Human Interests and Social Pursuits

The Scattering of the Seeds

Perhaps the greatest genius of humankind lies in its restlessness. We appear to be in constant search of that which is unknown or superficially explored or little experienced, whether it takes the form of the elusive answer to a fundamental question, the quest for a “better life” in all its ramifications, the obtaining of knowledge for its own sake, the dream of greater material comfort and security, the joy of a new experience, or just the visceral and burning curiosity to sample the world beyond the confines of the street in which we live.  The human brain has been blessed (or burdened, depending upon the orientation of your worm’s-eye view), with a capacity far out of proportion to the body that bears it aloft, and it is this yawning gap between the cerebral and the limitations of our physical abilities that has spurred us to intellectual and technological feats unimaginable, wondrous, in the extent of their achievement.

Dear Reader, apart from the lingua franca of the home, you and I and the majority of our acquaintances, friends, and relatives conduct our more formal and “professional” lives through the written and spoken medium of the English language.  It is the accident of history that, as the reluctant Jewel in the Crown, English eventually evolved by default into the singular tool that enabled us and the other subjects of the largest number of twentieth-century territories to assert their authority and hitherto-suppressed abilities in the flux of the post-colonial world.  But on the timeline of historical events these are recent occurrences, however catastrophic or consequential, and therefore to better understand why things came to such a pass we will need to go further back in history to the onset of a civilisation to which much of the modern world owes a debt of gratitude impossible to repay.

Over four thousand years ago, a coarse and determined community of mountain dwellers, with their origins in what is today Eastern Europe, descended to the plains and made their dogged way down to the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, a spear of land jutting into the Mediterranean Sea.  They made the compact archipelago of islands situated at this spearpoint their home and, several hundred years later, played host to a miracle of civilization unprecedented in its breadth and probably never again replicated since in recorded history.  Art, architecture, sculpture, literature, drama, philosophy, mathematics and science blossomed, nay, exploded, in this fertile ground.  Many centuries later, it is the Omogenia that records, and indeed celebrates, the “Hellenisation” of vast swathes of the world and the existence of the far-flung network of Greek communities outside of their native regions of the Greek Archipelago and the picturesque Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  The journey of one community has come full circle.

But a scattering of peoples is also brought on by catastrophe.  In 733 BCE, almost three thousand years ago, Tiglath-Pileser III, Emperor of the brutal Assyrian empire, commenced with the expulsion of the population of the Kingdom of Israel, a process completed by Sargon II eleven years later.  The “Assyrian exile” was followed one hundred and fifty years later by the “Babylonian captivity” and the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, orchestrated by a vengeful Nebuchadnezzar II exasperated by years of Jewish resilience and engraved into immortality in the Holy Bible.  The third tragedy to befall the hapless Israelites was the destruction in 70 CE of the Second Temple and the near-wholesale export of a stubborn and suffering population to the far-flung corners of the known world.  The dispersal was nearly full and total.  Today, while any individual who can establish a unique ancestry handed down unbroken from the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob enjoys the ”right of return” to the modern State of Israel, the Jewish community is truly global in its extent, with representation on every continent and indeed in a significant number of countries in the Comity of Nations.

Diaspora is, thus, not unique to any people or community.  It is, indeed, a shared experience with its peculiar variations of the progress of humanity.  It has ensured that we as a race do not stagnate.  And it is the adversity brought upon by the fundamental act of being uprooted, intended or compelled, from an environment of comfort and familiarity, that is the single most important reason for bringing out the best that we have to offer as a species.

How else can we explain the onward march of human endeavour, that ceaseless urge to test our boundaries, that urge to reinvent and rediscover?  How can you otherwise reasonably explain the existence of a small Indian community perched on the Horn of Africa, speaking the Tamil of their ancestors of three generations ago in far-away Djibouti?  What possessed the people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to sell a lifetime of labour through a Deed of Indenture and cross the endless oceans to Surinam and the South Pacific?  Today, every third person in Fiji is of Indian origin. When and why did the subject population discover “Good Old Blighty”, from those bleak days when Lakhubhai Pathak was the only household name for every condiment and spice under the sun, a process which has culminated several decades later with the swearing-in of the first Prime Minister who, by his own cheeky admission, possesses a “rather significant tan”?  Rishi Sunak is a dyed-in-the-wool Tory with probably little if anything in common with most of his fellow Indians.  But, by golly, it feels good, doesn’t it?  And what about the young man at the ice cream bar in Cyber Hub, chatting with fluent ease in Mandarin to his Chinese girlfriend?  What prompted a Professor of Sanskrit to venture out of the ensconced comfort of a college in Delhi University to travel to alien Croatia for a period of two years to, of all things, teach the first principles of the language of scripture to an eager audience?  When there was nothing, there was a feisty Gujarati entrepreneur who opened a grocery store in back-of-beyond Mali.  And, lest we forget, recall the stream of teachers and other professionals who ventured out of Western India to populate the schools and universities of the countries of East Africa.  What accounts for the spectacular success of Indian-Americans, whose contribution to national income to the great United States far outstrips the reality of their physical number?  Spare a thought for the young women from deepest Kerala who have given the best years of their life in the service of others, having ridden the twin-pronged diaspora as members of the army of nursing specialists who strode out of God’s Own Country to populate the hospitals of North India and the Middle East.

The examples are many and the tales of courage and adventure without count.  Today, with sixteen million people of Indian origin scattered as a result of their unique stories across the length and breadth of the world, we have the largest diaspora.  Combined with the other countries of our great Subcontinent, that number could be as high as a mammoth forty million.

We are commemorating the anniversary of “World For You” and the Indian Diaspora.  Dear Reader, it is the anniversary of our magazine, but we need no occasion or milestone to highlight and celebrate our being Indian.

For we celebrate it with every moment that we live and make a meaningful contribution to a world of which we are such a crucial part.

Sumit Basu

Sumit Basu is a corporate lawyer based in Gurugram. Time permitting, he likes to indulge his pastimes of reading and writing.

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