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Indians in Myanmar remember home with Bollywood

By Hindol Sengupta, IANS

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Ramchandra Sharma has a cassette that he has been listening to for 15 years. It's the songs of the 1975 Indian cult classic "Sholay".

For Sharma, a 57-year-old Indian living in this sleepy hamlet 6,655 feet high in the mountains of Myanmar and around 700 km from capital Yangon, it's one of the things that connect him to the country of his forefathers.

"Every time I hear the songs, in fact any Hindi song, I cry," said Sharma, who has hundreds of old Hindi film song cassettes. "I want to go (to) India but (have) no money."

As the India-ASEAN car rally rolled through Myanmar on to Laos, it was cheered among others by people like Sharma is one of the hundreds of Indians who remained behind in Myanmar, narrowly escaping when the country's military rulers expelled foreigners in the 1960s in a bout of xenophobia.

"We hid for days, months actually," said Sharma, his eyes misty, his lips red with betel juice from the pan he has thrice every day. "We didn't want to leave, our fathers had struggled hard to make a life in this country. We didn't want to let that go."

But till the end, Sharma's father, a day labourer at a rice farm, dreamt of going back to visit India. And today, Sharma, who rents out pirated video CDs - from female wrestling bouts to kung fu fight-a-minutes and even Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai" - dreams the same dream.

"Going to India will be like going to heaven for me," said Sharma.

Across Myanmar, similar thoughts are echoed by Indians who might have seamlessly merged in Myanmar society over the decades but still carry a bit of India in their hearts, and on their sleeves.

"India lives within me," said Brij Mehta, 49, a village cosmetics store owner and father of nine children. "Every time I think of India, I think of love and warmth and joy."

Mehta has taught his five daughters to sing bhajans and his boys play the mandolin at the local Hindu temple near Loilem, around 500 km from capital Yangon.

"Through music and song, we are trying to find India."

Both Sharma and Mehta speak fluent Hindi. "We have never forgotten our mother tongue, it's what keeps us going when we miss India too much."

That and Bollywood. Indians in Myanmar seem to be massive fans of Hindi movies.

"Is Amitabh Bachchan still the king of Hindi films?" asked Ashok Raj, who runs a tailoring shop.

"I have seen almost every film of his. But many I have seen on video and now CDs, the quality is often very poor," said Raj.

"My daughter also likes this Shah Rukh Khan. But I think he is not a real man. I saw one film of his 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge' and he was crying! I was so surprised.

"Real men don't cry. Amitabh Bachchan doesn't cry."


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