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The Ties That Bind Indians To Nigeria

When Prashant Kirpalani, said Nigeria is his fatherland at the end of Devesh Uba’s new documentary, there was a smile on his face.

Kirpalani is a fourth-generation Indian living in Nigeria. His family has been in Africa’s most populous country long before he was born in India. Soon after his birth, he was shipped to Nigeria which he now calls home. His two younger brothers were born in Nigeria.

His story and those of a few others formed the core of Devesh Uba’s film which explores the connection between India and Nigeria.

The docufilm – Father’s Land – took three years to make and is the first-ever documentary made on Indians in Nigeria and its first screening was held on 7th April, 2019 at Jazzhole in Ikoyi, Lagos.

The filmmaker Devesh Uba addresses a small group of Indians

Having discovered that there is a big thriving Indian community in Nigeria, Uba became intrigued by his countrymen’s willingness to settle down in an environment many back home consider too inclement for them.

“I made this documentary because I found this story fascinating. Also, a lot of people do not know there is such a huge Indian community in Nigeria so it was worth sharing their stories,” he says.

Uba himself is a resident in Nigeria. He came to Nigeria 2013 to take a job in a public relations firm that was looking to go into digital content. He planned to stay for just 12 months. This is 2019, he is still here and may not return to his motherland anytime soon.

Anupama Sharma (1)

What is the lure for him and others, then? Commerce!

“There is a solid evidence that by mid- 19th Century, it [commercial relations between Nigeria and India] grew exponentially such that by the end of 19th Century, there was already an established Indian commercial presence in Lagos,” historian Ed Keazor says.

“By the 1890s, they were settled enough to be recorded as living and resident in Nigeria.”

By the 1920s, two of the well-known Indian-owned companies had already started. Both Chellarams and Chanrai Group still operate today and have expanded from just being merchants to becoming manufacturers providing jobs for thousands of Nigerians.

Today, Chellarams regards itself as a “Nigerian conglomerates”. Its current chief executive officer Aditya Chellaram, like Uba, is staying beyond his initial plans.

“When I graduated from the university, I came back just to visit my parents without the intention of staying back to join the business,” he says.

“When I went to the office to the office, there was a project at the time. I just kind of fell into it and I never left.”

While Uba film indicates that Indians’ adventure is predicated on commerce, either planned or otherwise, it also shows how easy it is for them to acculturate in a new environment. In spite of his reluctance to come to join his family business in Nigeria, Aditya Chellaram is still in the country. In fact, he regularly plays the saxophone with Bita Kola, a local band in Lagos.

Anupama Sharma’s affinity for Nigeria’s culture is evident in her 27-year stay here, a fond recollection of her days at the University of Lagos and the abundance of Nigerian artworks generously displayed in her house, where Uba filmed her.

Aditya Chellaram (1)

Gautam Kumar and Sudhanshu Gaurav came to Nigeria in the 2006 and 2011 respectively. Like the early Indian merchants before them, are also making their marks in the Nigerian business space and are willing to make the country their home. Kumar now leads a garri processing company, with its operations is almost fully automated while Sudhanshu Gaurav is currently the chief operating officer of Merald Group.

In spite of the immense opportunities the country offers both men, they acknowledge that the Nigerian business environment could be overly choking. Yet, they rather be here and weather the storm.

Making the film was not easy for Uba. Not many of the people he wanted to interview were willing to speak on camera and had a “tough time” convincing them. There were other problems, too.

“The documentary took a long time to finish and keeping myself motivated was a challenge at times,” he says.

He hopes that his 17-minute long film will help people understand how Nigeria has been “so good to Indians and home to many.”

“A lot of Indians who have never been to Nigeria, do not know that Indians have been living here for centuries and the strong community we have. Through this film, I intend to spread the word and surely, the perceptions will change only for the better.”

The for Nigerians curious to know how Indians in Nigeria think of the country, Uba’s docufilm is one sure way of finding out.

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