I have listened to my father talk about Alipore all my life. Though I am sure he wants to return to see his origins, he is yet to do so. In a sense, and with his consent, I returned for both of us. I went to Alipore to see our origins. In Alipore I found the house where my grandfather, Mohammed Ishmail Laher, grew up.
This is a picture of the house.
Ishmail Salih Laher, my great-grandfather raised my grandfather in this house. The house is in a residential area called Lahermolla. Walking through the front door was like stepping back into time in more than one way. I felt connected to my ancestors. Moreover, I felt closer to my father than ever before.
Inside the house are several pieces of furnishing my great-grandfather left behind (he lived to 104 it is said). This swing belonged to my great-grandfather more than a century ago. It is in immaculate condition.
My grandfather was killed in a car accident in South Africa when my dad was just seven years old. He and five others were in a funeral procession when a drunk driver smashed into them taking my grandfather’s life. My grandmother, Ayesha (also from Alipore), was in the car but survived with severe injuries that would cause her much suffering for the rest of her life. My grandfather was just forty years old. He left behind five sons who today hardly seem to care enough for each other to bridge the distance between belonging and knowing how and where to belong.
Life is filled with all kinds of demons and I don't want to judge any of the reasons why the Laher brothers have chosen to live such fractured lives. I expect that each one has a reason for the choices they have made. Sadly, time is running out to make amends for opportunities squandered on fears and delusions.
I called my father from Alipore on my cell. We talked. Me in Alipore and he in Kimberley, and the other way around.
It has been a few days since that experience and for the first time in my life I am uncharacteristically without spoken words. My head is filled with thoughts and I need time to bring meaning, more meaning. Returning to a place I have never been to before has moved me to look for deeper meaning. Questions of identity are running through my being as I long to see my father and tell him that Alipore is real and better than any of us thought. I expect that he knew this all along.
There are also the confirming emotions and thoughts that defy the identity that apartheid created for me. My revolution and my resistance has not been in vain, I never thought it was. And, even as I struggle to piece this experience together and make sense of what is even a bigger story than I imagined, I know my struggle and its course that runs before and after me.
Visiting Alipore and living in India has reconfirmed my commitment to a struggle for justice that draws heavily from black consciousness. Robert Sobukwe (pictured here), Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, my mother, among others, continue to inspire my resistance to racism in all its forms. In India the struggle is not that different even as caste covers race and development agendas act as a façade for recolonization.
I will not know the exact reasons behind my grandfather's decision to leave Alipore for South Africa. He went as a "passenger Indian" and not an indentured worker. In South Africa his life could not have been easy. Racism must of shaped every aspect of his new life and brought challenges he could not have imagined. His decision to stay and forge a new life was no doubt an act of loyalty to South Africa as much as it was intended to offer opportunities to his family.
I am fortunate that my grandfather decided to stay. South Africa is home in every sense of the word. I am an African and "I owe my loyalty to the African soil" as Robert Sobukwe would say. This guiding principle is the center of my struggle for justice. It is a struggle I accept as a duty.
So, finding Alipore and living in India has not brought on a delusional exceptionalism and a reworked ethnic-identity for me. My consciousness remains intact and aligned with Steve Biko's (pictured here) vision of belonging and revolution. Knowing who I am and what binds me is especially relevant now that neo-liberalism has reduced our nationalist leaders to nothing more than deluded foot soldiers. The struggle continues.