Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Exodus Kenya 1968

Nairobi Airport 1968 The Asian Exodus

  Exodus is a new word in our vocabulary. The insidious word has crept into conversations and into my dreams. It’s the word in English that carries foreboding pictures. Pictures that alarm and terrify us. Pictures that assault families viewing the nine o’clock news on the TV before they go to bed. Pictures that they see again in newspapers when they wake up the next morning.  Pictures that one would think are deliberately put there to cause panic in the community. Pictures that demand we leave quickly. Exodus is like the other word called emergency full of images that swell fear in the heart and the fear eats into words. Emergency was less than a decade ago when the Mau Mau roamed the night.

         Because I do not read English, I look deep for a long time into pictures of the Asian exodus out of Kenya. I try to understand. The luggage they carry is in all sorts of makeshift packages and suitcases. One old woman is even carrying her kitchen pot with her. It’s probably her favourite utensil without which her pilau would not be the same. She is like me who measures the recipes by how the ingredients spread in the pot. So it has to be the same pot. The expressions of their faces and gestures are all the same – they exude anxiety. A collective community apprehension – Gujaratis in saris, Punjabis in long tunic-shirts over loose pants, Goans wearing short dresses, pervades the airport departure hall like a colossal aura as it does in our homes. I also look at the five p.m. Swahili news on the TV and listen to the follow up commentary on the exodus before going to khane. The airport faces haunt me. They are my people. I think I could be that woman in the sari sitting on her suitcase holding her son and daughter in each arm at the airport lounge. A tin of travel food sits by her foot. I am that mother of children. I could be that woman in a sari pressed in among the tired mob at the British High Commission. They have been standing for weeks at the door waiting to present their papers and secure the visa before the deadline to enter Great Britain clamps down on them. What used to be a single tidy line has swelled into a mob of desperate and nervous families. Their mood aggravates as days go by. The new legislation now requires a voucher over the visa to enter Great Britain. The process is tedious and slow. 

1968 The Asian Exodus

        The British High Commission people are suspicious of every Indian as if she were a criminal. They even stopped the flights. Some sleep there on the pavements in the rain and the cold highland night air of Nairobi harassed by the police. 

Patrick Shaw, ex-British now Kenyatta’s most feared police henchman, patrols the pavements with a baton in his hand and a gun at his waist, pushing the crowds back as if expecting a riot to flare up at any moment. In the scuffle that he creates, he thrusts at a defiant woman. She does not move. He shoves her with force this time tearing her sari blouse. She is a small built Gujarati woman and he, a Goliath of a white man in khaki police uniform. She is shamed. Next day her picture appears in The Nation newspaper. She has filed a court case against Mr Shaw. She demands her right. I am her.

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