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Global Gujarati knows no limits

Raja BOSE

Monday 20 October 2003, by BOSE*Raja

Article paru dans le Times of India, Údition en ligne du 20 octobre 2003.

AHMEDABAD: The journey from Porbander to South Africa may not have been a memorable one for young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But, the rest, as the world knows, is history.

The world today also knows of the global Gujarati, the ’shak-rotli’ eating folk who have left their footprint in numerous lands across oceans and time zones.

And unlike other migrants, the Gujaratis have moved from one place to another, like Nairobi to Niagara and Singapore to Sydney , always in search of new opportunities.

And, as the surge of the Shahs and prosperity of the Patels take whole continents by surprise - from Africa to Europe and America to Australia , the migration saga is heady stuff, spawning generations of world travellers and leading poets to sing paeans.

Call it wanderlust or a knack of sniffing out an opportunity, when Nanji Kalidas Mehta from Porbander braved the rough seas to reach Durban more than a century ago, he inspired a generation of people from the state to look beyond Gujarat’s borders.

Today, they are settled in about 128 countries. And poet Khabardar is not misplaced when he writes: "Jahan jahan vase ek Gujarati, tyan tyan sadakal Gujarat ." (Wherever a Gujarati settles, it becomes another Gujarat for eternity).

So,when Priti Patel of Nadiad reached Nairobi six years ago, to join her husband, she knew it was not the end of the road. She soon moved to the UK , and then to Canada and is now waiting for her husband to join her.

Says Hemant Naik, now settled in Australia , "The fact that it’s on the other side of the world never deterred Gujaratis from reaching here. Though I came here directly in 1974, there are many who have come from the UK and also the US , looking for better opportunities."

"The geographical advantage of the state has played a big role. With the state having one-third of the country’s coastline and some major ports, the Gujarati has always been a traveller. It came naturally to them," says business historian Dwijendra Tripathi.

If trade links with the Persian and Turkish empires took the Gujarati to the Red Sea region, it was the British rule that contributed to his African safari.

"There were British colonies all over the world and it was easy to travel to these countries as you did not need a passport. So, many from Saurashtra set sail for Africa , risking their lives, for a better future," says president of the Viswa Gujarati Samaj Krishnakant Vakhariya.

They went to Java, Bali and Sumatra too. There is a saying - "Je jaye Java, e kadi pachcho na ave; ave to padiya na padiya bhave, etlu lave (those who migrated to Java never returned and if they did, brought back enough wealth to help generations) ".

But, what is interesting is that they have not remained tied down to any land. If political upheaval led Gujaratis to migrate to UK from Africa , it was a rare spirit to look for greener pastures that did not keep them bound.

"Today, we have Gujaratis even in China where they went to carry out trade in textiles, and in Belgium for diamond business. Many who went to Fiji have now settled in Australia ," adds Vakhariya.

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