Sandhya Tenneti was always intrigued by the question of identity. Born in a Telugu family, and brought up in Maharashtra and Karnataka, she wondered how migration moulded the sense of self. So, a few years ago, she wrote some short pieces on Facebook looking at Indian communities settled far from home – Sikhs in Assam, Parsis in Telangana, and Maharashtrians in Madhya Pradesh.
That experiment matured in December 2015 into The Diaspora Diaries, a Facebook page “to get in touch with people from diverse communities in India, collate information and share insights and experiences”.
The questions raised by Diaspora Diaries take forward the themes of the short pieces: “How do second-generation descendants of such migratory communities feel?”, “What kind of lifestyles do they lead?”, and “Do they feel connected to other members of the communities that still live in the place of origin?”
The other questions that Diaspora Diaries raises relate to the influences on second-generation migrants. “Is it [this generation’s lifestyle] influenced more by where they live or where they originally come from? What about their relationships and friendships? How does the journey of a family (or community) impact the life course and the people that one meets in life?”
These questions had always fascinated Tenneti since her childhood. “Coupled with my natural interest in Indian history and culture, researching on the intricacies of Indian culture through such migrations became a passion,” she said.
Diaspora Diaries is not an encyclopaedic destination. However, its posts are invariably characterised by interestingness. For instance, one post on April 1 wondered: “Jains constitute 1% of Sikkim’s population. I did a lot of research but there is no mention of how, why and when they came. Hmm... an anthropological mystery?” Another on May 1 asked: “Did the Idli migrate from Indonesian shores? Or did Idli come to India from Saudi Arabia?”
Tenneti, 35, clarifies that Diaries is a window into India’s cultural fabric through its diverse, interconnected threads – “The mission is to bring about awareness of how India has influenced the world and how the world has influenced India.”
Averaging at least three posts a month, Diaries has garnered 11,000 followers over the past nine months. “One cannot fathom how interconnected and closely linked we are with one another and in so many ways,” said Tenneti who is part of a team at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru that is developing distance education courses. “It’s like putting the pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle together. There’s a lot of anticipation, curiosity and wonder.”
Most recently, Tenneti has been developing reports on the unusual aspects of cultural heritage arising from migratory journeys.
According to Tenneti, an initiative like Diaspora Diaries can only fulfil its purpose with participation from everyone. “I have received a lot of inputs, ideas and concepts from friends and those who know of the page,” she said. “The idea is to make this initiative as robust and comprehensive as possible – by pooling our knowledge, this initiative gains strength and movement.”