How We Came to Be A Multicultural Family — Southern India, the 1940s

In this second installment of my series How We Came To Be A Multicultural Family I am turning to my husband’s family in pre-independent India. Appa‘s family is from the southern tip of India, which once belonged to the Kingdom of Travancore.

Along with hundreds of so-called princely states Travancore was not formally part of the British empire. Princely states, some of them very large (e.g. Hyderabad, Travancore, or Kashmir), some of them quite tiny, were regions not directly governed by the British but still subject to their indirect rules to a great extent. Notably, the princely states made up almost half of pre-independent India’s territory and more than a quarter of its population.

Appa’s maternal grandfather was a young man in the years leading up to India’s independence in 1947. During a religious holiday in his village when a large gathering of people was getting together, he defied the British diktat and raised the flag of Freedom fighting India. This did not go well with the local authorities. The Kingdom of Travancore’s sovereignty in such highly inflammable political matters was very restricted.

In order to avoid being arrested Appa’s grandfather had to leave the village and live in hiding until things calmed down. The person who provided a safe harbor at this crucial time was… an Englishman by the name of Simpson. Simpson and Appa’s great grandfather owned cropland next to each other and their proximity had lead to a bona fide friendship.

Being from a well-off family of land owners Appa’s great grandfather had been to college and spoke English so it seems his relationship with Simpson was one of peers. Aachi remembers spending summer vacation days in Simpson’s property as a child in the 1950s and 1960s. His land was higher up in the mountain so it was a little cooler up there.

I find it significant that Appa’s family’s personal relationship to the world outside Asia pre-dates him by at least three generations. It also matters, I think, that this exposure went beyond experiencing Britain’s colonial rule. There was curiosity and friendship too, long before Appa came about.

These past ties are still echoing in our present life, not only here in America. Appa’s sister lives in Scotland with her family. They have grown very attached to their beautiful host country, establishing one more meaningful connection with the incredibly diverse ensemble that was once the British empire. Long live our multicultural family!

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