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The Transplanted People

Eunice de Souza

By Sanjay Suri
Penguin Viking, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 381, Rs. 495.00

By Gautam Malkani
Fourth Estate, London, 2006, pp. 342, £12.99


Sanjay Suri, London-based journalist since 1990 has put together a series of accounts about Indians, mainly Hindus who live in England. “The way Indians were being Indian, someone had to take notes, and do no more, really,” Suri writes in his Introduction. He also tells us what this book is not. “It does not offer dining-table wisdom of the ‘caught-between-two-worlds variety…”   So we meet Dhanjibai Atwal who tricked his way into England, Sikhs agitating about the wearing of helmets, K.D. Patel who has two wives and who, when asked by the author how this happened answers, “It just happened. I just don’t know how it happened.” Then there are the melas organized by the barber caste, the tailor caste, and various castes and sub-castes of Patels so that their caste members can meet eligible caste members for their sons and daughters, or learn about Hinduism, or preserve their culture or run down members of a splinter group. There’s an Agony Aunt, Kailash Puri of Liverpool who has been answering thousands of letters about personal problems such as desperation about being dark, dowry demands, abusive marriages. There’s the RSS, and the Krishna devotees, and a procession against the authorities of a small, peaceful village who felt that the thousands turning up at the house donated by George Harrison constituted a nuisance. There are speed-dating events, and Bollywood dance classes for aspiring children. There are families who abandon their elderly parents. There is also one short interview at a madrassa.   The individual accounts are interesting, and occasionally amusing, but the total effect is suffocating. One has to keep reminding oneself that these people are living in England.. But all their concerns centre on marriage, caste, religion, or the rivalry of splinter groups. At a dandia event the author finds two bouncers and an Alsatian at the door, making sure no one from outside the caste enters. “I figured,” he writes, “that if they were non-limbachias it would be an intrusion, if they were non-Gujaratis it would be an attack.” The reason given by one of the organizers is “to preserve our roots, preserve our traditions.” Elsewhere, Suri remarks jokingly about the endless Patel caste divisions, “I left Subhashbhai’s house in Kingsbury trying to figure out which Patel had told me once that Sardar Patel could unite India but he’s failed to unite the Patels.”   Not a single ...

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