Book: Religion and Touch
Chapter: 5. Being There: Anglo-Indian Roots Tourism Experiences
This chapter examines an aspect of the growing phenomenon, typically termed ‘Roots Tourism’, focussing on Anglo-Indians returning to India to explore their family roots. This type of ‘tourism’ involves selecting destinations to which one has ancestral links and pursuing information about them in that place. It is becoming increasingly popular as family history information is more accessible than ever, due to the availability of genealogical tracing through DNA analysis and technology-enhanced searches of recently digitized archives. TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? reach vast audiences and possibly add to the popularity of this type of tourism. In 2018 I commenced an ethnographic study exploring Anglo-Indian expectations, experiences, and reflections of roots tourism ventures. In addition to participant-observation in India, I interviewed others before and after their travels. Here I discuss some key findings drawn from the interviews, observations, photographs and FaceBook posts. A significant theme identified was the intense emotional reactions of those involved, when encountering and in touching significant objects and places linked to their ancestors. What began from necessity with technologically mediated virtual searches from afar, culminated with encounters with the material reality of their ancestors: a highlight for many. Many aspects of their experiences resembled pilgrimage journeys – there were visits to churches (as sites of significant moments, and keepers of heritage objects) and the descriptions of journeys included ideas about its ‘sacredness’. My research builds upon both Paul Basu’s (2001, 2004b, 2004a, 2005, 2017) work in the area of roots tourism, and Walter Benjamin’s (1968) on objects and their aura, thus contributing to a growing body of work in the area of ‘touch’, ‘things’, spaces and places, from an anthropological and South Asian perspective.