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Humans Of Mambasa, Displaced Twice Over

A slice of the history of a Sindhi business family, who made Kenya their home following the Partition of India, only to be uprooted again, less than two decades later

Photo Credit : southasianconcern


My Silk Road: Adventures & Struggles of a British Asian Refugee

Author: Ram Gidoomal CBE

Publisher: Pippa Rann Books & Media

Pages: 270

Price: Rs 799

Literature throwing light on communities and individuals that could add to larger sociological, anthropological or business understanding is gaining traction now. Such books have their own value, as many facets of modern history come out which have earlier been more a matter of purview of confined groups, but which help make the picture complete. My Silk Road: Adventures & Struggles of a British Asian Refugee by Ram Gidoomal CBE is one such reading. 

The business family of Gidoomals, with their base in Hyderabad in the Sindh Province of Pakistan, had expanded their business to Africa substantially since the early years of 20th Century, sourcing silk from Japan and selling it in African markets, including in Kenya. Gidoomal’s grandfather had opened his business, Japan Bazaar, in Johannesburg, and breathed his last there in 1936. When the World War II struck, they made huge profits due to the soaring prices of luxury commodities like silk. 

However, when Partition happened, rather than availing the option of crossing the Radcliff Line, Gidoomal’s father and uncles decided to board a ship to Kenya, to develop their business there. The family thus became ‘British protected’, and put down their roots there. Gidoomal, born in Kenya in 1950, describes the unique upbringing where the huge clan, with siblings and cousins, uncles and aunties, led a secluded yet fun-filled life, more than making up for the isolation from Kenyans. In the Aga Khan school where the children of the Gidoomal clan studied, they were still a Hindu minority within the Asian community. 

Made to leave for India at the age of 14, to join Bishop Cotton’s School in Bangalore, young Gidoomal felt homesick and had to be rushed back to Kenya. He describes the experience thus: “This is the paradox of the immigrant: a constant homesickness wherever you are. There’s a craving for your country of origin with its powerful sense of cultural belonging and allies in appearance, not to mention the freedom from fear this entails. However, there are also cords of belonging intricately tying you to your birthplace and family, the place you grew up, albeit as a sometimes-anxious immigrant.”

The fears did come true. Kenya gained independence in 1963, and within a few years, Gidoomal’s ‘daddy’ (actually his paternal uncle; father passed away in 1951) got deportation orders from the new government. Leaving all the business behind, the family had to migrate to England, being British protected, and rebuild their lives there, opening a sweet shop. 

The book describes the loss of prosperity, the insecurity and the racist fears in a new country where they were ‘aliens’, the arduous work of fitting into the educational system and rebuilding lives. Putting down roots in London, Gidoomal studied at Imperial College London, took to Christianity, worked in several eminent corporate positions, rose to prominence, popularised the issues of disadvantaged sections of the society, promoted inter-race and inter-faith harmony, got honorary doctorates from three UK universities, has been part of several important committees, contested London Mayor’s election twice, and was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. 

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