On journey to India, searching for roots By Shubha Singh
New Delhi — Five people of Indian origin were on a journey to India last November to visit the villages that their ancestors left over a hundred years ago to work on sugar plantations in Caribbean colonies.
Devi Budhan, an insurance consultant from New York, said: “It has always been a burning desire to find out about our grandfather; he was estranged from his family. We did not know how to locate the ancestral village, but my cousin managed to obtain some information from the archives. Now we have finally got in touch with some distant relations in Rudhouli.”
Devi is thrilled to be travelling with her sister, Radha, to Rudhouli village in Basti district in Uttar Pradesh.
The group of five are people who have themselves migrated from Guyana to Canada or America. Having been displaced from their moorings in Guyana, they were keen to discover their Indian roots. But locating an ancestral village is not easy, even if the name and address is available.
It was the International Foundation For Vedic Science (IFFVS), a not-for-profit organisation based in Canada that undertook the ancestral search programme for 10 search requests. Director of the IFFVS in Canada, Ashwini Kumar Rajpal, contacted the Uttar Pradesh-based NGO, Sri Ramanand Saraswati Pustakalya (SRSP), which sent out its researchers into the countryside to locate the villages.
Another highly enthused traveller discovered the ancestral village of Jamuni from where her maternal grandfather’s mother had made the journey to Guyana. Part of the family has moved out of the village and one distant cousin lives in Panipat, Haryana.
“It has been a long-time dream of mine to go to my ancestors’ home and maybe meet some relatives. I never thought it would be possible after such a long time, but the ancestral search programme located the village.” She spoke to her relatives and they were anxious to meet her, she said.
There was a slight problem as this traveller speaks “very little Hindi”. Finally, she got a call from the cousin in Panipat who could speak a smattering of English. There was great excitement and the family decided that one of the younger relatives in the village would go through a crash course in the English language so that they could communicate with each other. And she said, “It doesn’t matter. They speak a little English and I speak a little Hindi and we will manage; after all we are kin.”
The others in the group included Rajpal of the IFFVS who located his ancestor Gangaiah’s village in Doriaghat while his wife Sita found her great grandfather Chutkan’s village, Gohna, in Basti district. Govind Prasad Sukhram’s ancestor came from Gorakhpur District.
The process of locating ancestral villages was a not a simple search on the map; it entailed a good deal of field work. Village addresses are usually obtained from the indenture documents of migrants. Many villages have grown larger over the years and been bifurcated, others have had their names changed and even the districts have changed. To make the task even more difficult, the old documents used archaic spellings that bear little resemblance to present-day names.
The SRSP is based in Azamgarh district and is involved in gender empowerment and imparting vocational training to youth and women of the area. Its workers were familiar with the region and they visited small towns, looked at land records and spoke to the elderly men and women in the villages to identify the places from where people had migrated many decades ago.
Sita’s ancestor Chutkun’s village was listed as Gohna, but there were two villages with similar names, Gohna Deeh and Gohna Tal, in the district. Fortunately, the SRSP researchers could identify the village as Gohna Deeh when they met an old woman who recalled her mother-in-law saying someone from their family had left for ‘demra dweep’ (Demerara was a region in British Guiana).
Evelyn now plans to initiate a search for her grandmother’s relatives somewhere in West Bengal. Unfortunately, there are no records available about their antecedents, but she has not lost hope. The desire to revive bonds of kinship and belonging are even greater now.
(Shubha Singh is a writer on the Indian diaspora and international affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Indian origin scientist gets Canada’s highest civilian award
Toronto (IANS) — An Allahabad-born scientist of Indian origin has been given Canada’s highest civilian award – the Order of Canada.
Shrawan Kumar was honoured Thursday for his three decades of pioneering research on workplace injury and the spine at the University of Alberta.
Born in Allahabad, Kumar is an alumnus of Allahabad University where he did his masters in zoology. After his higher studies in Britain, he worked from 1971 to 1973 at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences where he set up the first biomechanics laboratory.
Before landing in Canada in 1974, he was an assistant director at the Central Labour Institute in Mumbai.
Kumar is among 57 prominent Canadians who have been given the nation’s highest civilian award for their excellence in various fields.
Bestowing the highest Canadian award on Kumar, Governor General Michaelle Jean said he has been honoured for “his contributions to the field of rehabilitation ergonomics, in Canada and abroad, notably in his research and teachings on the causation, prevention and treatment of musculo-skeletal injuries”.
Kumar, who joined the faculty at the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 1977, has done path-breaking research, published and taught on ergonomics, occupational health and lower back pain for three decades. He retired from the Canadian university two years ago and moved to Fort Worth in Texas to join the faculty at the University of North Texas.
“I feel honoured as well as humbled by the award. It is Canada’s highest honour…the feeling has not yet sunk in,” Kumar told IANS on phone from Texas.
“I am an inter-disciplinary scientist and my research covers various disciplines from engineering to medicine to biology. My work involves orthopaedic research, occupational health, rehabilitation health etc,” he said.
Kumar said he was looking forward to his February visit to India where he is to deliver talks at the Lucknow Medical College and the Defence Institute of Physiology and Applied Sciences in Delhi.
The Order of Canada was established in 1967 to mark the centenary of the formation of the Canadian Confederation.
Smith, Jones, Patel, Singh: Survey of British surnames launched
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London (IANS) — Researchers are to launch a massive ground-breaking study of the evolution of tens of thousands of British surnames, including those that originated in the Indian subcontinent such as Patel, Singh, Ahmed and Ali.
Led by linguists at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, the 840,000 pound-project will create the largest ever database of family surnames in Britain, providing a snapshot of social history and mobility.
The four-year project, which will begin in April, will delve into the etymology of up to 150,000 surnames – discovering their meanings, origins and tracking how they have changed over the centuries – before making the database publicly available.
Researchers will not only study all ‘British’ names, including those of 19th and early 20th century immigrants but also work with scholars abroad to identify existing material on the 75,000 surnames that originated overseas and were introduced into Britain after 1945.
“There is widespread interest in family names and their history. Our project will use the most up-to-date techniques and evidence available to create a more detailed and accurate resource than those currently available,” said Richard Coates, professor of linguistics at UWE.
Researchers are expected to establish contact and cooperation with scholars in the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, Africa, China and eastern Europe.
The project will be helped by leading experts in those languages of the surnames – not only traditional ones such as Old Scandinavian, Anglo-Norman French, Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic, Yiddish but also more recent sources such as Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Chinese and Polish.
The researchers will use published and unpublished resources dating from as far back as the 11th century to show the origins of surnames: for example, the earliest surnames of the landholding classes tended to be descriptions or names of places, while small tenants and serfs would have names ending in an ‘s’ or a ‘son’, such as Roberts and Jackson.
“Some names can have origins that are occupational – obvious examples are Smith and Baker. Or names can be linked to a place: for example, the names Hill or Green (which related to village greens),” said Coates, who will carry out the research.
“There are also names which describe the original bearer, such as Brown, Short or Thin.”
With people of Indian origin thought to number between 1.5 and 2 million in Britain – the largest community of foreign settlers on the island – the researchers have their work cut out.
A study carried out in 2009 by the credit agency Experian found that while Smith and Jones continue to be the most common British surnames, Patel, Singh, Ahmed and Ali are catching up fast.
In the last 100 years, the number of people named Ahmed, Singh and Ali has risen by more than 1,000 percent each, while Zhang is the fastest growing surname, having risen by 4,718 percent in popularity in just 13 years.
According to a study of 500 surnames published in 2007, Patel is the 20th and Singh the 76th most commonly-found surname in Britain.
Naidu reads from her latest poetry
Janet Naidu, author of Winged Heart which was short-listed for the Guyana Prize for Literature, Poetry category, in 2000 will be reading from her celebrated new collection, Sacred Silence on Thursday, January 21, 2010 from 2:00 – 3:30 pm at the Founders Senior Common Room, 305 Founders College, York University.
Bhavani Mandir evening of music
The Bhavani Shankar and Devi Mandir Kirtan Mandalis will be teaming up for an evening of music from 6.00 p.m. on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at the Bhavani Shankar Mandir, 4 Melanie Drive, Unit 12, Brampton. This will be an evening of relaxation, and there will be no charge. For more information, please call Pt. Hardat at 905-799-6363, or Sam Persaud at 905-428-6905