Rom: Walking in the Paths of the Gypsies

Overview

In the spring of 1990, Roger Moreau left a successful career in international marketing, packed his bags, and went to India. His singular purpose: to unlock one of the world's great unsolved mysteries, the origins and earliest history of the Gypsies.

The Rom, "children of the wind," capture our imaginations as do no other people and, although theories abound about their origins, all that is really known is that they migrated from northern India sometime between the eighth and ...

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Overview

In the spring of 1990, Roger Moreau left a successful career in international marketing, packed his bags, and went to India. His singular purpose: to unlock one of the world's great unsolved mysteries, the origins and earliest history of the Gypsies.

The Rom, "children of the wind," capture our imaginations as do no other people and, although theories abound about their origins, all that is really known is that they migrated from northern India sometime between the eighth and thirteenth centuries surfacing in Greece in the 1300s. Their tribe or caste, the circumstances of their exodus and their eventual diaspora remain a source of rich speculation to this day.

Armed with insatiable curiosity, a keen sense of humor and three wonderful, highly improbable traveling companions, the author set out to solve this ancient mystery, his journey taking him from Rajasthan province in Northwestern India to Istanbul in Turkey.
Immersed in exotic, often mystical surroundings, informed by strange and remarkable encounters along the way, he leads us on the incredible and at times tortuous trek of the people of the kalo rat (dark blood), whose birth, he concludes, took place nearly a thousand years ago in the world's first concentration camp, an Afghan desert aptly named Dasht i Nawar, Desert of the Gypsies. Along the way, his quest, and his recording of it in this book, would change his life.

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Editorial Reviews

Globe and Mail
[Moreau] has written about his wanderings with a deft, self-deprecating touch...that occasionally borders on the hilarious...definitely warrants a read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781550138689
  • Publisher: Key Porter Books
  • Publication date: 1/1/1995
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 8.77 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Moreau made it his life's goal to solve they mystery of the Romany people. Born in France, he now lives in Queensland, Australia.

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Table of Contents

  1. Prologue

    BOOK ONE

  2. A Small Town in Rajasthan
  3. Udaipur — The Palace
  4. Alberuni's India
  5. Jaisalmer — Seelya of the Lohar
  6. Dasht i Nawar
  7. Canada and the Goddess Pathvari
  8. Tabriz
  9. Moonddkata — The Price of Blood
  10. Udaipur and Good-By
  11. Istanbul
  12. Disoibe — Day Dawns

    BOOK TWO

  13. Reflections
  14. Gentle Thrace
  15. La Belle France
  16. Not So Merrie England
  17. Moldachia — The Slave
  18. The Golden Years
  19. The Holocaust — Horror Play in One Act

    Epilogue

    Bibliography


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Preface

Prologue

Ever since I can remember the Gypsies have fascinated me. They attracted my mother too. There was a kinship there. A lure courted and desired, a spell cast and caught. Come spring they'd turn up at the house with sachets of lavender, clothes pegs, and odds and ends and mutter away darkly with all the panache and authority of Nostradamus forecasting the return of the Ice Age. A fortune telling — palm or teacup — cost half a crown, and the CinemaScope version, including a full range of dramatic pauses, stealthy whispers and accompanying sidelong glances plus an emotional choke or two deep in the larynx, a whole five shillings. No matter what they predicted, only half of it was ever accurate, but that was the half my mother remembered.

Years later, when the velvet-eyed, leather-skinned women in the ankle-length skirts and impossibly kitsch earrings ceased to call, I recall my mother reading my teacup and warning me to beware of injury in a place surrounded by lions. Not very likely in deepest Wimbledon, I thought at the time. But the portent returned to haunt me the next week when — surprise, surprise — I found myself despatched by the company to darkest West Africa: heading for Brazzaville, the capital of what was then the French Congo. I steered very clear of the jungle and avoided the zoo just in case.

The accident happened some three months later in Manchester, northern England, of all places when, slipping on a greasy patch in the City Square, I broke my ankle and, lying prostrate on the ground, found myself being sneered at by a pride of disdainful stone lions.

I once asked my mother where our Gypsies came from.

"St. Albans way, they tell me."

"No, before that. Back in history."

"Egypt, they do say. That's why they're called Gypsies."

"Do you think I could ever find out one day?" I persisted, conjuring up a past full of mystery and great adventures.

"I shouldn't try if I were you. You'd never get to the bottom of it. They're a feckless lot."

My mother said
I never should
Play with Gypsies in the wood.

I sang it all the way to school the next day.

Some years later, there was a Gypsy girl in the Vale of Evesham, emerging from the damp woods carrying a dead rabbit by the ears. I stopped the car to give her a lift. She was soaked to the skin, a whisker away from pneumonia, or so her sneezes implied. I drove her to a patch of open land where her people had their caravans parked. Making conversation, I asked her which country she thought the Travellers had come from way back in the past.

"Somewhere far away.
Wales maybe."

"Not India?"

"Now, do I look Indian?" she answered all cross, tossing her dark ringlets, teeth startling white in the dusky face. Very Punjabi indeed.

After I'd dropped her off, I discovered that in return for leaving behind one underprivileged, very poached rabbit and an untamed aroma of greasy wood smoke that never quite left the car, she had — quite unthinkingly, I'm sure — taken my silver St. Christopher. Maybe he'd adapt just as well protecting a horse-drawn caravan as my six-cylinder Ford.

Sure, I missed him, but it was worth it for the sight, the indelible recollection of that child of nature coming through the wet trees holding lunch by the ears.

or many years the idea of finding out from where these people had originated and why they had come so far to sell clothes pegs to my mother lay dormant. It wasn't until I met a German landscape painter in Papeete, Tahiti, of all places and — for no particular reason — the conversation turned to Gypsies, that my interest was rekindled. He told me he had traveled around Europe with a Kumpania (caravan train) of the Rom for two years before the Belgian police found him and sent him back to his parents in Goslar in the Harz mountains.

"Ja," he said, "according to our [German] Gypsiologists the Romani peoples originated in northern India — in the Punjab/Rajasthan area. The linguistics prove it. It is that no man to this day has been able to discover from which tribe they came. Also the reason why and the year they left India. Also the route they followed to come to Europe. Also, why they took five hundred years for a journey which should have lasted nur zwanzig Jahren. Also, why they never tried to return to the Fatherland."

Quite a salvo of "alzos" to assimilate at one seance, but it hooked me. And when this young painter, whose name now eludes me, added that the Gypsy migration represented one of the world's last unsolved mysteries even after close to two hundred years of intensive research, I was doubly enmeshed in the challenge of it.

He must have become aware of my burgeoning resolve. "You will undertake it, ja? I see you have determined it. Ich warne dich, it is a hard mountain to climb. It may take a lifetime."

The drinks at his one-man showing in Papeete's leading art gallery were beginning to run low but they had performed their function with devastating power. The room was weaving in a peculiarly Tahitian way.

"I should make the point," I said through compressed lips, "that I have absolutely no knowledge of the Gypsies, even less of India; no expertise whatever in the craft of the historian or indeed the slightest cognizance of the undoubtedly essential areas of linguistics and anthropology."

"Schon gut," he replied. "No problem. You sound just right to me, Junge."

***

I went back to the hotel that night, but not to sleep. The thought wouldn't go away that, however ephemerally, I'd just been offered a window of opportunity that most middle-aged men yearn for — albeit by a sozzled German painter. The one chance to leave a footprint, however faint, in the annals by cracking something no one else had. And in a world fast running out of mysteries.

Was, that the reason or was it simply mid-life crisis? Or was it the spell of Tahiti, which had previously demonstrated on at least one singular occasion the power to transform a mature and successfully settled Parisian stockbroker into a wild, bohemian painter of tragic genius?

But all the time I knew it went deeper than that. Far deeper. It went back to a childhood studded with superstitions and do's and don'ts, during which I'd naively assumed that everyone in the world went around with eyes averted on the night of the full moon for fear of seeing it through a glass window. Cutting your hair or fingernails on Friday was akin to committing hara-kiri. These taboos were imposed by a mother and were set in stone, every bit as immutable as the rites of the masses I attended at Catholic boarding school.

It wasn't just a Don Quixote romantic fancy to tilt at windmills before the world ran out of them but a deep-down, driving compulsion — hitherto firmly suppressed if and when it ever surfaced — to find out more about a people who were in my blood and bone from the moment I first drew breath.

"Of course, you know you're quite, quite, bonkers," said my wife, Meredith, in her usual forthright Australian way. "You realize it would mean throwing away everything we've built up: career, home, friends, way of life, not to mention the Russian Blue, to launch into the unknown and with no experience to speak of behind you."

I nodded dumbly. That was that, I thought. Finis.

She poured coffee. The sun was slanting into the hotel room. Outside, coconuts being picked by a small boy were falling to earth with a regular thud, thud, thud from forty feet up. I wished I were up there with him.

"Well? Say something, Roger."

"I read you."

"Good. Sounds like a real challenge. Of course, I know you can do it. The month after next might be a good time to start. What do you say?"

Crunch time. Was I actually going to go through with this

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Introduction

Prologue

Ever since I can remember the Gypsies have fascinated me. They attracted my mother too. There was a kinship there. A lure courted and desired, a spell cast and caught. Come spring they'd turn up at the house with sachets of lavender, clothes pegs, and odds and ends and mutter away darkly with all the panache and authority of Nostradamus forecasting the return of the Ice Age. A fortune telling -- palm or teacup -- cost half a crown, and the CinemaScope version, including a full range of dramatic pauses, stealthy whispers and accompanying sidelong glances plus an emotional choke or two deep in the larynx, a whole five shillings. No matter what they predicted, only half of it was ever accurate, but that was the half my mother remembered.

Years later, when the velvet-eyed, leather-skinned women in the ankle-length skirts and impossibly kitsch earrings ceased to call, I recall my mother reading my teacup and warning me to beware of injury in a place surrounded by lions. Not very likely in deepest Wimbledon, I thought at the time. But the portent returned to haunt me the next week when -- surprise, surprise -- I found myself despatched by the company to darkest West Africa: heading for Brazzaville, the capital of what was then the French Congo. I steered very clear of the jungle and avoided the zoo just in case.

The accident happened some three months later in Manchester, northern England, of all places when, slipping on a greasy patch in the City Square, I broke my ankle and, lying prostrate on the ground, found myself being sneered at by a pride of disdainful stone lions.

I once asked my mother where our Gypsies came from.

"St. Albansway, they tell me."

"No, before that. Back in history."

"Egypt, they do say. That's why they're called Gypsies."

"Do you think I could ever find out one day?" I persisted, conjuring up a past full of mystery and great adventures.

"I shouldn't try if I were you. You'd never get to the bottom of it. They're a feckless lot."

My mother said
I never should
Play with Gypsies
in the wood.

I sang it all the way to school the next day.

Some years later, there was a Gypsy girl in the Vale of Evesham, emerging from the damp woods carrying a dead rabbit by the ears. I stopped the car to give her a lift. She was soaked to the skin, a whisker away from pneumonia, or so her sneezes implied. I drove her to a patch of open land where her people had their caravans parked. Making conversation, I asked her which country she thought the Travellers had come from way back in the past.

"Somewhere far away. Wales maybe."

"Not India?"

"Now, do I look Indian?" she answered all cross, tossing her dark ringlets, teeth startling white in the dusky face. Very Punjabi indeed.

After I'd dropped her off, I discovered that in return for leaving behind one underprivileged, very poached rabbit and an untamed aroma of greasy wood smoke that never quite left the car, she had -- quite unthinkingly, I'm sure -- taken my silver St. Christopher. Maybe he'd adapt just as well protecting a horse-drawn caravan as my six-cylinder Ford.

Sure, I missed him, but it was worth it for the sight, the indelible recollection of that child of nature coming through the wet trees holding lunch by the ears.

or many years the idea of finding out from where these people had originated and why they had come so far to sell clothes pegs to my mother lay dormant. It wasn't until I met a German landscape painter in Papeete, Tahiti, of all places and -- for no particular reason -- the conversation turned to Gypsies, that my interest was rekindled. He told me he had traveled around Europe with a Kumpania (caravan train) of the Rom for two years before the Belgian police found him and sent him back to his parents in Goslar in the Harz mountains.

"Ja," he said, "according to our [German] Gypsiologists the Romani peoples originated in northern India -- in the Punjab/Rajasthan area. The linguistics prove it. It is that no man to this day has been able to discover from which tribe they came. Also the reason why and the year they left India. Also the route they followed to come to Europe. Also, why they took five hundred years for a journey which should have lasted nur zwanzig Jahren. Also, why they never tried to return to the Fatherland."

Quite a salvo of "alzos" to assimilate at one seance, but it hooked me. And when this young painter, whose name now eludes me, added that the Gypsy migration represented one of the world's last unsolved mysteries even after close to two hundred years of intensive research, I was doubly enmeshed in the challenge of it.

He must have become aware of my burgeoning resolve. "You will undertake it, ja? I see you have determined it. Ich warne dich, it is a hard mountain to climb. It may take a lifetime."

The drinks at his one-man showing in Papeete's leading art gallery were beginning to run low but they had performed their function with devastating power. The room was weaving in a peculiarly Tahitian way.

"I should make the point," I said through compressed lips, "that I have absolutely no knowledge of the Gypsies, even less of India; no expertise whatever in the craft of the historian or indeed the slightest cognizance of the undoubtedly essential areas of linguistics and anthropology."

"Schon gut," he replied. "No problem. You sound just right to me, Junge."

***

I went back to the hotel that night, but not to sleep. The thought wouldn't go away that, however ephemerally, I'd just been offered a window of opportunity that most middle-aged men yearn for -- albeit by a sozzled German painter. The one chance to leave a footprint, however faint, in the annals by cracking something no one else had. And in a world fast running out of mysteries.

Was, that the reason or was it simply mid-life crisis? Or was it the spell of Tahiti, which had previously demonstrated on at least one singular occasion the power to transform a mature and successfully settled Parisian stockbroker into a wild, bohemian painter of tragic genius?

But all the time I knew it went deeper than that. Far deeper. It went back to a childhood studded with superstitions and do's and don'ts, during which I'd naively assumed that everyone in the world went around with eyes averted on the night of the full moon for fear of seeing it through a glass window. Cutting your hair or fingernails on Friday was akin to committing hara-kiri. These taboos were imposed by a mother and were set in stone, every bit as immutable as the rites of the masses I attended at Catholic boarding school.

It wasn't just a Don Quixote romantic fancy to tilt at windmills before the world ran out of them but a deep-down, driving compulsion -- hitherto firmly suppressed if and when it ever surfaced -- to find out more about a people who were in my blood and bone from the moment I first drew breath.

"Of course, you know you're quite, quite, bonkers," said my wife, Meredith, in her usual forthright Australian way. "You realize it would mean throwing away everything we've built up: career, home, friends, way of life, not to mention the Russian Blue, to launch into the unknown and with no experience to speak of behind you."

I nodded dumbly. That was that, I thought. Finis.

She poured coffee. The sun was slanting into the hotel room. Outside, coconuts being picked by a small boy were falling to earth with a regular thud, thud, thud from forty feet up. I wished I were up there with him.

"Well? Say something, Roger."

"I read you."

"Good. Sounds like a real challenge. Of course, I know you can do it. The month after next might be a good time to start. What do you say?"

Crunch time. Was I actually going to go through with this lunacy or had I just been fooling myself? Slowly, ever so slowly, I said those fateful words: "Who have you in mind to take care of the cat?"

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