A History Of
By Pius Kamau
04 May, 2004
new Indian doctors have been arriving in Colorado, the "whitest"
medical community in America. A small nest of East Indian physicians
steadily grown around me. It's significant since, for more than two
decades, I was one of just three black surgeons and one of about 20
physicians in a huge community of white doctors. They say misery loves
company; perhaps the new arrivals will help dilute the vitriol that
so many hearts.
have distinct pedigrees. Some Indians are Brahmins, others
Warriors; to Hindus, blacks are a rung below Untouchables. Medically,
we're poles apart. We say little to each other to unthaw a natural chill.
Every time we cross paths, the past bubbles up. Like the world's many
competing tribes, we suspiciously eye each other from positions defined
Ours is a relationship
that mirrors my colonial past. In East Africa, we
lived side by side. Africans were always Indians' servants. Indians
second-class citizens. (Europeans were first and Africans third.) Mahatma
Gandhi may have led his nation's fight against British rule, but Kenya's
Indians never joined Africans in their struggle for independence;
colonialism was just fine.
Sometimes a gesture
or a look can trigger a flood of memories. Like their
kin in Africa, these new arrivals walk and talk together, alone. They
past us, meaning "Expect nothing from us."
govern their followers' behavior, controlling every
motion, emotion and thought. Hindus can't help themselves. Humanity
in a rigid chamber in Hinduism; one's caste never changes. Brahmins
empowered; lower castes enslaved. Blacks fit nicely within this group.
After living with
Hindu culture for decades, I've found only two Indian
luminaries worthy of admiration: Rabindranath Tagore, the poet of love
patience; and Gandhi, who was assassinated for his reconciliatory
teachings. Any religion whose gods consign a large number of its children
to slavery and bondage is suspect and odious. With due respect to
mythologist Joseph Campbell, I find Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Krishna and
other Hindu gods unconvincing.
our father's sons, slavish practitioners of the tribe's
customs and our history's reflection pond. Aurora's Hindus resemble
in my Africa.
the first multiracial college in Kenya, many of my Indian
classmates came from wealthy families. Our Patels, Sharmas, Shahs and
Mistris had little time for Africans. To them we'd always be inferior,
even though Kenya was "free."
For decades, they
had lived privileged lives. Even though blacks had seats
in Parliament, Indians owned banks and commerce. My classmates knew
that true power lay with those who pay. They shared little with the
rest of us;
they held on to their commercial spoils until blacks pried them from
There were exceptions,
though; an Indian Christian friend became my
roommate all through medical school. Christianity, it seems, releases
Hindu mind from its rigid shackles, unraveling the tight coils of dogma.
Like the monotheist Muslims, Christians are more accessible because
charity and love of neighbor are the central tenets of their creeds.
In 1972, Uganda's
Idi Amin expelled 52,000 Indians from his country. It
wasn't a smart move, but it expressed the frustration, anger and envy
many Ugandans felt.
In Aurora, we run
into each other in corridors and the past is unfurled
before us. But there's no bitterness in me, only a wish they would open
their minds to a world that's fluid and not always divided into rigid
castes. I wish they could be convinced that we're not Untouchables.
only trying to make our way through life the best we can.
I'm glad these dark
people are among us. I know they'll help relieve some
of our misery.
(Pius Kamau of Aurora
is a thoracic and general surgeon and a commentator
on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." He was born
and raised in
Kenya and immigrated to the U.S. in 1971. His column appears on alternate
Wednesdays in the Denver Post. Comments on this article may be emailed
openforum @ denverpost.com. To be considered, letters must include full
name, home town and daytime phone number.)