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Of California Dreams

The book, California Dreams - India shining in the land of Hollywood, chronicles the contribution of Indian Americans in propelling the Sunshine State to a major economic powerhouse.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2006 21:07 IST

Four British Army Sikh soldiers who landed in San Francisco April 5, 1899, were the forerunners of a massive wave of Indian migration to southern California - the region that is home to a staggering 200,000 of the over 1.5 million Indian Americans in the US.

It is in southern California that people like Dilip Singh Saund began the Asian struggle for equal rights; it is there that Indian mystics and yogis like Paramhansa Yogananda and Jiddu Krishnamurthy started preaching the wisdom of the East; it is there that transcendental meditation and yogis gained global recognition.

California Dreams - India shining in the land of Hollywood (British Columbia Books) traces this magical journey as author Gurmukh Singh skillfully chronicles the contribution of 24 Indian Americans in propelling the Sunshine State to a major economic powerhouse within the US.

"No one knows how the Sikh soldiers arrived in California or why they were permitted to stay. But the stories they sent back inspired many more from the Punjab to come here - and the rest, as they say, is history," says the author of the Indian saga.

Today the majority of the Indian diaspora in southern California traces its roots to Punjab. But it includes a fair sprinkling of Gujaratis, Bengalis and Tamils.

"The inspiring life stories of these most remarkable Indian Americans are a testament to ever growing enterprise and ingenuity," notes Stanley Wolpert, professor emeritus of South Asian history at UCLA, in his foreword to the 208-page, profusely illustrated book priced at $20 (Rs 999 in India).

"Indians have always stressed education and family as their highest priorities. Expanding their minds in every field, they venture to explore while retaining strong attachments to their ancestral roots as well as their progeny and community. This splendid volume reveals how much the Indian community of Southern California has contributed to the growth of our region and nation," Wolpert says of the book.

And what a contribution it has been - there's Saund, the first Indian American to win a seat in Congress and whose portrait has been unveiled on Capitol Hill; Harvinder S Sahota, the cardiologist with record patents; C Kumar N. Patel, who stopped then president Ronald Reagan's Star Wars plans;

Chand R Visvanathan, the topmost Indian educationist in the US; Rajan S Anand, the highest ranking Indian in the Clinton administration; Harbhajan S Samra, the okra king of California; Chandu K Patel, the first Indian to be feted by a US president; and Navneet S Chugh, considered the Sardar of the American Bar - to name just a few.

These individuals apart, southern California has been and is home to many Indian celebrities.

Actor Kabir Bedi lived there for many years. Musician Zubin Mehta and his family, and Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka have made the region their home for many years.

Not many people know that long before Ravi Shankar came to Los Angeles, his brother Uday Shankar had staged a Bharatanatyam performance in Santa Monica as far back as 1963.

The book also contains priceless nuggets like these:

The Pacific Palisades chapter of the Self-Realisation Fellowship founded by Paramhansa Yogananda is the only place in the world where Mahatma Gandhi's ashes are still preserved. Not even in India are Gandhi's ashes preserved.

In the 1920s, Baroda's Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad used to own land from Bel Air all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He defaulted on his taxes and the state reclaimed the land. Today a Baroda Drive in Bel Air is the only reminder of those heady days.

The early migrants married Mexican women since they were forbidden from bringing wives from back home.

This often resulted in situations where there were three separate groups of people in a group of farmers: the men relaxing and speaking in Punjabi, the women conversing in Spanish while doing their household chores and teenagers talking to each other in English while playing basketball - a perfect example of family harmony with each group doing its own thing with little communication.

"California Dreams" is Gurmukh Singh's third book after the critically acclaimed "The Rise of Sikhs Abroad" and "Hero of American Hearts" about cardiologist Sahota, who also features in the latest.

A former correspondent with The Times of India, Gurmukh Singh now divides his time between India and Canada.

First Published: Jan 05, 2006 19:27 IST