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A Family of Migrants

2 of 3

Humans are a migratory species. We are all descendants of migrants. Migration has played a major role in shaping modern society. As for me, my ancestors were all migrants, whether domestic or international. Hundreds and thousands of people migrate around the world for various reasons: better education, jobs, political challenges, environmental issues, cultural and many other factors cause people to migrate.

Kimtaro Kasahara with his wife Miki and two daughters, Ituko and Michiko

Towards the end of the 19th century my great-great-grandfather Kimtaro Kasahara (1868-1928), a Japanese artisan, and his wife Miki, left their two sons behind with relatives in Nagasaki and embarked on a journey to India. Kasahara came to India with a team of Buddhist artisans on a commission by the Indian Government to restore the Bodh Gaya temples.

Instead of returning to his homeland, Kasahara stayed back in India to fulfill a work for the Royal Court of Bhopal upon their invitation. By this time, Kasahara and Miki had two daughters, my great-grandmother Ituko Kasahara (later named Sagarika by Rabindranath Tagore) and her sister Michiko. They were in Bhopal for a few years after which they relocated to Calcutta (now Kolkata) where Kasahara worked as a furniture designer. Gaganendranath Tagore liked Kasahara's workmanship and took him to Jorasanko (The ancestral home of the Tagore family) where he redesigned most of the furniture and the Jorasanko garden. 

Jorasanko (The ancestral home of the Tagore family)

Gaganendranath's grandson, Mohanlal Gangopadhyay, in his book, Dakshiner Varanda (The Southern Veranda) has mentioned about the admirable work done by Kimtaro Kasahara. Kasahara then went on to design many gardens belonging to the different branches of the Tagore family.

When the Institute for Rural Reconstruction at Sriniketan was inaugurated by Rabindranath Tagore in 1922, he required a woodwork teacher. Kasahara was recommended by Gaganendranath. Not only did he teach his students woodwork and gardening, but the poet's son, Rathindranath, used his skills and creativity to work on Udayana's interiors, the house he built for Rabindranath. A distinctive look was given to the Udayana by the wood paneling, lacquer railings in the southern windows and the 'tatami' lined walls designed by Kasahara. He also designed the Japanese-style gardens in the Uttarayana. Kasahara built a wooden house on the top of two Peepal trees for Rabindranath where he wrote a number of poems and stories.

Even today after a century, traces of Kimtaro Kasahara live on in Santiniketan through the interiors of Udayana, the Japanese gardens of Uttarayana and in his descendants in my family.

My great-grandmother Sagarika with Rabindranath Tagore and Leonard Knight Elmhirst

Kimtaro Kasahara's daughter, Ituko (My great-grandmother), was later renamed Sagarika by Rabindranath. That was a time when India was under the British Raj, and the British, since the beginning, looked at the Japanese with suspicion. After Kasahara's death in 1928, Miki and daughter Ituko continued to live in Santiniketan. Her sister Michiko had died earlier of tuberculosis.

Sagarika then married Dhirananda Roy (my great-grandfather), a Bengali from an aristocratic family who would later be the Director of Sriniketan. Rabindranath was himself present at their marriage ceremony. By then, Santiniketan had validated the Sanskrit mantra selected by the Poet as the motto for Visva-Bharati: Yatra visvam bhavati eka nidam — where the world meets in a single nest.

Indeed the world met in a single nest in Santiniketan. There were professors, artists, linguists and the like from different parts of Europe, from the Americas, from different countries of Asia – China, Japan, Sri Lanka and others. Some came for short visits, some came for a few years and some settled here for life. A number of inter-marriages took place in Santiniketan (including the one of my great-grandparents) and these worked very well here because the milieu was ready to accept them.

During the war, the British tried to deport Ituko and her mother to Japan. It needed intervention from Rathindranath Tagore, the poet's son, and his guarantee that prevented Sagarika's deportation, however, her mother, Miki, was taken away by the British, sent to a camp in Meerut and later shipped to Japan. Sagarika by then had lost her other family members as their home was in Nagasaki.

Immigrants in a place face countless difficulties. It is estimated that globally, more than 250 million people are living outside their home countries. Out of which more than 60 million have been forced to migrate because of induced violence and terror, political instability and unendurable circumstances. Migration remains a pressing topic on the international agenda.

Sir Albion Rajkumar Banerji

My ancestor, Sir Albion Rajkumar Banerji was born in England when his father Sasipada and mother Rajkumari were there. Rajkumari is remembered as the first Indian Hindu woman to defy tradition and hostility of her family and cross the sea to Europe in 1871. Sir Albion had a distinguished career in the Indian administration. Entering the Indian Civil Service in 1895, he spent many years in the general administration of British India and in the highest capacity in more than one of the Indian states.

He had been the Diwan of Cochin from 1907 to 1914, later Diwan of the Mysore kingdom in the service of the Maharaja of Mysore from 1922 to 1926. He was also the Prime Minister of Kashmir from 1927 to 1929. He received British Knighthood in 1925. He had greatly contributed to the reformation of India, from the South to the North. He led a negotiating team for the Cauvery Waters Agreement in 1924 as the Diwan of Mysore. When I visited the Mysore Palace, I was mesmerized by its beauty and intricate workmanship. Knowing that my ancestor was a Diwan at that palace gives me a sense of euphoria. 

Many migrants around the world face unpleasant situations, they are put into inhabitable camps, face prejudice, suspicion, and abuse while trying to escape the horrors and substandard living conditions in their home country. However, migrants also power economic growth, spread cultures and traditions thus increasing diversity and reducing inequalities.

Like my ancestors, thousands of migrants prove to be beneficial to the host countries, they, with their skills and talents, bring in new ideas and developments. Migration has been looked down upon by thousands, migration has gotten a tainted image. Everyone is there in a place because someone migrated. Some people have safer lives because their ancestors sacrificed and relocated— whether as migrants or refugees. I wouldn’t be here today if Kimtaro Kasahara hadn't migrated from Japan, or my mother wouldn’t have migrated to Bengal from Rajasthan. It is migration at some point of time in history which has made the world the way it is that we live in today.

A world map indicating all the migratory routes my ancestors and family members took around the world


This is the second blog post of a series of 3.

These blog posts will cover topics such as my ancestry, benefits and problems of migration among others.

Check out the other blog posts of this series:

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Photo credits

  • All images of my ancestors are provided by Supriya Roy (My grandmother)

  • Picture of Jorasanko (The ancestral home of the Tagore family) - TripAdvisor

2 komentarze

Rupsa Munsi
Rupsa Munsi
06 lis 2019

So beautifully articulated, and such a positive perspective on migration. Much needed in today’s time. And your writing style is so simple yet extremely well constructed.


Samiran Nandy
Samiran Nandy
05 lis 2019

Adi, this is a wonderful write up.

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