However, for Ms. Sen, the cover of the book also opened a window to her own past. She was born to an Indian father and a British mother. Her father, a brilliant student, went to London for higher studies. There he met his future wife who was willing to come to India to settle down and raise a family. Children were born and raised in newly-independent India, being exposed to the Far-East culture. Then, in late ’60-s, her mother would decide to take the children to meet their grandparents first time. Though air-travel was becoming popular, the parents would decide to make the trip in old-fashioned way, traveling in a ship. Their intention was to giving the kids enough time to get exposed to Western culture before meeting the members of the mother side of the family.
In a late summer day, the family took a European Liner from Bombay (now Mumbai) en route to its first destination to a port in Italy. However, the journey took close to a month to reach its destination. Due to an ongoing regional conflict, the Suez Canal was closed to commercial vessels. Thus, the ship was re-routed around The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The travelers were allowed to disembark and visit various ports throughout that country. And that’s when, the family spent a few days in Cape Town, in the height of the apartheid days. Every moment from that visit now started to flash inside her brain.
Being minors, all the siblings were traveling under their mother’s British Passport. Thus, they were allowed to enter the premises marked clearly “Whites Only”! Even now, she felt the chill that flown down her spine from the angry looks of the patrons of all those areas. She remembered traveling in “Whites Only” cabs. She was too young then to understand the surrounding evilness. But, the memory stayed back.
Nowadays even in US, whenever she hears about the cold-blooded shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, her heart races, while the memory flashes with those past “looks”.
(Author’s note: This manuscript benefited from a helpful discussion with Ms. Benita Mukerji.)