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Thanks, Africa

Bringing out his eighth book on Africa recently, retired academic Vijay Gupta tells SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY why he is so obsessed with the region after all.

ONE LOOK at Vijay Gupta and his eyes would rightly transfer to you the weariness of life after retirement. But when he gets going on his pet topic, Africa, in the sprawling study of his house on the outskirts of Delhi, this former professor of International Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University knows no stopping. With eight books on the subject including "Dhanyavad India - A book recording Indian contribution to Anti-apartheid Struggle" inaugurated by South African President Thabo Mbeki here last month, this expert on African Studies is a moving reference book on the region.

He just needs an enquiring look from you to begin: "Starting with Gandhi, we have so many Indians who died a silent death there unknown to us but contributed a lot towards fighting apartheid in that country. Also time and again, the Indian government had vocally protested the exploitation of the natives by the White rulers in that country and I have talked about them in the latest book." Brought out by Sun Foundation with the aid of the South African High Commission, "Dhanyavaad India" not only records the resistance of many an unsung hero against White supremacy in Pretoria and India's official stand against apartheid but also about episodes like how a sum of Rs.65,000 was raised voluntarily to open the first African National Congress office at Gol Market in Delhi.

In Nairobi "by chance" in 1962, Gupta says he joined Jaiprakash Narayan and his entourage to protest apartheid in Zambia. "We were deported from the country by the Whites as soon as we landed. But we marked our protest no doubt," says this PhD on African Studies. Surprisingly, he started off his "own way of resisting apartheid" in Delhi!

" You know how I got this scar? This is because I was fighting apartheid in Delhi," he points at the faint mark on his forehead. As he continues, you find out that he, along with a few hostel mates including an African student by the name of Ali Abdullah Ali from Delhi University, went to watch a movie at Rivoli theatre in the `50s. They took a taxi while returning and Ali sat in the front much to the indignation of the driver.

Vijay Gupta... The African inspiration. — Photos: P.V. Moorthy

"He refused to take us back to the hostel unless the "kala" sits at the back. Therein began a fistfight, which ended up in a police station. Indira Gandhi, who was then the patron of African Studies Students Council, intervened when Ali contacted her late in the night and that's how we were freed by the cops," Gupta adds. A decade after when Gupta met Ali with his mother, he was snubbed by Ali when he began to tell the tale to Ali's mother. "Later when I asked Ali why he did so he said, if I do that, my mother will tell 10 other mothers that their sons would get that treatment if sent to India but not that three Indians defended me. The wrong message would have gone."

"It is with such social responsibility that they lead their lives that interests me about the region. We call ourselves tolerant but they are way ahead even after suffering so much." Gupta says even Gandhi learnt his tolerance from the South Africans.

"Though an average South African reveres Gandhi, It is South Africa that made Gandhi not otherwise. In fact, in a letter to African National Congress leader Yusuf M. Dadoo in 1947, Gandhi admitted it," he offers showing a copy of the letter. The writer of the book, "India and Non-Alignment Movement" says he was moved to see the level of tolerance shown by the mothers of towards the killers of their children in the post-liberation trials.

Finished with his latest tome, Gupta is now concentrating on "looking at the similarities between Swahili language and Hindustani."

"I have identified 820 words so far. I am looking at their origin plus the usage," he adds. Also, he is researching on the African Diaspora in India in the olden times "who came to India as slaves and rose to the level of king-makers."

"We have a mention of such Africans like Yakub in Razia Sultana's court. I will also look into the history of Jaunpur besides other kingdoms," he says. Once through with that, he plans to turn both the subjects into books.

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