Who Do You Think You Are?

Hereditary Indian Family Record Keepers
‘The Case of the Butter Chicken’ sees Vish Puri’s mother, the infamous Mummy-ji, travelling to the holy city of Haridwar to consult with the hereditary, genealogical record keepers – better known as Pandas.  I won’t reveal her motive: that would spoil the plot. But suffice it to say she’s trying to ascertain whether certain individuals are who they claim to be.

I weaved this episode into the plot after accompanying my wife, Anu, as she searched for the records of her own (Hindu) ancestors in Haridwar last year.

There are hundreds of Pandas (Brahmin priests who double as record keepers) to be found down the narrow lanes and backstreets of the ancient city – each of them charged with keeping the genealogical records of specific districts and families.  The job is a hereditary one, passed down the generations from father to son; the same families have been at it for centuries.

The information they’ve recorded has always been provided by family members themselves – mostly by sons bringing the ashes of their parents to the Ganges, but also by pilgrims seeking to wash away their sins in the holy waters.

It took Anu hours of searching before she found the right Pandas.  She was well rewarded.  The ledgers contained entries dating back seven generations, providing names, dates of birth, even addresses.

She came away with her own copy of her family tree. But not before making her own entry, recording recent births amongst her extended family and the details of her marriage.

Thus a gora name found its ways into the ancient Hindu records.

Perhaps in another seven generations one of our offspring will come across it.  And no doubt like everyone else they’ll wonder what the hell kind of name Tarquin is!

If you’re interested in knowing more, click here to go to the Wikipedia entry on Haridwar’s Pandas.  Or better still buy a copy of The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken.

You’ll also find some beautiful photographs here.

Tarquin Hall

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  1. Book review: The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken - Tarquin Hall - Always Cooking up Something - August 17, 2012

    [...] tragic and horrific events that took place during Partition. Also, I had no idea that there are brahmin priests who function as panda or keeper of family records. And who knew that Non-Resident Indians can easily arrange elaborate funerals from afar? [...]

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