There were nine people in our group. Rafeeq Ellias, a photojournalist, who has been a loyal supporter of the Chinese Indian community in India, and also of those outside India who want to have their stories heard. We wouldn’t have been able to make this happen without Rafeeq’s help. Four survivors of the Deoli Internment Camp, Michael, Joy, Steven and me. My sister, Pu-Chin, joined us because she wanted to be with me on this historic trip. Dilip, a writer and journalist based in Mumbai was introduced to us by Rafeeq. He was our Moderator for all the talks; Jennifer Liang, a community activist and executive director of the ANT was invited to join our panel. She was only able to join us at JNU and JGU. Vidura J. Bahadur worked tirelessly in introducing me to various organizations so that I could set up venues for our trip. Unfortunately, he had to leave for the U.S. before our arrival to India to begin his studies on his PhD program.
PC, Joy and I flew to Delhi and met Steven at the Haveli Hauz Kaus, a B & B in the Haveli Hauz district of Delhi.
We met up with Rafeeq and went to pay our respects at Raj Ghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi. We were hoping for a larger group of Deoli survivors to visit the memorial, but it never materialized.
Rafeeq arranged for us to meet with a NDTV reporter at a café. It was the first time we were interviewed by a reporter in person. We were all a bit nervous and it was a cathartic moment for Steven since he had never talked to anyone about his experiences of 1962. I had my moment after a wrote and published my memoir, and Joy, had hers when she learned about their traumatic history from her mother.
We spent the day running around getting flyers printed and other material ready for our talks. Michael arrived late this evening.
Our first meeting was a brown bag lunch at the India Habitat Center where we met with media, writers, journalists, community activists and publishers. This seminar led us to another meeting in the evening with N.S. Ravi, Chief of National Intelligence. We were introduced to him by a friend of his, Kishalay Bhattacharjee, who is director of the Reach Out Foundation.
Our first public talk was at the India International Centre, is a well-known non-official organization situated in New Delhi, India. It is a unique establishment that serves as a meeting place for cultural and intellectual offerings, while maintaining its non-official character, non-aligned motivations and remains uncommitted to any particular form of governmental, political, economic or religious affiliation. Few people in the audience had heard of Chinese Indians being interned in the aftermath of the 1962 war.
Rafeeq had arranged NDTV to do a live TV piece with him, Steven and me as interviewees. It was a nerve wrecking affair since neither Steven nor myself have ever been on TV. It turned out fine in the end. In fact, on our subsequent travels to remote regions like Kalimpong, Sikkim and Darjeeling, we were approached randomly by people who recognized us because of the live show. We had our 5 minutes of fame!
Our second public talk was a seminar held at the Centre for East Asian Studies at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University). JNU is a leading university in India and is well-known for its left of center position on social issues such as feminism, minority rights, social and economic justice. All such issues are debated fiercely in formal and informal gatherings. However, few, if any, of the students knew of the internment of Chinese Indians.
We also attended another seminar that afternoon at the Institute for Chinese Studies. It is one of the oldest research institutions on China and East Asian in India.
Our last public talk was at JGU (O.P. Jindal Global University). The university’s vision, mission and core values emerged out of its belief in creating an institution anchored in principles and practices that promote public service and make meaningful contributions to India and the world.
We had our last dinner, as a group, at Haveli Hauz Kaus. Rafeeq had already left and returned to Mumbai. Dilip and Jennifer were also leaving the next day. Joy was off to meet up with old friends.
Michael, Steven, Pu-Chin and I were invited to lunch at the Mandarin Restaurant by Gautam Das. He made himself known at the IIC talk when he found out that I was an LCD (Loreto Convent Darjeeling) alumnus. He was North Point alumnus. North Point was the “brother school” of LCD. He invited another NP alumnus, Shilabhadra Banerjee.
Our last day in Delhi. Steven and Michael went off do thing their own thing while Pu-Chin and I went out with Jeanette, an old school friend of PC.
We had our last dinner out in Haveli Hauz area with Steven and Michael.
Steven and Michael took off early for Kolkata, while PC and I took a later flight.
PC was going to separate from the group and visit another old school mate while I was going to join the guys for a panel presentation in Kolkata with a number of media and local Chinese Indians. I missed my flight and missed the presentation but got caught up with the guys later that night. We stayed at the Park Hotel.
The three of us met up with Binny Law the next morning at a nearby café. He is the President of the Chinese Indian Association in Kolkata. He introduced us to other local Chinese Indians. We were invited by a man called John Liao to have lunch in his restaurant in Salt Flats, an area outside of Kolkata. He told me he knew my father well in the internment camp and learned a lot from him including Buddhist philosophy and history. He said it changed his life. He remembered him very fondly I was touched by his story. He showed us around Salt Flats.
Later that afternoon we were interviewed by Sandip Roy, who had a radio show with NPR in San Francisco for many years but now based in Kolkata. That evening we visited other Chinese areas and had another interview with news media.
On our last day in Kolkata, Steve and I wandered around our hotel district, including dropping into the famous Oxford Book store while Michael was taken by John Liao to pay homage to Michael’s dad’s grave. That evening we got invited to a family home in Tangra. The family is featured in Rafeeq’s film “Beyond the Barbed Wires.” It was quite a spread! When they found out we were going to Kalimpong the next day and I get car sick, they prescribed all sorts of advice, including chewing on churpi. Hard dried chews made from yak milk.
Michael left for Indonesia while Steven and I left for Kalimpong and Darjeeling, his hometown and mine respectively. It was an intense full 12 twelve days.