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Leaving India

My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents

by Minal Hajratwala

Hardcover, 430 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, List Price: $26 |

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Leaving India
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My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents
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Minal Hajratwala

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Book Summary

Interweaving history and memoir, the author traces her family's century-long migration across five continents and five countries in a journey that parallels the Indian diaspora.

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Author Explores Many Paths Of Indian Diaspora

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Leaving India

Leaving India

My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Copyright © 2009 Minal Hajratwala
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-618-25129-2

Chapter One

For Ganda, eleven years old, it would have been easy enough to disappear into the ghetto. An uncle and cousins lived in the neighborhood, and they must have taken him in. They would have known that, sooner or later, he would need an official identity: he could be stopped on the street at any time and asked to show his documents; he could be arrested for breaking the 9 p.m. curfew or walking on a sidewalk reserved for whites; he could be deported.

So his relatives-being, after all, wily Asiatics-hatched a scheme.

In Johannesburg, cousin Chhiba reported to the police that his son had gone missing. He gave a description, a name. Perhaps he said that the boy might have run away, to Durban.

Meanwhile, in Durban, Ganda filed for his identity papers. He had no birth certificate, but that was not unusual. He gave his "father's" name, Chhiba of Johannesburg.

As for his last name, the uncles and cousins used "Kapitan." Most rural Indians never use a surname until they encounter a Western authority, and so it was with Ganda's predecessors, who had to invent one upon landing in South Africa. Kapitan is a unique choice among our people, and the stories of its origin vary widely. Three brothers jumped around like monkeys and were nicknamed "three monkeys," or kappi tran. Or, it comes from the first port where they landed in South Africa: Cape Town, pronounced according to the principles of Indian-English phonetics. Or, the first family member in South Africa came on a ship steered by a man called el capitán, which the sojourner thought to be a fine surname and so adopted as his own.

In any case, armed with these names, young Ganda submitted his papers and his references. Crosschecking, the officials found the missing persons report. They verified his identity.

Ganda's middle name, by tradition, should have been his father's name, Dayaram. He would have become known as G. D. Kapitan; the Durban institution he founded would have been G. D. Kapitan & Son Vegetarian Restaurant. His father would have lived forever, almost, in that single initial recognizing his paternity. But now his name reflected his new "father." And somehow in the transcription process, Chhiba became Chhagan. He became Ganda Chhagan Kapitan, a self-made man-G.C., for short.

(Continues...)