Monday Musings 270 - Roots
Many years back I had read the famous and controversial in parts book ‘Roots’ by Alex Haley which traces the history of an African American to many generations back to the wilds of Africa. The book had left quite an impact on me – and I am told that it had had a similar impact on many others since the time it was first published in 1976.
I had started to wonder how it feels like going back to ones roots – particularly when it is way way back in time. I had wondered how Alex Haley would have felt when he would have gone back to the same tribe in Africa and realised that he came ‘here’. (I was not aware of some of the controversy about the historical authenticity of this pursuit then so it was easy to be carried away by the emotional whirlwind about such a thought)?
What makes us wonder about our roots? Do all of us wonder about it in the same measure or whether to some this possesses more than others? What makes some feel so differently about this question than others? Is it better not to be touched by this question in the realisation of the futility of this pursuit – for what conceivable material benefit will emerge out of it? What will it solve ultimately except may be an additional to the treasure trove of trivia that we carry with us all the time?
However to others it is an important search – it is the beginning of the formation of identity. The ties of place, kinship, family tree gives us the overarching shade of a shared past – some kind of a banyan tree which helps us to feel anchored. We do not float unanchored – we have something to hold on to – for whatever it is worth.
As I progressed through the book then I could not help asking myself if there was a latent desire in me to search for my roots – may not more than a century as Alex Haley had managed to do – but may be fifty or 70 years. I don’t know what I told myself then but there were parts of the book when the travails of ‘Kunta Kinte’ the lead protagonist so to speak became so overwhelming that it was difficult not to be choked. I could not identify what was so overwhelming in that tale that was touching me in such inexplicable way. In hind sight I can say that the seeds to search my roots were sowed. I had to go back to the place where it had all began. It took a decade for it to fall in place.
An hour back I returned from the place where possibly a century plus years ago the family tree could be traced back to. I met a small one room mud walled – no roof ruins approximately the size of 100 sq ft of what is left of it. I am trying to make sense of what it means for me now that I have been to such a place - exact place, where once life flourished and which is in ruins now - and which in a very philosophical way is a precursor to my being.
Increasingly we are living in places where we were not born and raised. I wonder if we will miss going back to whatever we call as our roots – may be not a 100 years; but may be where we were raised and have memories of. I wonder if it is worth dying anywhere else. As a young boy I saw the anguish of not being able to die his ancestral village in my grandfather and could not fathom that emotion of his. Today may be I am just beginning to understand that. May be all of us have a deep seated need to connect with our roots – whatever they are; and maybe we just don’t know it yet.
One begins to wonder – how many variables come together to ensure you are where you are. It could have so easily been something else.