Friday, December 16, 2011


After Dev Anand died in London, where his last rites were performed, I have been thinking about the capital of Great Britain, once the capital of the world, and till today, the land of emancipation, despite all those visa and immigration rules, and long after the American Dream had turned into a nightmare.

A few months ago, another son of Mother India, M F Husain too found his final resting place in the city of Shakespeare and Dickens, the Queen and the London bridge.

What is this our continued, uninterrupted fascination with London, England, and I am not just talking about Bollywood dance numbers, or Eng Lit students at Indian colleges and universities?

If India was the brightest jewel in the crown of the British Empire, for the Indian “natives”, London was the Holy Land, the ultimate destination. More than 60 years after Independence, the fascination has still not palled.

During British India, London was where the knowledge was. If one is to do a background check, one would find that most of the prominent names in India’s struggle for independence went to London, to study law, and then returned to find their causes.

The return was important. Yes, the natives of pre-independent India always returned. If so, when did this trend of immigrating to the foreign land begun? Where did this whole Diaspora business started?

In the local language, those who returned were called Bilat, or Bilet, Pherot. Bilet meaning foreign, pherot meaning return.

During the colonial rule, immigrating to a foreign land was not a choice. They were all citizens of the colony, second class citizens (the reason why Gandhi was thrown out of the first class railway compartment). There were not even opportunities to settle down in the capital of the empire.

At the same time, however, the British took host of Indians to other countries as indentured labourers, to countries in the Caribbean, to Mauritius, to Africa, to plant sugarcane, tobacco, to build railroads.

After the empire disbanded, the second generation progeny of these Indian immigrants, instead of returning to their homeland, decided to travel to the homeland of their former masters. Why? Was it just because England offered more opportunities now than India? How can one explain this phenomenon? Withdrawal symptoms?

On the other side of the argument are the British. Once the sun of the empire had set, the British were still getting used to not being the masters. The arrival of these immigrants helped the locals to retain this “master” sentiment, only if in a sense of cultural superiority.

I remember reading somewhere when slavery was abolished in the United States, a large number of them refused to call themselves free, since they were so used to being slaves that they did not know what to do with their free status.

Can the same be said about our continued fascination for London?

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