Roots…. Some Reflections …. Questions To Ponder

Barack Obama is here in India, and I was originally planning to write a post about his visit. However, it is also our 66th Republic Day, and a conversation that I had over dinner lead me to write about something else entirely.

I had gone for dinner to a friend’s home. He shares my family name, and like my parents, his parents come from Undivided India. Which means that they come from the part of India that is now in Pakistan. Punjabis, we are, by the way.

I was mentioning how a friend of mine in Pakistan went to my father’s old village and filmed it. My father’s old home and doorway were still standing. He had not seen it since 1947 when the two countries were split. My friend’s mother was telling us about how, as a 13 year old, she had travelled from her home to India, and how she had to hide in the train, especially at stations, to avoid being spotted and shot.

Then, I went on to speak about how one of my great desires is to travel to Pakistan to see the home of my ancestors, and that I would do so at the opportune moment. To the older generation, and mine, the identification with the home of our ancestors in Pakistan is still very strong. Often, when we meet people who’s ancestry lies on the other side of the border, the bond increases. There is something magical, something nostalgic in this.

This sense of identity with the ancestry in Undivided India will die out with the younger generation of Indians, and the term – Undivided India – will seem quaint and antiquated.

We spoke about Indians who live outside India. Some of them cling to Indian traditions that we don’t practice in India anymore. We find these practices quaint, but then this is their sense of belonging with India. Their bond.

There are others like the US Senator, Bobby Jindal, who ( I believe ) denies all sense of being of Indian origin. He has become a Protestant, I was told.

This is a very individual thing, I would say.

How far back do you trace your roots, your family tree, your family history? How far back do you go to trace your cultural identity and heritage? How far back do you need to go, to trace your cultural identity?

And, what happens when you transplant your roots? How many generations before the transplanted roots forget the old memories, or blend with new ones, to create new cultural identities?

Any thoughts?


  1. all the places have no meaning in their way things do not need meaning are here for wonderfull some places are special full of energy their own energy not our energy proiected to them an house normaly have no energy but if you feel it is because you proiect your energy of that house in it but you can go to visit it no problem …. traditions are important but they must be a transit a transit to origin more you go in the past more things are simple and speak truth …. young generation well they have a new god money and their life are signed like the stamp they need to reach happiness …. i think hystory is more important than todays world say history is the only way not to do the same errors but obviously system do not always focalize on it ….

    1. I agree with what you say – history is important. However, we need to really learn from history, and not just memorise dates. It is indeed sad that ‘Money’ is becoming more and more of a God to all of us

  2. I think it depends if you transplant your roots to escape something. In that case, the old memories will fade away very quickly, because they want to be forgotten. If you transplant your roots, but still proud to be what you are, they will try to maintain the culture and traditions over generations. As long as you are proud, I think you will maintain. I don’t know if it makes any sense 😀

  3. I am first generation mixed roots and I have lived in a few countries. At the end of the day, I identify most with the country I grew up in – Canada. Some of this probably comes from Canada’s multi-cultural attitude. Here in France, I see many that identify more with their roots because their cultures are not accepted. At the same time I see my youngest daughter, whose roots are even more mixed than mine (her mother is Chinese) and at fourteen sees herself as completely French.

  4. I don’t understand it, but that could be because my ancestry hails from many different countries. I’m more Scandinavian than anything else. But does that mean I tend to behave like a stereotypical Scandinavian? I doubt it, yah.

    1. I think yo take a bit from all the places you have been to, correct? Or, the ancestry that you have inherited from the various strands that make you what you are today

      1. I guess if my immediate ancestors had come from another country, I might identify some with that country. But that’s ancient history. I don’t see myself as European or Native American. I just see myself as an American native.

  5. Interesting subject. My grandparents came to America from Italy, so they struggled with longing for the old country, but wanting to embrace the new. Their kids treated culture more as a nostalgic thing, pleasant and desirable, but not all that important. By the time you get to us, the grandchildren, we are so American you cannot even see our stories and our background anymore. I think in order to integrate properly and to make a home for yourself, we do have to make new cultural identities. I suppose that’s kind of sad.

    On the other hand, several of the grand kids have actually visited Italy and most of us still maintain some connection to food and family, and to those original roots, it’s just that that part of us is now a secondary identity.

    1. The idea of a secondary identity is interesting, and it makes a lot of sense. I think that this happens all the time – we move, we absorb the new, we try and retain something of where we came from

  6. As far as you want, I suppose. Until you hit that place where you say “Aha! That’s it!!” I am learning that my roots are not really on my Family Tree, as entirely different traditions draw me very strongly.

  7. I have never really been interested in digging any deeper into my roots because from the relatives I know about, I’ve spent the majority of my life moving as far away from them as possible. Lord help me if I found out that what’s even deeper in my ancestry tree is worse than they are.

    It’s just a good thing that many people don’t have my situation to deal with.

  8. My uneducated, unerudite, over-simplified take: if you want to “get away” you welcome the distance in all facets. If you move, but stay within your history and culture, you may always wish to go back or hold on. Then there are those who never knew — like those who were adopted out of foreign countries when infants and absorbed by their new family….

  9. Oh my goodness this is a great post as it has set me thinking about my diverse family roots! It would take too long to go into here but thank you for bringing it up! Enjoy your day, record and treasure your memories. One day your descendants will be desperate to find out what you know!!

    1. Yeah..I changed my approach to street photography after my dad died. I had wanted to write his story,but he died. So, when I go onto the streets, I sometimes ask people about them. It can be amazing

  10. I think even after many generations, there still is something of the roots left.
    Though when you go to some place else you should also try to arrange yourself with the new surroundings – maybe something like taking the best of both worlds and hopefully, this will develop further. But at least, a spark of where one came from will always remain. Even after generations.

  11. Today our friend from Saint Petersburg (Russia) made a presentation for a group of people about his extensive search for roots of his family.
    He was able to find many documents (old photos, official documents, letters, poems), met people in different countries and created a family tree. In the period of 1930-1953 one third of his relatives (military men, scientists, engineers, poets, doctors) were executed. My wife’s father was also executed, my Grandpa was beaten to death by KGB. Later all of them were declared innocent.
    I don’t recommend my grandchildren to go to Russia until it becomes democratic country (if ever).

    1. Oh boy… I remember you mentioned that you also experienced deep hunger/ starvation. You have lived a most interesting life.
      I have been curious about Russia, thanks to people like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin etc,. but I am a little scared about going there

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