Daren And Sherwin Come Home

Daren And Sherwin Come Home
The Gangas have wanted to visit the land of their ancestors for years, and now they finally have, as a family.
Nagraj Gollapudi
October 19, 2009

“Amitabh Bachchan, Jeetendra, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor…” Daren Ganga reels off the names, in that lovely Trinidad accent, of actors from Indian movies he and his family used to watch every Sunday afternoon when he was young. His father, Bahadur “Ramesh” Ganga, mother Seerajie “Jenno” Ganga, and younger brother Sherwin pitch in with their favourites.

For now, the Gangas’ own story sounds a bit like a Bollywood script: an East Indian family returning to the land of their ancestors to take in some real Indian life as opposed to the reel version they were brought up on. Daren and Sherwin are part of the Trinidad & Tobago side participating in the Champions League Twenty20, while their parents are visiting India for the first time, primarily to support their boys but also to obtain a better understanding of where they came from.

Ramesh, retired now, was a teacher, and his gentility is apparent in his sons, who are well groomed, disciplined and clear-headed.

Daren readily agreed to assemble his family, at a half-hour’s notice, and he leads his folks into the hotel foyer at the appointed time. Sherwin is expected shortly as he has just returned from training. The Gangas are all smartly, and simply, dressed. The parents sit side by side on a sofa, Daren to their left, fiddling with his BlackBerry as he gives studious answers without ever seeming disinterested. He is clean-shaven, wearing an ironed purple t-shirt, hair Brylcreemed. Not for him and Sherwin the usual player attire of shorts and singlets.

An articulate speaker, Daren, who is T&T’s captain, is studying law externally, since playing cricket doesn’t allow him the time to be resident at a university (that includes Cambridge, which at one point was reportedly interested in having him).

The talk is still on Bollywood. “We grew up in a rural community and on a Sunday there would always be an Indian movie at mid-day and that was a natural thing to do, to look forward to watch the movies,” he says. His early concepts of India naturally involved images from those movies. “A favourite was policemen with moustaches. And when they shoot in that dramatic style, it would be fun. At one point we did think it was real,” Daren says as Jenno laughs.

The real India has proved rather different. On a shopping trip a few days ago, as the family walked with their hands full of purchases, a group of “men dressed in saris”, pounced from nowhere. “They were like… all hands all over and loud in your face and demanding,” Sherwin exclaims. Daren points out that even if the crime rate in Trinidad is among the worst in the world, the locals are never intimidating.

They’re quick to allow that it’s all part of experiencing the culture of the country – one that their ancestors left in the late 1880s when they went to the Caribbean as indentured labourers. “Knowing that they came from here, we feel a little nostalgic and we feel nice, and we would like to see how India is, compared to Trinidad,” Ramesh says.

The most important common ground, of course, is the love for cricket, which is as much enjoyed and talked about in India as it is in Trinidad. “We were born into cricket,” Sherwin says. Every man in the family has played cricket at some level. Ramesh was part of the Apollo XI in the village of Barrackpore, a team Jenno and her friend would go to watch since her brother was part of the team. His three sons did better: Sheldon, the oldest, played club cricket, while Daren and Sherwin have played first-class and international cricket.

“When I was seven or eight the entire family, including our uncles and their families, would drive from Barrackpore to Queens Park Oval to watch international cricket,” Daren recalls. “We would start at three in the morning and the drive was an hour-and-a half.” Jenno played her part, waking up before everyone else to make dal poorie and roti and “wrap everything up neatly so that each one could have his own”. Ramesh would make sure the beers were nicely chilled in an ice box. Then they would line up to get tickets for the bleachers.

Once they were at the ground, allegiance would be split depending on who West Indies were playing. Sherwin likes Australia, Daren prefers the “natural talent of the subcontinent, compared to the mechanical skills” of the other sides. For the parents it has always been West Indies, even against India.

There are nine East Indians in the T&T squad touring India, including Daren and Sherwin, but it is the Gangas who seem most excited to be returning to what Sherwin refers to as the “motherland”. For Daren, who is on his second visit to India (he toured with the 2002-03 West Indies side), coming to India has always been an act of finding himself. “We studied history in school and understood exactly how East Indians came to the Caribbean, how they settled and developed their own culture and history. Culturally we are still strong with regards to what our great grandfathers brought with them.”

On his first visit to India he could see the various things the cultures had in common. “It was rewarding and fulfilling to see the beginning of where my culture originated from. It was good to make that link between who I was as a person, who I am as a person, and linking it back to India, where my ancestors started. So there was a sense of fulfillment, sense of belonging, coming back,” Daren says.

As if to prove their essential Indianness, as their sons began to grow up, the senior Gangas picked the professions each of the three would pursue. “We wanted an engineer, a lawyer a doctor,” Ramesh says. Those wishes have nearly all been fulfilled: Sheldon is a mechanical engineer, Daren is soon to be a lawyer, and Sherwin has a management degree. “Our daughter-in-law [Sheldon’s wife] is a doctor, so we have no complaints,” Jenno adds with a laugh.

Daren believes a good upbringing and parental support have helped the brothers think beyond cricket. He recently started the Daren Ganga Foundation to help underprivileged kids and youth back home in Trindad.

“Culturally, if you look at the East Indians, you would quickly associate [with them] humility and wanting to give back and hospitality – things that are part of us, the way I was brought up,” he explains. “My foundation is an attempt to ensure that kids and young people don’t have to endure the same challenges that I went through, and go on to achieve their full potential.”

His parents have paid a visit to the Sathya Sai Baba (a mystic whose followers include the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rohan Kanhai), and plan to go up north to visit the Taj Mahal, and also the sacred river they share their family name with. “The Hindus hold the Ganges in high regard and we would like to experience that,” Ramesh says.

For now they are happy to be in the thick of one of India’s most popular festivals, one that is celebrated with as much vigour and excitement in T&T. “Happy Diwali”, Jenno and Ramesh wish with large smiles as they leave to visit an Indian family. It has been a good homecoming for the Gangas.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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