Kate Chisholm

Eastern promise | 1 October 2011

Sad to say that none of the ex-pats who were interviewed in India for Home from Home (Radio 4, Friday) talked about missing the BBC. Their removal to the subcontinent from the UK might have left them with a longing for a pint of Guinness, but not a word about Jazzer and the Grundys, Nicky Campbell or even John Humphrys. It was as if British radio had never touched their lives, in spite of growing up here.

Hardeep Singh Kohli, the turban-wearing broadcaster with a broad Glasgow accent whose taste for highly spiced food derives from his family ancestry in the Punjab, went in search of British Indians who have gone back to live in India — PIOs as they are known there (People of Indian Origin). In the past decade more and more of them have been choosing to return to the homeland of their parents, and sometimes grandparents, driven back by a search for roots, for a sense of belonging, the desire for something called ‘home’.

Perhaps the strangest tale came from Nainesh Patel, who was born in East Africa and brought up in Leicestershire, where he built up a business making samosas to a family recipe. One day a businessman from Chennai visited his food factory, tasted the samosas and decided they were better than anything he could buy back in India. So he started taking them back to Chennai and selling them at a local food market. Now Mr Patel has himself moved to Mumbai, running his business from there, the country of his ancient forefathers.

There has been a ‘special’ relationship between India and Britain, much deeper and yet more intangible than the transatlantic alliance, since the days of the early East India Company. Scratch the surface of many UK families and you’ll find ancestors who lived at some time on the subcontinent, often for generations, moving from the West to find a different, richer life in the East.

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