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India’s old African connect to reverberate at Games

other Updated: Sep 29, 2010 00:22 IST
Shalabh Manocha

Looks can be deceptive so don't go by their colour. Imran Akbar Siddi and his 47-member team are of African origin but can give Indians a run for their money when it comes to speaking in Hindi or Gujarati. The Gujarati troupe is in the Capital to perform African folk dance at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony on October 3.

"Our ancestors moved to India from Mombasa (in East Africa) more than seven centuries ago and though we look like Africans, we are Indians," says Imran, the group leader.

The group, which was formed 28 years ago, has travelled all the way from Ratanpur village in the Bharuch district of Gujrat especially to perform at the Games. Another thing that is striking about them apart from their colour and fluency in Hindi is that they have a performer Babu Siddi aged 52 years, and 17-year-old Noora Siddi who will perform together at the mega event.

"Humare dada pardada India aye aur yahi ke ho gaye par ye folk dance humari sanskriti hai aur hume ise aur failana hai," (Our ancestors moved to India but this folk dance is part of our African culture and we want to promote it)," said Babu who is also Imran's uncle.

The dance form is eight centuries old and was performed by Siddi Goma community of East Africa on occasions like marriage and childbirth, he said, but since there is lack of job opportunities in Ratanpur, this also acts a source of livelihood.

Lack of finances is not the only problem the Siddi community in India faces. "Whenever we perform outside our state, people pass racial comments," said Imran

So, how do they tackle that? "Sometimes we teach them the hard way, which is entering into a fight. But there are also occasions when we simply overlook it because we can't pick a fight with everybody," adds Imran.