I am writing this from the Saturday club in Kolkata — a city of clubs. Calcutta, as it used to be called, is a dense city crowded with people, street vendors, cars, but it is also a city of islands, oasis where the wealthy and well connected gather cosseted by endless staff — watching their children play in playgrounds, swim, play badminton, making deals and flirting as they sip drinks. It is a scene out of a movie of the British Empire — or like the Jewish Country Clubs of Goodbye Columbus, only in India. But there is another story here. We are the guests of a magnificent woman who is out to recover and display the stories of the overseas Indians of the 19th century — the Indian diaspora of the days of indenture.
Marina and I wrote a bit about the Indians who went to Natal, and the Caribbean, and Mauritius in Sugar Changed the World. Our host here has set out to create a museum at the very depot where the indentured Indians set off on their boats. We are going there this afternoon, and Marina will be the master of ceremonies next week when a plaque is placed at the depot — the first step towards creating this museum of the global Indians. I feel here, as I have at many places in India, that though the country is ancient and full of history (and tourists here to see those remains), it is only just beginning to do the work to tell those stories — to preserve, protect, and display the many, many stories of its past.
I saw that this morning as I walked by the buildings I had described in The Real Revolution — the Calcutta of the East India Company, a few of which are shining bright, many of which are decaying and ignored. And I saw it most of all at a place I will describe in my next post. A fort so magical I felt I was a visitor to Pompeii in the 1850s — when it was known but not yet behind preserving bars. India has so much to offer, yet also so much that needs to be dusted off, cleaned up, explained, and preserved.
Today we are after the stories of the oversees Indians — Marina is rushing me as we are about to take a special boat road to the spot of the depot and soon the plaque and we hope the museum.