India, Indians and all things Indian permeate everywhere (Opinion)

January 9th, 2009 - 10:37 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghI am now convinced that India, Indians and all things Indian permeate almost every corner of the globe, influencing everyone and everything.Statements by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi at the inaugural session of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2009 in Chennai reaffirmed to me earlier thoughts as I paged through Sawubona, the in-flight magazine of South African Airways, on a nine-hour flight from Johannesburg to Mumbai. I was en route Chennai to attend the latest edition of the annual meet that brings together persons from the Indian diaspora - this time 1,500 of them.

I pondered just how many things persons of Indian origin in South Africa were involved in that were somehow referenced in the magazine, all of course not because they were singled out as a particular community, but because they had integrated so seamlessly into the broader society where they found themselves as a minority descended from their forebears who first arrived from India almost 150 years ago.

After listening to the remarks by the Indian leaders, I revisited the Sawubona magazine that I had brought with me to reconsider my earlier thoughts in the context of their statements.

Reflecting on how Indian culture and traditions could blend with modernity with great ease, the prime minister said: “Indians know the art of living together in a consensual civilization.”

Karunanidhi detailed similar sentiments: “People from different races having different languages, religious and social customs are living together in India as one society. It is this extraordinary strength of our country, which has made it possible for the Indian diaspora to go to every nook and corner of the world and assimilate into those societies with ease.”

That is exactly what I saw not only in the magazine references, but also on the plane itself.

The passengers were probably about 90 percent of Indian origin, with a smattering of black and white co-flyers. About half appeared to be Indian nationals, mainly families returning home after visits to South Africa; while there were also many South African Indians headed to Mumbai for holidays and business.

It was therefore quite to be expected that announcements on the flight would be made in Hindi as well as English, but when we landed in Mumbai, Karunanidhi’s views on language rang very true. The final message, obviously prerecorded in a female voice in Hindi, because the attendants confessed to me later that none of them spoke Hindi, said in the same language that she would now wish the passengers well in Mumbai in South African ‘basha’ (language) and fluently used the equivalent words for ‘farewell’ in Zulu and Afrikaans.

To my pleasant surprise as I engaged the crew during the flight, I discovered that only were two Indian cabin crew, Clinton and Rohena Pillay, but also that the First Officer on the flight, Karishta Chatty, was one of the only South African Indian woman pilots on the flight.

Thirteen diverse articles in the magazine and advertisements with Indian connections ranged from the Bollywood influence on the Nigerian film industry and a book by South African Indian author Shanthee Manjoo to the Tata aluminium smelter near at a new port in Durban and a “bunny Chow” contest for the South African snack of a hollowed out piece of bread filled with curry, created by the Indians here decades ago.

So as I sat at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas while listening to the prime minister concluding his speech, I again thought about my flight as it came in to land over a moonlit Mumbai.

Making a witty remark about India’s first moon probe, Singh expressed confidence that an Indian, either from here or a Pravasi, would soon be landing on the moon to meet the mythical Chandamama of Indian folklore.

With the strides that Indians have made across the globe with their adaptability and influence without losing sight of their roots and culture, and if my South African interpretation can be extended quite easily to the rest of the diaspora, the prime minister may well not be far off the mark at all.

Perhaps the only challenge left more terrestrially is a Taj Mahal shaped igloo in Alaska, but some enterprising Indian is probably already planning that as you read this!

(Fakir Hassen is the IANS correspondent in South Africa. He can be contacted at

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