By Bhaskar Chakravorti
Ten years ago, moving to Sudan brought up appalling Western media images of a country ravaged by war, extreme heat and dust, and primitive in its development. And then came the surprise. After an initial period of settling in, looking for fellow Indians and foods and spices, I learned that this country, in which I would spend the next ten years, was very different from the images that were projected of it. I learned of ancient historical trade ties of spice, gold and silk between the Meroe kingdom and Indian traders who used the Red Sea as a shipping route and I learned that the Sudanese people themselves were friendly, safe, honest but slightly laid back!
Historians have traced indications of direct contact between India and the Kingdom of Kush – Napata and Meroe (750 BC to 300 AD). Today there are about 2000 persons in the Indian community spread all over Sudan. The first Indian trader from this community arrived in Suakin in 1856. The first Sudanese Parliamentary elections in 1953 were conducted by Sukumar Sen, India’s Chief Election Commissioner (the Sudanese Election Commission, formed in 1957, drew heavily on Indian election literature and laws).
In April 1955 there was a Sudanese delegation at Bandung (Indonesia) to attend the Conference of Africa and Asia. Since Sudan was still not independent and did not have a national flag yet, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote out Sudan on his white handkerchief and created a flag for Sudan. A building in the Military College in India is named ‘Sudan Block’ as a memorial for the Indian army who fought for the British in World War II in Sudan.
My Sudanese friends keep telling me that India has made its mark as a major player in global economy, as a nuclear power nation with technological advancements in the IT software and pharmaceuticals sectors. Hindi films are very popular and have made its presence felt in the salons of almost every household. Above all, the most respected Indian personality in Sudan is Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi had stopped over in Port Sudan in 1935 on his way to England.
Coming back to my experience in Sudan, I found the traffic was on the wrong side of the road!! India being a British colony, drove on the left side of the road and that is how I did. But help was at hand in the form of Mohammed El Hassan who taught me to drive the ‘right’ way in Sudan and I am so used to it now, that in India I now decline from driving during my vacations as that is now the ‘wrong side’ of the road! Mohammed El Hassan now works with me and is an Indophile. He has visited India on a number of occasions and looks forward to many more.
Bashir Ahmed Bashir was my Arabic tutor when I arrived. He was sincere, hardworking and dynamic. I recommended this young man who used to work in a Bagala for a job in an NGO where the Manager was a friend. Bashir was sent to Geneina in Darfur where he did a sterling job. He later joined the UN and as part of his job visited Geneva already.
Moez ElSheikh had dreams to be spun on celluloid- this young film maker was connected to the Department of Communication Sciences. I recommended him to the Embassy of India for the ITEC programme and he was sent to India with a scholarship for a technical course.
Dr. Anwar Ahmed Osman is an Astronomer par excellence and my current Arabic tutor. He teaches me Arabic and I teach him Marketing. I created a marketing plan for an Exhibition on Space and Astronomy which ran for many months at the Green Yard. I want to see him fulfil his dream of having a Planetarium in Khartoum and perhaps with the help of the Ministries of both countries, visit planetariums in Mumbai and Kolkata for further ideas.
My constant travel companion is my camera and is a record keeper of my time here. I have travelled to Port Sudan, Erkaweit, Merowe, Kareema, Naga, Bajrawiya, Atbara, Wad Madani and Ed Damazin ; social utilities such as Facebook ,Blog, Twitter etc have informed my friends and acquaintances of the many wonders of this land, from the ancient brick pyramids at Kareema to the site at Naga which the UN has declared of great international historical importance because of its antiquity and the influence it had on the Egyptian civilization. Prior to the partition I also visited Juba to look for marketing opportunities there.
My photographic coverage of Medical Doctors and the Medical Conferences as well as Pharmacists has often brought a smile on their lips when I have presented them with their photographs.
I believe in using all the new technology and social media available and like all marketing men, I maintain an extensive mailing list through which I have been able to provide employment opportunities or business deals to some people.
While the people of Sudan are open, friendly and good, I have always felt that Customer Relations/Support needed improvement. To this effect I have led workshops on training new employees in soft Business skills and Knowledge of Customer in Action.
As I work for a Pharmaceutical company, I share medical updates via email with my list of doctors many of whom appreciate this electronic update. I also cover the Medical Conferences, Indian Community and other topics of interest for the English Daily in Khartoum – Sudan Vision. The weblink is posted to my Facebook page so my world outside Sudan is aware of what is happening here.
I will end with an old West African proverb- ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I would like to go far in my journey in Sudan with my friends here and Inshallah as we say here… ‘Experience is a strong walking stick’ and with that walking stick I would like to live the rest of my days here.