Most of them were from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, while people from Tamil Nadu forming the majority in Guadeloupe and Martinique. 1860 saw the first substantial migration to South Africa, of which the majority were from Tamil Nadu, forming a population of 1 Million today. In the later years, the Sikhs from the Punjab region were recruited in the British Indian army and most of them were working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. During Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 1897, they got to visit Canada, and this attracted a huge migration into Canada and the US. After independence, many Punjabis migrated to the UK mainly in the 1950s. Today, over 4.5 million of Sikhs live outside India. All these Indian diaspora have been complemented by immigration of professionals since the 20th century. 

Indulge yourself in building your family tree and a little genealogy research. No wonder if you happen to find your distant cousin in Indonesia, aunt in South Africa and grandfather in West Indies today!

"Do you know the name of your great grandfather’s father?"

A conversation with an average man:
"Do you know about the lives of the mighty Indian kings of the Chola kingdom and their history"?
"History about the kings?? Who cares about a king who ruled my country 1000 years ago? He is not related to me by any means. I’m an earnest family man. It’s a competitive world. I care only about my family. And I don't feel bad to be selfish."
"Agreed. So only your family is important for you. OK, so what is the name of your great grandfather's father?"

"Well.. Err….. ?!?!?!?????!!"

If indifference to history is reasoned to be because of selfishness, what could be one good reason behind not even knowing one’s own family’s history?

Genealogy is the study of family histories and tracing lineages. I’ve known 5 generations above my ancestral tier. It’s not just a hobby that is exciting and satisfying, but it also brings out a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations. With the emergence of social media sites like Facebook, the concept of "building one's network" has become so popular. Many genealogy sites like ancestry.com have also sprouted. These sites help you build your own family tree where you can create a profile with all information for each of your family members and ancestors. Sparing a few moments of your Facebook time and building your family tree with a little research could yield wonders (you can brag about your ‘big network’ here as well!). In the course of time, you may even end up tracing back your ancestry to ancient kings and even to different countries! Hitherto unknown family connections (with other users' family trees) can be uncovered too. It would be extremely interesting and satisfying (unless it happens that you discover your girlfriend to be your distant cousin :P)

It is very common in many Asian cultures to celebrate death anniversaries in commemoration of deceased family members. During such anniversaries, it is typical to do rituals in front of old photos of the deceased ancestor with offerings of all the food dishes which were the ancestor's favorites during his/her life time. Sometimes, the rituals continue with a food offering to cows and crows too. And after the rituals, the “offered” food is devoured in its full amounts by all the relatives who attend the ceremony. Rather than just seeing this as a ceremony just for the heck of it and for eating a sumptuous line up of food varieties, it could be rationally used for discussing about the life of the ancestor and making the young generation draw inspiration out of it! Here, the long tradition of ancestor worship is not being condemned, but rather it is insisted that a death anniversary should not just stop with a customary ritual. Instead, it should be a starting point to a worthy learning of a lifetime to younger generations! With the ancestors being consciously remembered and learnt from, every year, can there be a better way to make their souls rest in peace?

Today there are over 25 million people of Indian origin, who live in different countries of the world. They have emigrated to the Malay archipelago, South Africa, Caribbean islands, Canada, US, UK, Australia and to many other countries. But most of these people have lost their Indian identity, ethnic authenticity and forgot their ancestral connections. Blame them not, when someone in your household doesn’t know the name of your great grandfather’s father. 
Oh, is that YOU I’m referring to, here?!

Oct 12, 2010

My Naadi astrology experience- a truly bewitching one- Part II

(continued from my previous post)

As I was totally immersed into reading the article on the wall, I didn’t notice a hand coming towards my shoulder. “Tap!” 
Someone patted at my back. My contemplation was instantly disturbed. “Please stand in the queue!!”, a distant voice yelled. I joined the long queue stretching out to the street. Finally when it was my turn, I was taken to the ‘pooja’ (prayer) hall. As I entered, I was awestruck to see thousands of old palm leaves stocked inside a series of cupboards. A big picture of siddhar Agathiyar quickly caught my attention. Then my right thumb impression was taken on a small card and my initial and place of residence were also noted down on the card (my full name wasn’t asked). Then I was asked to wait in the lounge along with the rest of the crowd. Time rolled on, and lot of people in the lounge were called out at regular intervals, informing that their leaf had been identified. As for me, it had been two hours, and no news yet.

I was pondering about how I would prove to my friend that this is fake and convince him tonight. Soon it was lunch time, and I went for a light meal, and returned to the place again. I had whiled away five hours in that strange place, and no news yet! I sighed, and almost confirmed that this whole thing was just a poor old trick. Suddenly, one of the employees appeared in the lounge and called out, “Sanatorium – H, your leaf has been found. You may proceed to the room downstairs!”. Sanatorium was the place where I lived, and H is my initial. Yes, it was me. My palm leaf had been found out.

The story grips.  As I anxiously proceeded to the room, an astrologer who seemed religious with his simple outfits and a wide forehead fully covered with holy ash, beckoned me inside. He had a set of old, crippling palm leaves (written in vatteluthu Tamil script). He claimed one of those palm leaves to be mine (WHAT?!). He flipped through the hundreds of palm leaves in the set one by one, and read out some info. Every time before he moved on to the next leaf, he asked if any of the information was about me. After several such questions, he said he brought a wrong piece, and that he’d bring the right one. I could almost hear a loud cynical laugh from my deep insides.

He was back soon with a new set of palm leaves. He asked me so many yes-or-no questions and I almost lost interest in this game, and frantically shook my head for all his questions. As he flipped through the leaves, suddenly he uttered a name and questioned me if that was my dad’s name. I slowly raised my head, looked at him in astonishment and nodded. This was indeed the moment of truth. My dad has a very unique name that is often misspelled, but he uttered my dad’s name in its perfect spelling! I was totally flabbergasted how in the world my dad's name could have been written on that leaf! 

Then he sat back, now seemed even more poised, and said that he had identified my own naadi leaf. He continued reading an ancient incomprehensible Tamil poem from the leaf and I was put to shock again- I heard him uttering my mom’s name. He read on, to say that I’ve sought Naadi at my age of 21. ("well, it's not rocket science to say what my age was, after looking at me. But how come my dad and mom’s names?!") He read out a hymn as Agathiyar praising Lord Shiva, and then came my name, what I was studying, how many siblings I have, what my dad and mom’s professions were, etc, etc, etc. I had an uneasy feeling that I was starting to lose the battle. He read out the exact date when I was born, and all the planetary positions during my birth. He also added that I was born on a Friday. But to my joy, this one wasn't true! 

I quickly said to him that it was wrong and that I was almost sure that I was rather born on a Wednesday, and not a Friday. With a confident smile, he replied back that he was just reading what’s written on the leaf and asserted that the leaf says that I was born on a Friday and that couldn't be wrong. Then he continued reading. He started to read about my future- when I would start working, where and what will be my profession, whether and when I will fly to a foreign country, when would I get married, so on and so forth, up until the end of my life. I gasped at the moment he uttered my dad’s name, and I remember I breathed again only after he completed reading about my whole life.

Thousands of questions were spawning and proliferating in my mind, from several directions. Is this real, or am I still dreaming?? I could wake up right now, right at this moment and prove that this is all fake! But well, my excited heart rate asserts to me that I’m awake. This is happening for real. But how could it be possible? How could someone have written each and every detail about me, my family and my future, several thousand years ago? My senses were eating me for finding an answer, but in vain. After an hour’s time, I was given a notebook where the whole manuscript was copied on to.

This was truly a mind-boggling experience. All of these seemed to be unquestionably authentic and true, except for my day of birth. Interestingly, just this seemed to be wrong. I quickly sent a text message to my dad: “Dad, was I born on a Friday?!”. I was forced to think about all possible tricks that could have made this possible. I got reminded of a skill that a handful of people possess- ‘Mind-reading’. Some people are supposed to possess this extrasensory skill with which they could “pull out” words from one’s fresh memory. Before a mind-reader would tell what your name was, he would start with, “so, your name is...”. As your mind would be instantly waiting with your name to validate with his answer, a mind-reader can pull it out – as it is commonly believed. I was cross-checking my event with a suspicion of mind-reading. The naadi astrologer could’ve been a mind reader, and that’s how he was able to tell me my name and my parents' names. But there is no explanation for the future predictions. But wait- when I myself thought I was born on a Wednesday, why did he say that to be a Friday?! So, this cannot be mind-reading too. Sigh.. But why just my day of birth was wrong in the palm leaf? I left the place. Besides being thoroughly amazed, I was also confused. 

During my journey back home, I was riding a local train that was too noisy and unusually crowded. But I was deaf to the external world. I didn’t hear a thing other than the millions of questions being asked within myself. I was deeply contemplating. “BEEP- BEEP!” My mobile phone’s SMS tone distorts my contemplation. 

It’s from dad: “Yes, indeed”. 

Now, only the amazement persists.

Oct 8, 2010

My Naadi astrology experience- a truly bewitching one!

It was 6 years ago. I was living with my college friends in the city’s suburb. We never got the real seriousness until it’s the final exam time of the semester. It was such a joyful evening when my friend dropped by my place. Soon my roommates also joined for a chat with him. As we were discussing, rambling and laughing about college trivia, he suddenly started a new topic that jumped off the track of our conversation- it was about ghosts and spirits.

Though I never believed in any of these stories, I did not ever miss a discussion on ghosts. These discussions invariably start with 2 or 3 people and end with a big crowd of 10-12 people. Spooky stories are always enchanting and definitely a crowd puller. Back to the story- my friend said that he had been long suspecting that his house was haunted by a spirit. He also cited some creepy unexplainable incidents like “black images”, “hollow space” “shadows without an object” moving hither and thither at his place. This was happening for long. Only later did he learn from his landlord that the house had been vacant for years, before he moved in. It had been occupied by a family which moved out after a 9-year old girl in the household committed suicide. Though his narrative made us hold breath at irregular periods and left us open-mouthed, to me, it was just a nicely concocted story.

Then he added that the spirit of a killed or a prematurely dead human would lament, cry aloud and beg, on seeing its body being cremated in grave yard, longing to get back to its body. It sounded so irrational to my senses and I argued back. My roommates also started making fun of him for all that he had been saying hitherto. It definitely kindled his wrath and being unable to prove anything that he said, he quickly stood up, and snarled, “You guys may laugh at me now. But you will understand very soon!” He added, “I’m sure you guys won’t believe if I said, you can even know what your previous births were, and where your next birth will be! Naadi astrology tells you that. Go, see it for yourself!” He quickly disappeared from the spot. Even after a long time after he left, his last sentence was haunting me during the darkest times of that night. Rest is the main story.

The word ‘Naadi’ kept resonating in my mind even the following day. I’ve heard about such an astrological practice many times during the previous years. But I was never so interested in seeking it, and even at times when I thought of giving it a try, I was indifferent or I had more important things to do. However, this time, this overwhelming force made me become all the more keen on seeking it. But only for one simple reason- to prove to my friend that all that was just a humbug. The next moment, I was standing in front of this place where Naadi astrology is sought. I couldn’t help myself.

It was just a big house, with a board ("Agathiya Naadi center") hanging in the front. I entered the building with some reluctance as I’ve never been to an astrology place before in life. The place was buzzing with activities and packed with people who I could easily identify to be of different cultures, and some were from different countries too. I noticed a picture of a king who I later understood to be the Maratha king Serfoji, who had preserved the naadi palm leaves. The wall opposite to it was almost left with no space as a lot of paper cuttings of magazine articles had been stuck. It was obvious that each of the paper cuttings was from magazines in different languages such as German, Japanese, Chinese, English, Tamil, etc. I was attracted to an article titled, “Is there a next birth?”. As I was totally immersed into reading the article, I didn’t notice a hand coming towards my shoulder. “Tap!”

To be continued in my next post
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