By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
New Delhi–Hailing from Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, Gautam came to Antwerp some 30 years ago. He now owns a number of diamond outlets in Europe and many of the duty free-outlets at the European airports. A hotelier and a Belgian chocolate retailer, he is a known philanthropist.
Micky Sehgal arrived in Italy in June 1980 with just $500 in his pocket. Today, he is known as the Curry King and owns one of Rome’s most famous Indian restaurants –Maharja’s — and has an annual turnover of over 1.5 million euros (Rs 11 crore).
Gautam and Micky are some of the prominent Indian diaspora members that have been profiled and photographed by three Indian photographers who through their lens captured the lives and enlivening stories of the community that now calls Europe its home.
With the Indian diaspora in the EU estimated to be six million plus or about 20 percent of the total population, the concept was given a go-ahead to feature and highlight the respectively little known aspects of Indians in Europe, who have become an “integral part of the community.”
Titled the “New Homelands: The Indian diaspora in the European Union”, the photo exhibition is on display at the Indian Habitat Centre from October 20 to November 7. It will then travel to Mumbai and will be hosted at the Piramal Gallery.
In September 2016, three award-winning Indian photo-journalists — Paroma Mukherjee, Kounteya Sinha and Shome Basu — criss-crossed Europe on a month-long tour to explore the lives of the Indian diaspora in their adopted homelands.
The exhibition in a very subtle, heartwarming and nostalgic way traces the life journeys of some of the notable Indians who not only struck gold in their new homes by learning new languages, customs and traditions, but are still carrying a piece of India afloat with them.
According to EU Ambassador to India Tomasz Kozlowski, the cultural project explores the myriad journeys of the diaspora and their contributions to the countries of the European Union.
“I believe this exhibition will surprise and delight visitors but I am also hopeful that it will deepen understanding and goodwill between the peoples of the two biggest democracies in the world.”
The photo exhibition also showcases how the Indian culture and its rich tradition have made an inroad on the cultural and social landscape of Europe.
For example, Basu’s photo of a young woman, Tanya Desai, who was born and brought up in Luxembourg, performing the Bharatanatyam Indian classical dance during the India Day celebrations gives an interesting peak into the lives of Indians living there.
Similarly his photo of Indians playing cricket in Sofia, Bulgaria, clearly shows that the passion for the game continues even in their adopted country. The photo shows Prakash Mishra, the captain of the Asia Team that counts in its ranks players from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Japan.
Sinha’s photograph is of Rashmi Bhatt, who came to Italy 20 years ago for a doctorate from Florence University on the history of Italian art history and settled down in the country. A musician since the age of 13, Bhatt is now one of Europe’s most famous percussionists and has successfully collaborated with Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Shakira and Zakir Hussain.
According to the Delegation of the European Union to India, which sponsored the project, the idea was to focus on individuals and communities.
“The idea has been around for a couple of years since we discovered that although most people know someone — either friend or family — who has settled abroad, very little is generally known about the Indian community who have found a new home in Europe.”
“Indians have become an integral part of the community, wherever they have settled. They retain some Indian traditions and customs but they have learnt the language and customs of their country of adoption,” the Delegation told this correspondent.
The project met with “considerable interest” so much so that the Delegation has launched a Facebook page called IndiansinEU ().
The Delegation is also planning to start a website to feature their stories after many approached them about sharing their success stories.
Alka Pande, exhibition curator and consultant art advisor for the India Habitat Centre, said: “Highlighting the Indian diaspora in the EU has not been attempted in this manner through visual culture before.”
“..the Indian diaspora is one of the largest diaspora in the world.(The exhibition) is a massive effort and the scale and scope of the diaspora documented is a truly incredible and heart-warming story by the three very energetic and sensitive photographers.”
She said the response to the photo exhibition was “incredible”.
“It has been an illuminating experience for the viewers to see how well the Indian community has integrated in the country of their choice…The range and variety of professions the Indian diaspora has chosen and the deep struggle and success of many. It is a great story of resilience and success.” (IANS)