A Canadian yoga teacher traces her Indian roots

December 12th, 2010 - 12:44 pm ICT by IANS  

By Shubha Singh
New Delhi, Dec 12 (IANS) Shobha Rae had two missions when she came to India from Canada - complete a yoga teachers’ training course and seek out her relatives for whom she had launched a search four years ago.For Shobha, freedom of information (equivalent to right to information) administrator for Vancouver city, her first trip to India was a mission of sorts. She wanted to connect with the Indian side of her family with whom she had lost contact.

Shobha’s grandfather Bhairon Rae had gone to the Fiji Islands in the 1890s; Shobha was born in Fiji but migrated to Canada in the 1970s. She knew that the Rae family had relatives in India; her father, Rajendra Rae had visited the ancestral village, Baijudhia in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh, over 20 years ago and told his children about his trip.

But India was too distant to think about then, and Shobha and her siblings listened to their father’s experiences and forgot about them. In 2004, Shobha began thinking about her connections to India; her interest had been triggered off by reading a book and listening to a lecture by Rajendra Prasad of Fiji who had settled in New Zealand.

Prasad had spoken about his discovery of the indenture system that took his ancestors to Fiji and his own search for his ancestral village in India at the launch of his book on the subject in Toronto, Canada.

Shobha was deeply moved by the story of indenture. She said, “We were never taught about the Indian community in Fiji. In school we read British history, European history, ancient history, but we were never told about the indenture system and how Indians were brought to Fiji. I resolved to find out more about my own family history.”

She began by contacting her cousins and other relatives to ask them what they knew about the family history. Finally, a cousin in New Zealand, Nirmala, recalled that she had jotted down some information that Rajendra Rae had given after his trip to India.

There was a phone number for Gorakhpur, and Shobha eagerly dialled the number but found that Ram Naresh Rai (the Indian part of the family spelt their name as Rai) had moved away from the house. That seemed to bring an abrupt end to the search.

Shobha then came in touch with a social organisation in Canada which helped her hire a researcher in India to search for the family’s village in Uttar Pradesh. The researcher located Baijudhia village and sent her the address for another relative in Gorakhpur, Banwari Rai.

Shobha sent Banwari Rai a letter in Hindi and promptly got a reply with an invitation to visit India. She began making plans to visit India and decided to take leave of absence for a month-long yoga training course. She spent over a month at Rishikesh to attend the yoga programme and then made her way to Gorakhpur.

At Baijudhia village, Shobha met a large number of relatives, but she was most gratified to meet Shivmurthi Rai, her father’s first cousin - her grandfather’s younger brother’s son.

“I was taken by surprise when I met my grandfather’s nephew,” Shobha told IANS. “I had not known about him; he is my dad’s first cousin. It was an emotional reunion. I was deeply moved at meeting him because I felt that I had a father figure still alive.” She met a cousin, Nagendra, who had a strong resemblance to her grandfather.

Shobha was gratified to find that all the relatives had instantly taken her into the family fold. As she sat with the women relatives, Shobha was pleased to find that the women of her Indian family were strong-headed and independent-minded.

“I was surprised by one of the young girls of the family. She spoke fluent English and told me that she wanted to join the army and go to the National Defence Academy. There was a lively debate among all the women relatives who had gathered there about her joining the army, but she sounded so confident when she spoke about her ambitions.”

Shobha exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers with her cousins in Baijudhia and Gorakhpur and the extended Rai family - from Canada, India, New Zealand and Fiji - has promised to keep in touch.

(Shubha Singh can be contacted at shubhasingh101@gmail.com)

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