The Washington Post
Leaving India: My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continentsby Minal Hajratwala
What did we give up
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An inspiring personal saga that explores the collisions of choice and history that led one unforgettable family to become immigrants In this groundbreaking work,Minal Hajratwala mixes history,memoir, and reportage to explore the questions facing not only her own Indian family but that of every immigrant:Where did we come from?Why did we leave?
What did we give up and gain in the process?
Beginning with her great-grandfather Motiram’s original flight from British-occupied India to Fiji, where he rose from tailor to department store mogul,Hajratwala follows her ancestors across the twentieth century to explain how they came to be spread across five continents and nine countries.
As she delves into the relationship between personal choice and the great historical forces—British colonialism, apartheid,Gandhi’s Salt March, and American immigration policy—that helped to shape her family’s experiences, Hajratwala brings to light for the very first time the story of the Indian diaspora.
This luminous narrative by a child of immigrants offers a deeply intimate look at what it means to call more than one part of the world home. Leaving India should find its place alongside Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million.
The Washington Post
Hajratwala, a journalist at the San Jose Mercury News, tells of the Indian diaspora experience through a part-personal, part-reported story of her extended family. Hailing from the small northwest Indian region of Gujarat, her family's ancient origins begin with the myth of a race of warriors and kings. Their migration begins in the wake of the famine of 1899, when Hajratwala's great-grandfather Motiram left to learn the tailor's craft in Fiji, leaving his wife and children behind. In the same, tireless spirit echoed in generations to come, Motiram founded a family business in his new home, then built it with the support of relatives who followed to join him. His shop eventually became one of the largest department stores in the South Pacific isles. Other family branches developed in South Africa; the U.S., where Hajratwala's parents immigrated as part of India's earliest wave of "brain drain"; and other locales, totaling nine countries in five continents. Throughout sojourns across cultures and across time, the family endures-and succeeds-in spite of discrimination and bigotry. Told with the probing detail of a reporter, the fluid voice of a poet and the inspired vision of a young woman who walks in many worlds, Hajratwala's story offers an engaging account of what may be one of the fastest-growing diasporas in the world. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"In LEAVING INDIA, Minal Hajratwala deftly explores [the India] diaspora... LEAVING INDIA is meticulously researched and evocatively written."--Washington Post
"LEAVING INDIA is a rich, entertaining and illuminating story." --San Francisco Chronicle
"I love Minal Hajratwala's book LEAVING INDIA. It is what I imagine India itself to be like: incomparable, sprawling, rich, surprising, very old and wise and forever capable of re-creating itself, no matter where pieces of it lands. Minal Hajratwala is a fine daughter of the continent, bringing insight, intelligence and compassion to the lives and sojourns of her far-flung kin. For those of us who have needed to understand the presence of so many Indians in our various lands, this book is a wonderful primer." –Alice Walker
"Minal Hajratwala's LEAVING INDIA is a fascinating history that kept me up late into the night--and I suspect it will do the same for most readers. Filled with amazing and compelling family stories, it will strike a chord in anyone whose people have come from elsewhere--and today, in America, that's most of us! I am filled with admiration at Minal's honesty and the careful beauty of her language. I learned so much, through the story of this one family, about the tragedies and triumphs of the Indian diaspora."--Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of The Palace of Illusions
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt
For Ganda, eleven years old, it would have been easy enough to disappear into the ghetto. An uncle and cousins lived in the neighborhood, and they must have taken him in. They would have known that, sooner or later, he would need an official identity: he could be stopped on the street at any time and asked to show his documents; he could be arrested for breaking the 9 p.m. curfew or walking on a sidewalk reserved for whites; he could be deported.So his relatives — being, after all, wily Asiatics — hatched a scheme. In Johannesburg, cousin Chhiba reported to the police that his son had gone missing. He gave a description, a name. Perhaps he said that the boy might have run away, to Durban. Meanwhile, in Durban, Ganda filed for his identity papers. He had no birth certificate, but that was not unusual. He gave his "father’s" name, Chhiba of Johannesburg. As for his last name, the uncles and cousins used "Kapitan."Most rural Indians never use a surname until they encounter a Western authority, and so it was with Ganda’s predecessors, who had to invent one upon landing in South Africa. Kapitan is a unique choice among our people, and the stories of its origin vary widely. Three brothers jumped around like monkeys and were nicknamed "three monkeys," or kappi tran. Or, it comes from the first port where they landed in South Africa: Cape Town, pronounced according to the principles of Indian-English phonetics. Or, the first family member in South Africa came on a ship steered by a man called el capitán, which the sojourner thought to be a fine surname and so adopted as his own. In any case, armed with these names, young Ganda submitted his papers and his references. Cross checking, the officials found the missing persons report. They verified his identity.
Ganda’s middle name, by tradition, should have been his father’s name, Dayaram. He would have become known as G. D. Kapitan; the Durban institution he founded would have been G. D. Kapitan & Son Vegetarian Restaurant. His father would have lived forever, almost, in that single initial recognizing his paternity. But now his name reflected his new "father." And somehow in the transcription process, Chhiba became Chhagan. He became Ganda Chhagan Kapitan, a self-made man — G.C., for short.
Meet the Author
MINAL HAJRATWALA was born in San Francisco and raised in New Zealand and suburban Michigan. In the course of researching Leaving India, she spent seven years traveling the world and interviewed over seventy-five members of her extended family. A poet and performer, she worked as an editor and reporter for eight years at the San Jose Mercury News. She has been a leader in the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and the Asian American Journalists Association.
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