India’s Isle Of Ghosts: My new story in the SF Chronicle


Above: A sunset view from the Indian island of Diu.

Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle travel section debuted India’s Isle Of Ghosts, my travel story about the island of Diu in India. Originally researched and written for Islands a few years ago (and shelved when that magazine changed ownership), this travel tale uses ghosts as a metaphor for examining this mostly forgotten corner of the old Portuguese empire:

In a way, my visit to Diu had been an ongoing encounter with ghosts – and many of the telltale phantoms on the Hindu island weren’t even Portuguese. In Diu Town, for instance, I’d found that certain neighborhoods were full of Indians that looked like Africans. Called siddi, this community was descended from local Indian Muslim merchants who, during the height of trade on the Indian Ocean centuries ago, lived (and kept local wives) in African ports.

Moreover, all the hotels in Diu Town were owned by Ismaili Shiites, whose Hindu ancestors had been converted to the faith some 700 years ago by Persian missionaries (who, resourcefully, had arrived in India claiming that the sect’s founder was the 10th incarnation of the god Vishnu). Over the years, Diu was variously a trading center for the Mauryans, a capital for the Chavada dynasty, a refuge for Rajput rajas and a military outpost for the Ottoman Turks.

Naturally, Diu also contained the telling details that are a post of any postmodern journey:

Though physically isolated from mass culture, Diu Town was beginning to show the telltale quirks and ironies that come with globalization. In the public square, for instance, the old Portuguese whipping post bore a poster that read: “Learn Karate! (Sinsei: Kiran P. Prajapati).” In Diu’s outdoor market, one could choose between baseball caps embossed with either a New York Yankees symbol, a John Deere patch or (against all probability) a logo touting Northern Arizona University’s department of nursing. Not far from my hotel, a man sold packets of incense that he
claimed could be burned in accordance with any religion. In the spirit of ecumenism, the incense packets were adorned with the picture of an oversized U.S. $100 bill.

Thus, I was not too surprised to find a half dozen tiny Indian nuns singing African American gospel songs (“I Get So Thrilled With Jesus”) when I walked into St. Paul’s church.

The full text of my Diu story — as well as my photos from the journey — can be read online here.

Posted by | Comments Off on India’s Isle Of Ghosts: My new story in the SF Chronicle  | March 20, 2006
Category: Rolf's News and Updates, Travel News

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