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The African In Me

The African In Me

September 03, 2009

When you think of your roots, you automatically think of India, right? But a trip to Africa stirred up different feelings.

When you think of your roots, you automatically think of India, right? Certainly in my visits to the motherland, there’s a very real connection. Especially in Gujarat. Until then, I’d only ever spoken Gujarati with family and suddenly it was the lingo of normal day-to-day transactions. It felt good if slightly surreal to order food, buy groceries and chat conversationally to strangers in the lingo.

But growing up in London, it wasn’t actually stories of India which peppered our family parties. Our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents would all talk about Uganda in East Africa, about the fabulous house they lived in, the tea estate and the fun day trips to Lake Victoria.

I remember someone showing it to me and my cousins on a map. Africa conjured up images of the wild, safari, lions, red earth, colour. It sounded even more exotic than India, which we already knew so much about from the food we ate, the songs we listened to and the films our parents loved.

I was 14 when my mum decided to visit her brother in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The family had all left in 1972 after dictator Idi Amin ordered all non-Ugandan Asians to leave but in the early 1980s, my uncle moved back. It was 1989 when we flew into Entebbe Airport. The memories of walking out of the aircraft are vivid. Breathing in my first African air, it smelt all balmy and earthy and brilliant.

The bullet-ridden city wasn’t the same city of sweet memories pre-1972 but the fundamentals were in place. During that trip and on a subsequent trip, we visited many old haunts, from the family house they all grew up in and schools they attended to the Kampala Road which the siblings would drive along, people-watching on a Sunday.

Your heritage is one thing. After all, our food and culture is 100% Indian - we don’t cook African food or wear African clothes or know any African dances. But isn’t it about more than that? It’s about memories so when I think of the homeland, I think of where my parents grew up and spent their childhoods India gives me goose bumps too, but it’s the call of Kampala which gives me the biggest ones.

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