Little light is shed on the vast Indian diaspora’s African avatar. Kenyan; precisely speaking. This is the land, where our great ancestors evolved out of the Homo erectus species, and hence referred to as the Cradle of Mankind. Growing up in Kenya was clearly never like living in the Western-media stereotyped, war-toned, and poverty stricken Africa, at all. Instead, it was a potpourri of global cultures, traditions and values; a near-perfect cosmopolitan setting.
Ironical to global perceptions of a hauntingly disturbing land, Kenya is home to over a hundred thousand “Kenyan-Indians”. However, they assertively consider themselves fully Kenyan; and with pride. Majority hail from the Gujarati community, and have an established presence spawned over five generations, dating back to the times of British colonial rule. They were brought to work as labourers on the famous Kenya-Uganda railway line, colloquially known as the Lunatic Express. It was hard labour, often at the cost of their lives. The infamous man-eating beasts along the way ate some up while others died of harsh conditions. Post construction, the chunk that survived, with that typical Indian perseverance attitude, started a new lease of life here itself and subsequently brought in many of their kith and kin from India to join them, while a few migrated to the West. Setting up shops (dukas in Swahili) becoming general merchants (dukawallas), the community bloomed and prospered.
Carrying on that tradition, proudly, Gujaratis form the majority diaspora with a fair number of Sikhs, South Indians and other prominent ethnic groups from the Indian subcontinent. They enjoy great social status and arguably form the economic backbone of the country. Most prominent business houses with a pan-East African presence are owned and run within family interests (quintessentially Indian) and have been successfully bestowed from one generation to another, growing in leaps and bounds. Culturally, no stone is left unturned. Come Diwali and skies light up in splendour. Over fifty Hindu temples (with various incarnations of Gods from up North to down South) and cultural centres are abuzz with melas and satsangs. Schools even hold “Dandiya Ras” and “Rangoli” design competitions. Similar enthusiasm is seen in the Gurudwaras over Vaisakhi, mosques over Eid and communal halls over Onam. The latest SRK flick would launch to a full house in a modern multiplex in Nairobi the same Friday night that it launches in B Town. There’d be a lengthy line of traffic almost every evening in front of Diamond Plaza (Nairobi’s quintessential Little India) to grab a plate of mouth watering Paani Puri, shop for Chaniya Cholis for the family wedding weekend, or get the latest pirated Bollywood release. And by the way, two dedicated radio stations, also smitten by the Kolaveri phenomenon, keep the crowd info-tained well in time. My school was filled with people from all parts of India, both students and teachers, not to mention the Indian management. Honestly, in their growing up years, my friends in India haven’t faced such large-scale national integration. It may be a slightly different story now thanks to the Indian media’s outreach.
Scenic Nairobi is blanketed with greenery and a chilly but pleasant climate. Clean, modern and ample infrastructure, like winding roads through the hill ranges and beautifully crafted homes more than just pleases the eye. In fact, it’s the only city in the world to have a full-fledged national park within a fifteen-minute drive from the city centre; biodiversity kept intact. Nairobi, being one of Africa’s largest economic powerhouses, is home to the UNEP global headquarters and a number of other prominent NGOs. This brings in a huge expat population from Europe and the US, who eventually settle down here. They compromise on nothing, hence the swanky rich and highly scenic estate houses, high end cars, international shopping and lifestyle brands, great schools, star hotels et al.
It’s truly amazing to see how the Indian diaspora shines, pioneering in yet another corner of the planet.
Photo credit: Angela Sevin