Professor Jayasinhji Jhala
Thank you, dear reader, for reading my friend Karim Ajania’s story, The Gulab Archipelago.
The Gulab Archipelago is the first installment of a series of three stories, which comprise the Gulab Trilogy.
The next installment you might look forward to is The Badgers Stories and then, there is the third and final installment, which is Samsara Migration. These three stories travel chronologically back in time. In the next installment, The Badgers Stories, we meet young Karim at the age of seven, when he has just arrived from Nairobi, Kenya to attend preparatory school in London, England.
An Indian boy who was born in Africa, he speaks hardly any English since his first languages and dialects were Gujarati and Kutchi, Swahili and Kikuyu. He has already been exposed to such vividly vibrant and colorful cultures, growing up within the Indian diaspora in Kenya. Now, the seven year-old Karim finds his soaring imagination and vital vivaciousness constrained within the sober and staid, stuffy and static straightjacket of contrived English restraint and reserve. So much so, that his bewildered and befuddled English school teacher writes in Karim’s first report card:
“I find myself profoundly concerned that Karim appears to have a merely passing and fleeting acquaintance with reality.”
Thank goodness for that!
For, throughout the centuries, indeed, throughout the civilizations, it is those poets and pioneers, inventors and innovators, who have firmly held to a “fleeting acquaintance with reality” which have helped the rest of us to experience fresh new horizons and glimpse undiscovered vistas.
These insightful stories by Karim, are subtly sweeping in scope, gentle galactic tales as worlds penetrate worlds. They are continental drift tales, where continents connect and collide in the minds and bodies of persons who travel to other lands carrying the continent with them.
The microcosm, which is Karim’s migration from East to West and from South to North, remains distinctively an individual story and a unique experience. However, Karim’s individual story also evokes and echoes similar stories of millions of people living in our time and in our world today. Perhaps one-seventh of the globe’s migratory populations have been on the move these past 100 years. This factor gives these Gulab stories a poigniant relevancy.
Above all, these are stories of hope. In these stories there is growth and a positive mind frame.
Only one character, Grubs, in the installment you have just read, transforms in character from an ignorant bully to a thoughtful and good person. All others characters retain their place and remain unchanged fundamentally, even when they are in new and foreign environments. The bedrock of certitude lies in the values imbibed in first or birth cultures even though that culture provides incentives to explore and embrace the alien, the challenging and the threatening. If financial gain is a driving force it is not the only force or even the primary force that motives movement.
Stasis is death. Mobility is life.
Through the eyes and thoughts of an individual this journey takes us into imagined spaces, where present religions and beliefs do not exclude but rather permit a synchronized environment of an aspirant and hopeful future. Religious ideas do not lose potency by being generous to opposing philosophies and these ideas are never shrill nor strident. They are never defensive nor rigid in meeting opposing thought. They are consistently tolerant and more often enlightened.
It has been a joy to read these stories by Karim within the website format.
The pictorial held in photographs that locate the stories and sensory delight of imagined aromas and a cacophony of colors create a warm and inviting atmosphere for the reader. Food and fragrances flutter around corners like sounds but architectures stay the eye by making for partitions that hearken the barriers of speech and language. Transient barriers, that fog the sentiment and cloud the underlying cultural commonalities that are both religious and racial.
Nevertheless, the triumph of hope and understanding lie in the fact that these cultural commonalities consistently and vigilantly strive to seek and secure common ground.
The images of the African dimensions of these stories are also thought provoking.
Delicacy of life comes from the light footprint animals. Their juxtaposed presence in flight or on the hoof, on the high plane or on the seashore or in the rural village, is expansive in contrast to the urban worlds of endeavor, which are staged upon venues and vistas where contest is tried but where, ultimately, lives are lived in a more wide-ranging and more embracing reality.
Karim’s trilogy of the Gulab stories is a tour-de-force.
Prince Jayasinhji Jhala
I am the director of Temple University’s graduate and undergraduate tracks in the anthropology of visual communication, and of our visual communication media lab. I have been involved in interpreting culture on film and video for the past thirty years.
I was educated at St. Stephens College, Delhi, India, where I received a BA in English Literature (1968); Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I received an MVS (1983); and at Harvard University, where I received a PhD (1991).
I have produced, directed, filmed and edited over fifteen well-received ethnographic films which illustrate the cultures of India, the USA and Vietnam and speak to various issues in visual anthropology. My first films were Forgotten Headhunters and Apatani Sacrifice both shot in Arunachal Pradesh in north east India, south of China and east of Burma, in 1976 and my most recent film Halo of Heroes was completed in 2015.
The above films have been seen by national and international audiences. Information about several of my films is available from Documentary Educational Resources.
My written publications address issues of art and anthropology, nomadism, religious worship, indigenous interpretations of local culture, ethnographic filmmaking and its reception, photography, Hindu marriage, Rajput ideology and politics and Vietnamese rituals.
With my friend and fellow director Karim Ajania, I am pioneering the Halvad Revitalization Initiative in Gujarat, India, of which I am Founder (click here to read more).