Thursday, May 01, 2014


My grandmother (that smiling, kind force of nature) has an interesting tale to tell of her younger days. She doesn't remember the when of the story, hence I'm unable to put a date to it. Those were times of government imposed sanctions on food & basic necessities when one had to wait in protracted queues for a limited ration of rice, jowar, wheat, bread and the like. Hers' was a big joint family, and there were many mouths to feed.

In those rationed times, she often made the long sojourn from Bombay Central to Virar (a mean distance to cover at that time) & bought 20 Kgs of rice from a discreet individualNow such a big distribution of grain to a single person was prohibited back then, but it was too good an opportunity to pass. Picture her with a 10 kg sack over her shoulders & two 5 kg sacks in her free hand on the local train, perpetually worried about cops & confiscation and yet, determined to get the family that extra ration. Imagine her changing trains at the massive Dadar station, which back then would have only about 5-6 people around, with barely a woman in sight; thus making her all the more conspicuous! Such an era of scarcity will never be understood by the like of us, who, true to our elders' aphorisms, have been spoilt rotten.

In the same breath & timeline, she recounts a tale of a grand Chinese wedding party held at Kam-ling restaurant, which stands to this day in Churchgate. It was a time when a party for more than 50 people was not permitted, wherein only cold drinks & frugal snacks could be served. Any public show of gastronomic grandeur was frowned upon & penalized. Apparently, an envious soul (a competitor perhaps?) tipped off the authorities to ensure that this particular party faced a rude interruption. When the hosts realised a raid was imminent, they hid all the food & alcohol in the toilets! The cops returned empty handed, the party was declared over and the food discreetly distributed amongst the guests to take back. Talk about breaking the law to enjoy an evening! One can easily draw parallels between this incident of the distant past & the moral policing of current times.

On the one hand where she relates such stories with a chuckle, her face clouds over when she speaks about the Indo-China war of 1962. We all know how badly that ended for India but are probably unaware of the fate of the Indian-Chinese population, who in spite of being Indian by birth & loyalty but Chinese by blood, were treated with suspicion, misplaced hatred, harassment, arrests & even deportation. In its' wake, the war & the ensuing paranoia forced a large scale migration of that population, leading to a depletion of the Indian Chinese community. Mom & Granny tell me how they'd keep small bags with basic necessities for each family member, to be taken along were they to be given marching orders at the shortest notice. Everything else in the house was to be left behind, with little hope of returning. Fortunately, that notice never came for my family.

I'll be honest; when I heard that last tidbit, I was saddened by the thought that such a painful time existed and I'm grateful for the acceptance we enjoy now. We are as Indian as the next person, but who's to say that the xenophobia won't rear it's ugly head again if something were to go wrong? Because I remember well the number of times when, in a heated situation, I've been exhorted to return to Bhutan, Nepal, China or wherever I come from. And I have to remind them that India is my land, and I'm not going anywhere.

Nevertheless, let's end this post on an optimistic note and hope that I get to listen to more of Granny's tales and reproduce them here on the blog. They often occupy an enlightening spot in our conversations, and I get to learn more about my roots over meals & cups of tea :)


  1. Anonymous6:23 PM

    Meiyang........sorry to hear of your family's experiences and the occasional challenge you have. I am Indian myself (from Bangalore) but have lived in Africa, now Canada and have extensively visited Middle East and China. I can also narrate several weird circumstances that left me depressed. But ultimately most human being are decent and the few rotten apples should not cloud our judgment. Keep wishes.

  2. U r a great story teller.. Keep this thing alive in u always..........

  3. Anonymous2:38 PM

    I hope to read more stories from your grandmother over meals or cups of tea through your writings here. I have seen your grandmother picture on TV since your Indian Idol days and on comparison now, she is still very fit and ageing with grace.

    Just like you, I am an Indian Chinese - living abroad. Yes, those horrific stories related are true life experiences of some ill-fated Indian Chinese of that period, of which there were no faults of them whatsoever. As the stories unfold, all Indian Chinese families in those days were all prepared to be herded and taken by trains to Deoli, Rajasthan concentration camps with their homemade hand-stitched cloth packages of rice and little money. The scars are still there even when some family members were of Indian origin married to Indian Chinese. Also, most of them were Indian citizens holding Indian passports.

    Let's hope that this will not be repeated again.

  4. Hi there! It's quite a revelation you've made here about the tumultuous times your family had to face! I guess it's the beauty of being Indian and most importantly multi-cultural; the more we assimilate, the better we get! Wish we could just get more tolerant as time passes!