This Is For Africa

I tell a lot of stories from Africa. I feel an inexplicable connection to the land and its people when I read those stories. The rhythm, the music, the style, and the raw simplicity of the stories appeals to my sensibilities. Interestingly, there are many similarities between the folklore of Africa and the folklore of India. This, of course, is true for the entire genre of folktales and myths from around the world. One of my favorite stories as a child was the ‘Monkey And The Cap Seller’ that my mother used to tell me. Three decades later, I found out it’s a West African story. How did a West-African story land up in a home in Madras, India? Or how did the story of ‘How Shiva Gave Stories To The World’ from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, find a parallel with ‘How Anansi Got The Stories’, also from Africa?

Thank God for research.

An article on the BBC’s website states: “The Out Of Africa theory says, Homo sapiens first developed in Africa and then spread around the world between 100 and 200,000 years ago, superseding all other hominid species. The implication of this argument is that all modern people are ultimately of African descent.”

It’s possible that as these people travelled, they took their stories with them, retold them over and over again by adding local elements while retaining their core. No wonder, somewhere deep inside, the African in me responds to these tales. Somewhere in Africa, I’m convinced someone feels the same way as I do when they listen to a story from India.

Cut to 2017, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India. A group of Nigerians had to be hospitalized after a mob held Nigerians responsible for the death of a young student from drug overdose. Locals suspected he had been drugged by African nationals. They beat up Nigerian students who they believed were cannibals and stored human flesh in their refrigerators. I watched the news, horrified at this dastardly act by my countrymen.

Last year, in Bangalore, there was a similar incident involving a student from Tanzania who was attacked and stripped by locals following an accident that she wasn’t even involved in. A few minutes earlier, an allegedly drunk student from Sudan ran his car over a woman sleeping on the roadside and the Tanzanian woman, paid the price for it.

Even if were to assume that some African nationals were involved in illegal acts, what gives these ‘protectors’ the confidence to take law into their own hands and brand all Africans as criminals?

I feel deeply ashamed that we have allowed this to happen in a country that supposedly believes in ideas such as, ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ (the guest in God) and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family). Why do these beliefs not percolate to every level of society? What are these if not acts of hate and prejudice? What are these if not acts stemming from intolerance and insularity?

Today, I feel the need to apologize to my African friends who look forward to visiting India soon. On behalf of the entire nation, I’m truly sorry. I’m sorry that not one of us came forward to speak up for your people or try to save them. We’re not like this, you know. Yes, these may be stray incidents but we must stop to examine our views, for this kind of insensitivity towards people ‘who are not like us’ could soon be the norm.

Fellow Indians, our stories tell us loud and clear that we are all one people. Our truths are identical. Our hopes and dreams are exactly the same. Is that so hard to see? The idea of India, her values, her tenets, are all under question now; we had better wake up.

And to those mobsters who gang up against Africans and shout at them to “Go back to Africa!” remember that’s where you came from. A mirror might just come in handy.