San Francisco-born Indian journalist Hajratwala offers a spirited journey through the extended Indian diaspora over the last century.
The author’s family hails from the same western region of India, Gujarat, as Gandhi, and she writes that her maternal grandfather participated in the Mahatma’s legendary Salt March of 1930. Hajratwala traces the staggering expanse of Indian emigration across the globe. By her account, 11.5 million Indians are now living abroad, from Fiji to Middlesex County in New Jersey. Her family name, “hazrat-waalaa,” means one who prophesies, and her family’s caste, the Kshatriya, places them among the warrior-kings, somewhere below priests but above merchants and laborers. Centered around five villages near Navsari, her family cluster branched out once the region’s weaving industry was no longer sustainable. Her great-grandfather Motiram emigrated to the Fiji Islands in 1909 and set up one of the largest department stores in the South Pacific, becoming a catalyst for other family members to leave India. His brothers established themselves in Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa. At the time, Indians were welcomed as much-needed labor, before a racist backlash erupted and apartheid was established, along with quotas and restrictions—also reflected in America in the ’20s, as the author ably shows. Hajratwala’s father was sent from Fiji to study pharmacology in America, as part of the “brain drain” of Third World intellectuals emigrating to the United States in the ’60s in search of greater economic opportunities. From an arranged marriage within the same caste, he and the author’s mother, a physiotherapist, settled in suburban Michigan, where the author grew up. Her work is a richly—occasionally tediously—detailed, rare study of Indian diaspora, and a pleasing mixture of sociopolitical journalism and intricately layered memoir.
A scrutiny of self-identity involving immense fortitude and bravery.