Sneh Ahuja Chakraburtty was born in colonised East Africa. As a child she experienced Germans bombarding the area. Since the 6th to 8th centuries AD and again in the 14th century, East Africa was a key player in trade from Arab States, Phoenicians, Greek, Chinese and Indian merchants. Successful Indian trading communities were already set up on the East African coast where the Swahili language had already evolved. All that happened before Europe stepped foot on East Africa with their guns. Firepower gave them superiority wherever they went and whatever they colonised for 200 years.
Her parents and those of her husband’s were workers and professionals ‘imported’ from colonised India. The working middle-class immigrants from India served as a socioeconomic class between the coloniser and the colonised Africans. That remained the model societal hierarchy of the coloniser over many continents. Sneh’s parental family lived in Zanzibar where the Omani Arab Sultans ‘owned’ Zanzibar and Pemba. Both, but especially Zanzibar, were where slaves were gathered by Arabs for unpaid manual labour in homes and date plantations in the Arab states around the Red Sea. Feudal Europe learned the art of slavery from the Arabs. The Coasts of Africa became source of ‘black’ slaves for inexpensive labour needed in the newly colonised Americas.
Most emigrants left India for economic reasons. Their cultural traditions, although preserved were not re-enforced. There was an absence of extended families of elders to ensure such efforts. While growing in the best schools of the day, many children of immigrant Indians were educated in expensive Convent Schools, where Christianity was endorsed. Non-Christian children therefore grew up instilled with mixed messages.
Fortunately, Sneh never experienced Caucasian superiority in a Zanzibar ruled by Arab Sultans. In Zanzibar the Sultan and Arabs were the ‘upper classes’. While flying with her Catholic school friend in transit on their way to University, both then in their teens, were refused entry into a ‘Whites Only’ Hotel in Nairobi.
Imagine her shock when companion school friend got off the taxi at a Catholic address and Sneh was taken to a Protestant YWCA. Sneh did not even realise there were different kinds of Christians. She was already confused with her Arya Samaj home habitat and her childhood friend’s (who became her husband) Sanatani Dharma’s home environment. Sundays at the “Y” was when returnees from ‘Third World Countries’ fundraised ‘pennies’ for ‘Black Babies’. Much of what they said was invented, but raising money off the back of the unfortunate was and still is ‘normal’ in democracy, or was that oligarchy?
The first thirty years of her life were busy with professional pursuits, family duties of husband and daughters and parental displacements resulting from geographic and political upheavals in Zanzibar, Tanganyika and India. There were many questions. There was no time to address them. Who am I? What are my traditions? What is my religious conviction? Where am I taking my children with traditions and belief systems? Who of the many faiths speaks the Truth? Why must I believe anyone? Who can I trust with my own self-education before inculcating them into my children? Those were questions of an anguished soul. So many belief but what is the goal of human existence? What is the path? Who is sanctioned to show the Path?
The books Sneh writes addressed these queries.