For many Caribbean people of Indian descent, there is a dream of visiting India. But for a lot of them, that trip is usually out of reach. Whether it’s too expensive or too far, for most Indo-Caribbeans, the dream often stays just that – a dream.
For most of her life, my mother was one of these people. Her dream of traveling to India began as a young girl, listening to stories of her grandfather. She called him Pa.
Pa was a former indentured laborer who had traveled to Guyana, from India, as a child in search of work.
“I dreamed of seeing where my grandfather came from,” she told me.
After the abolition of slavery by the British Empire in 1834, an estimated 2 million Indians were transported by boat to colonies like Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica as a substitute for slave labor on sugar plantations. With this system of bonded labor, many Indians consented to a contract written in a language they did not understand with the hope that they would return home after their contracted work was complete. However, most never did return. As they had learned years earlier, it would have been a tough journey back to India from the British Caribbean colonies. And after years of hard labor away from home, they had nothing to return to in India.
Aware of this history, my mother always dreamed of visiting the land of her forefathers, but the timing never seemed right. In 1988, after marrying my father, she immigrated to Toronto, then put herself through school, began a career, and raised a family. Yet, after years of hard work to establish a comfortable life in Canada, the dream of traveling to India never left her.
One day, determined to make her dream a reality, she sat down with a list of phone numbers for Hindu temples in the Greater Toronto Area. She was determined to find a group headed to India soon. After dialing the first number, she told the kind woman who answered the phone of her dilemma, then received a surprising answer. There was a trip leaving in just a few months! This group of Indo-Guyanese travelers were all within the same age group, all were very spiritual like my mother, some would also be traveling solo, and a lot of them would be going to India for the first time. This group was the one she had been searching for all her life. It was destiny.
After years of longing, everything finally seemed to line up. A couple of months later, with vaccinations completed and an Indian Visa in hand, my Mom was off to fulfill her lifelong dream.
Throughout the two-week trip, the group traveled through some of the country’s major cities and several provinces. They toured the bustling capital of Delhi; visited Agra, famous as the home of the Taj Mahal; they boarded an overnight boat cruise travelling through the green tropics of Kerala; and even made a stop in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood.
As a deeply religious person, the highlights of my mother’s trip were visits to places that held Hindu significance. One of her favorite moments was visiting the Krishna Janam Bhumi, a group of temples built around the location believed to be the birthplace of deity Lord Krishna. My mother grew up taught that her grandfather was of the Ahir tribe, a caste of cow herders and cattle breeders believed to be descendants of Lord Krishna himself.
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For most visitors to India, visiting the Ganges is high on their to-do lists. The Ganges’ holy water holds immense spiritual significance and believed to embody the Hindu goddess Ganga. Worshippers also believe in the water’s ability to cleanse and purify one from sins.
My mother had always wanted to touch the Ganges, and her opportunity came while in Haridwar when the group witnessed the famous sunset Aarti ceremony. She lit a Diya and let it float down the river while quietly saying prayers to Mother Ganga.
“It was very sacred,” she said solemnly.
Visiting the Ganges also brought back vivid memories of Pa. As a child, she watched him recite his prayers, waist-deep in the trenches, cupping the water in his hands and letting it fall back in. She now saw precisely where that tradition came from, watching the Indian men do the same.
The two weeks spent traveling through India was an especially enlightening experience for my mother. Being able to reconnect to her Indian roots and experience a land and culture so foreign yet oddly familiar truly solidified her Indian identity.
For the many Indo-Caribbean people who dream of visiting India, reconnecting to their roots, and possibly even seeking out those lost relatives, she had this to say:
“Do it. If you have the opportunity, do it. It may be a once in a lifetime experience. I’m glad that I did.”