Filling in history

Tracing her roots Neera Kapur-Dromson

Tracing her roots Neera Kapur-Dromson   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: ANU PUSHKARNA

Author Neera Kapur-Dromson brings India to Kenya and Kenya to India in “From Jhelum to Tana”

“From“ Jhelum to Tana” by Neera Kapur-Dromson provides a glance at a little-known history. Published by Penguin, the book traces the interconnected histories of two countries, through family memoirs and extensive research.

The author’s primary source is conversation with her mother, scribbled hastily on toilet paper or hurriedly jotted down when cutting vegetables.

Curiosity about a fading family portrait led Kapur on a search for her roots. Interest in her own ancestry led to the exploration of common ties between Kenya and India.

With charming enthusiasm, Kapur explains her statement in the book, “India is my mother, Kenya my grandmother.” “Kenya gave me birth,” she says, “But India is the strong genetic make-up.”

She clarifies, “It is not as if one is more important than the other.”

A fourth-generation Kenyan of Indian origin, Kapur is fluent in English, French, Swahili, Hindi and is familiar with Urdu. The book, written over five years, has helped her resolve her own identity issues. She candidly reveals, “For a long time, I had a problem with my identity. I never felt French, I never felt Indian, in Kenya we were looked at only as ‘paper-Kenyans’. I used to actually cry.”

But through the book, she has realised, “Identity is an ongoing process.” Smilingly she continues, “Today I am complete.”

“From Jhelum to Tana” is not, however, personal laments; instead it captures history on a large canvas. It covers wars and voyages, it delves into the political and the social, to reveal how two countries met and interacted with each other.

The book is written for migrants and the diasporas. “Only when we know where we are coming from, will we know where we are going,” Kapur explains. The author feels that Indian history in Kenya has been previously written from a Western point of view. “Indians have been portrayed as nameless coolies,” she adds. “Yet, we have played a major role in building Kenya.”

Indians played a role in Kenya’s fight for independence. Indian printers gave voice to the movement by publishing in English and Swahili. Kenya is now forgetting that contribution and is unaware of India’s social and cultural background today. Kapur hopes this book will help inform and remind. An avid Odissi dancer, Kapur has also used dance to coalesce the two cultures. Influenced by the Masai and Kikuyu traditions, she worked with African acrobats on a dance called “Nyungu” (fertility).

Since the dance emphasised ancient sacred traditions, she had to struggle with the African dancers.

Most of them had converted to Christianity and were unwilling to acknowledge their ancient customs.


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